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Floor Trader Describes Wall Street Gyrations

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is All Thing Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

BLOCK: National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange today, and so began the latest face-off between buyers and sellers. And to extend that hockey metaphor, it was a day with a lot of end-to-end play. The Dow veered back and forth between positive and negative territory. For a sense of what was going on at the New York Stock Exchange, I checked in throughout the day with trader Ted Wessberg. He's president of Seaport Securities.

BLOCK: Ted Weisberg, we're calling you just after 11 o'clock; what's the morning been like so far?

Mr. TED WEISBERG (President, Seaport Securities): Well, it's characterized with a lot of volatility, unfortunately most of it on the down side though the markets did open dramatically lower - sort of a knee-jerk reaction, I think, to both Asia and Europe. Then we climbed out of that hole, got to the plus side by about 100 points, thereabouts. And as we speak, we're now minus 129 points.

BLOCK: Yeah, if you look at a graph of the day, it's like an upside down V at this point. It goes up sharply, and then it goes down just as sharply.

Mr. WEISBERG: Yes and I think the volatility, basically, is just indicative of the fact that people just simply don't know what to do and so everybody is sort of sitting on the head of a pin, easily pushed one way or the other depending on the headline or rumor. You'd like to think that it's characteristic of a back market that's trying to seek a bottom, but it's a little early to make that determination.

BLOCK: I hear some laughter from traders behind you. Is there still a sense of humor on the floor at the stock exchange?

Mr. WEISBERG: Well, there's always a sense of humor. It's a gallows humor, for the most part.

BLOCK: What kind of gallows humor? What are you hearing?

Mr. WEISBERG: Well, I'm hearing, for example, that there are only two positions to take in this market: cash and fetal.

BLOCK: I see. Fetal position.

Mr. WEISBERG: Yes. Curl up in a little ball and hide 'til the storm passes. But like a thunderstorm, you know, this too will pass. This is really the time, probably, to do a little homework because there are probably some spectacular opportunities at the moment.

BLOCK: Well, Ted, as we close our conversation, the Dow is down about 120 points. We'll check back in with you in a little while.

Mr. WEISBERG: Great.

FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven. Don't you know?

BLOCK: Hey there, Ted.

Mr. WEISBERG: Hi.

BLOCK: Well, it's just after 2 o'clock, about 2:20, and you've moved into positive territory.

Mr. WEISBERG: How about that?

BLOCK: Where's the Dow right now?

Ms. WEISBERG: We're plus - ah, 120.

BLOCK: And what do you think accounts for that? You were down 120 when we talked to you a few hours ago. What's going on?

Mr. WEISBERG: I call it the camel hump pattern.

BLOCK: Hmm. Which means?

Mr. WEISBERG: That the volatility, of course, has been extreme today. I mean, we've had up and down either way a couple of times, then therefore, the camel hump. But just perhaps, I mean, you don't know, there's no crystal ball but there's a rally in here somewhere and perhaps it will be this afternoon. It's quite possible that we could close up today - and close up big.

BLOCK: Well, the Dow is now up about 140. We're going to check back in with you after the closing bell, Ted, and see just how exciting your day ends up.

Mr. WEISBERG: OK. Thank you.

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) May your sorrows all be small. Here's to the losers, bless some all.

BLOCK: OK, Ted, the markets have closed - and down, way down by the end. What happened?

Mr. WEISBERG: Wow. Yeah, not what I implied earlier in the day.

BLOCK: That's right.

Mr. WEISBERG: So much for 40 years of experience and knowing nothing.

BLOCK: Well, who's to explain what happened?

Mr. WEISBERG: Well, I don't know that there is a logical explanation, other than that it was clearly disappointing. The markets, when we spoke in mid-day and earlier in the morning, had all the earmarks of a market that was way oversold, and the action gave a lot of people - not only me - a huge head fake. But it gave us the confidence mid-day that we would probably close on the upside. So the fact that we closed down 200 is clearly not encouraging. I guess we are in for some more pain. We were doing pretty good 'til the secretary of the treasury went on TV, and I turned to a fellow trader and I said, gee, why can't they just not talk for a day?

BLOCK: You think that would help?

Mr. WEISBERG: That would give us all a break. And I don't want to blame him for - you know, it's probably not fair to do that - but there's no question that as soon as he started to talk, the market started to give back its gains and the selling took over. And the last 15 or 20 minutes was a typical close to what we've been dealing with almost every day, with the market closing at or near the lowest of the trading session.

BLOCK: Well, Ted, thanks for talking to us throughout this volatile day on Wall Street. We appreciate it.

Mr. WEISBERG: It's my pleasure.

BLOCK: Ted Weisberg, the president of Seaport Securities and a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for about 40 years. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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