The mood on Wall Street was something short of jubilant Monday, reflecting just how much the historic financial district has changed since that September day nearly a decade ago.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were widely seen as a strike against American capitalism. The New York Stock Exchange, just a few blocks east of the World Trade Center, became a patriotic symbol of survival.
But the attacks helped accelerate the long decline of Wall Street as the physical heart of the U.S. financial system. Bond trader Cantor Fitzgerald and other major financial institutions moved to midtown Manhattan or even New Jersey after hijacked passenger planes destroyed the twin World Trade Center towers.
On Monday, a day after President Barack Obama announced that the assault’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden, had been killed in Pakistan, the atmosphere around the stock exchange was subdued. Three U.S. flags were flying in front of the iconic exchange building, in place of the enormous ads that sometimes cover the building’s facade.
Inside, the news of Bin Laden’s demise briefly boosted stocks after the opening. But the momentum fizzled as the day went on, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing down 3.2 points, barely changed from Friday.
On the NYSE trading floor, there was little of the celebration that broke out the night before on the streets around the World Trade Center.
“For the guys like myself who were here, it is a moment to reflect and a moment to be proud, and also a moment to sort of once again feel for all those people whose lives were changed so dramatically that day,” said Gordon Charlop, a managing director with Rosenblatt Securities.
No financial company was hit harder by Sept. 11 than Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost about two-thirds of its workforce. The trading firm’s offices were on the 101st to 105th floors of One World Trade Center, just above the point of impact.
The firm, which has since moved to 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, maintained a low profile Monday. The firm’s chief executive, Howard Lutnick, whose brother was one of 658 Cantor employees killed in the attack, made a somber appearance on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
“It’s been a very, very tough 10 years,” Lutnick said on the show. “But that period, at least it ends with Osama bin Laden getting killed.”
Cantor Fitzgerald led an exodus from the neighborhood. It was followed by Lehman Bros., ABN AMRO, parts of Bank of America and even the Wall Street Journal, most of which moved to newer, larger skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan.
The Big Board has been one of the few companies to keep its operations on the old cobblestone-lined street. But its once-buzzing trading floor has lost its vitality as physical trading has given way to computerized exchanges. NYSE-Euronext announced this year that it was selling itself to the leading German stock exchange company, although that could be pre-empted by a hostile bid from Nasdaq, which is also in midtown.
Across the street from the exchange, the old JPMorgan building — victim of a bombing in 1920, apparently by anarchists — now flies the yellow flag of China Sonangol, a commodities trading firm, over its entrance.
The old banks have been replaced largely by retail and residential structures, like the Trump Building at 40 Wall St.
The heavily secured area in front of the exchange was a gathering place Monday for the normal troops of tourists following their umbrella-toting tour guides, all under the watchful gaze of a helicopter buzzing overhead.
John Feiss, a technician who was eating his lunch on the steps of Federal Hall, just across from the exchange, said the area had changed a lot in the years since the terrorist attacks.
“This used to be a bank,” Feiss said, pointing to the building next to him at 30 Wall St. “Now it’s a gym.”
Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.