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Buildings, lives may lay in rubble, but markets endure

By FLOYD NORRIS, New York Times

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2001


NEW YORK -- Symbolically, it was the heart of the world financial system. And now there is a void where the tallest buildings in New York had stood so solidly.

NEW YORK -- Symbolically, it was the heart of the world financial system. And now there is a void where the tallest buildings in New York had stood so solidly.

If the motive was to halt the operations at the heart of the capitalist system of financial trading, the attack was a success. Wednesday, dispirited people found it their duty to rapidly reconstruct an intricate financial system.

Even as they did that, many no doubt had a feeling that their task was far less important than all the lives that were lost.

The imperatives of making money, of guessing what the Federal Reserve will do and how the markets will react, of assessing whether a recession is now more likely, of estimating insurance company losses or airline passenger levels, paled in significance. Who cared?

Yet, the knowledge that the attackers had made targets of the center of the financial system as well as the country's military headquarters gave the work heightened importance. The terrorists evidently thought that shutting down the symbol of America's financial might was important enough to take the lives of perhaps dozens of their hijackers along with uncounted others who had done nothing other than live in the United States and board the wrong plane, show up for work in the World Trade Center or try to rescue other victims.

If closing the financial system was vital to them, then reopening it is essential. So the work went on even as Wall Streeters learned which of their colleagues had died and which firms had lost their personnel.

They needed to find ways to return their employees to work and to make a badly damaged infrastructure function. New York's telephone system, a vital part of the means of getting market data out and trade orders in, was reeling from both the destruction and increased usage as people all over the world tried to learn whether friends had survived. Some communications systems had gone through the World Trade Center.

Thirty-two brokerage firms had offices in the World Trade Center. Some offices were small and of minor importance to their firm's overall operations. Some were the heart of the firm.

A big fight ensued Wednesday over whether to reopen trading Thursday. In the end, those who feared that not all systems would work prevailed. For one more day, the terrorists won. Bonds traded Thursday, but stocks did not.

Still, trading will resume Monday. The stabilization of European markets Wednesday provides hope that price declines here will be limited. But whatever happens to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the important fact will be that markets are functioning.

It was 68 years ago, in 1933, that news last forced the New York Stock Exchange to close for multiple days. Then, the survival of capitalism was really in doubt. Many thought the system had failed. Now some resent its success and resort to terrorism.

Exploding planes destroyed buildings. A resumption of trading will show there are things they cannot destroy.

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