The U.S. securities industry canceled equity trading on all markets today, moving to protect workers as Hurricane Sandy barreled toward New York City with 70-mile-per-hour winds and the threat of an 11-foot sea surge.
The shutdown, announced by the Securities and Exchange Commission, may extend through tomorrow and followed an earlier decision by the New York Stock Exchange to close floor trading. Risks posed by the storm, expected to come ashore late today in southern New Jersey and potentially affect 60 million people, were deemed too great to require workers to travel.
"It was a judgment decision based on the safety of a lot of market participants, especially as the storm seems to be getting more severe," said Larry Leibowitz, chief operating officer of NYSE Euronext (NYX), in a phone interview. "Given all the emphasis on stability and investor confidence, operating the market that way didn't seem to serve the public interest. Why do this? To prove we can? That didn't seem to make a lot of sense."
Trading in U.S. equity-index futures will continue until 9:15 a.m. New York time today, CME Group Inc. (CME) said in a statement. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association recommended trading in dollar-denominated fixed- income securities end at noon. Futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (SPX) dropped 0.6 percent at 6:49 a.m. in New York.
Exchanges from the NYSE and Nasdaq Stock Market to those run by Direct Edge Holdings LLC in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Bats Global Markets Inc. in Lenexa, Kansas, will suspend operations. U.S. equity trading is spread across 13 exchanges and dozens of private venues run by brokerages.
NYSE Euronext and Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. (NDAQ) said the suspension would last through tomorrow, "pending confirmation," according to e-mailed statements. The SEC will stay in communication with the markets as the situation warrants, said John Nester, a spokesman for the SEC in Washington.
Options trading will also be closed, according to Gail Osten, a spokeswoman for CBOE Holdings Inc. (CBOE), which operates the largest equity derivatives market, and Joseph Christinat, a spokesman at Nasdaq OMX.
"It's an inconvenience, but clearly the safety of the employees and participants in the market is a primary concern," James Angel, a professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business in Washington, said in a phone interview. "Even if the exchanges can operate totally remotely, people connecting to the exchanges may be battling floods. We ran into the same issue after 9/11 even though Nasdaq and other trading venues could operate. "
The last time the NYSE cut trading hours for weather was Jan. 8, 1996, when a blizzard dropped more than 20 inches on New York City. It last closed for a full day for weather when Hurricane Gloria hit on Sept. 27, 1985. Markets have not closed for four days in a row since the start of 2007 when, following a weekend and the New Year's Day holiday on a Monday, they shut on Jan. 2 to observe a day of mourning for President Gerald Ford's death the previous week.
"Everybody wants to get the markets open," the NYSE's Leibowitz said. "We all know how important this is and we take the decision seriously. People expect the markets will be resilient and able to operate. The tenet is that the markets should be open if at all possible."
Workers stacked sandbags in Lower Manhattan while banks and brokerages tested contingency plans, encouraged employees to work from home and prepared to operate with skeleton crews. Governor Andrew Cuomo's order that subway, bus and commuter rail services be closed starting at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 left many of the city's almost 170,000 securities industry employees wondering how they would make it to work.
The hurricane is predicted to make landfall late today in southern New Jersey, then turn inland, according to an advisory from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Winds may cause a tidal surge as high as a record 11 feet (3 meters), according to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In Lower Manhattan, cranes laid concrete barricades at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)'s headquarters at 200 West Street. Sandbags were piled along garages and doors at Four World Financial Center, the offices of Bank of America Corp., and lined the sidewalk facing the river outside the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. and Nymex.
"Hopefully we'll be back to work within 24 or 48 hours," Ben Schwartz, the Chicago-based chief market strategist at Lightspeed Financial LLC, said in a phone interview. The broker- dealer provides execution services for both retail and institutional clients. "The storm was anticipated and you had to expect issues with the opening of the market with such a big storm coming, so I don't see longer-term impact."
Sandy's punch may be felt from Virginia to Massachusetts, said Rick Knabb, the National Hurricane Center's director. The system packed maximum sustained winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour, up from 75 mph earlier, the National Weather Service said at 5 a.m. New York time.
The storm's eye was about 285 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and about 385 miles south-southeast of New York, moving north at 15 mph. It is not expected to weaken before landfall, the center said. Flood watches and warnings cover most of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic coast.
The threat of water coming onto shore prompted Mayor Bloomberg to call for the evacuation of low-lying neighborhoods including Battery Park City and areas near the East River in southern Manhattan. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
The evacuation order resulted in the closure of the Nymex floor, CME Group, its owner, said in an e-mailed statement.
U.S. federal government offices in the Washington area will be open only for emergency personnel beginning today, and state governments curtailed operations, too. The Commerce Department said reports today on personal incomes and spending would be released online in any case.
Sandy, which killed as many as 65 people in the Caribbean on its path north, may be capable of inflicting as much as $18 billion in damage when it barrels into New Jersey tomorrow and knocks out power to millions for a week or more, according to forecasters and risk experts.
Financial firms made plans to close some offices, conduct business from other cities, reserve hotel rooms and let employees work from home.
American Express Co., the credit-card lender whose headquarters is in lower Manhattan, will shut all its offices in the tri-state region Monday, according to an e-mail from Sarah Meron, a spokeswoman. The firm hasn't disclosed plans for the following day, she said.
Goldman Sachs, the investment bank based in lower Manhattan, expects to be open for business with help from overseas offices and people working remotely.
Plans include using "teams in London and other locations around the world for additional support, having designated people work from our Greenwich and Princeton sites and, for most of you, working from home," Goldman Sachs Chief Administrative Officer Jeffrey Schroeder said in a staff memo obtained by Bloomberg News. Some individuals deemed critical to operations will be told to come to work if they can get to their offices and return safely, according to the memo.
Citigroup Inc., the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, has offices in the potential flood zone that will be shut, according to an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg. Employees won't have access to buildings at 111 Wall St. and 388/390 Greenwich St., according to the memo.