Don’t Read If You’re Under 50 or Have Less Than 30 Years in the Business

Posted by: Howard Silverblatt on September 12, 2008

I have a picture of my son and daughter, when they were 8 and 10, in front of Delmonico’s in downtown NY. It goes along with the picture of me, when I was about that age, standing next to the piano (as you came in, on the left – gone sometime in the late 70s or early 80s). I remember how to manually figure out a fixed commission, as well as MannyHanny, a dozen (or so) individual Fortunoff stores in a decaying Brooklyn neighborhood where hot pretzels were three for a quarter, and Dean Witter picking up Reynolds. And I remember when EF Hutton talked, I remember when they built the trade center (my father’s office overlooked it), and I was there the day it fell (took shelter at AIG). I remember why, first hand, if you gave your word for a trade at Harry’s you had better keep it – regardless of the next morning news, and I lived through the ’87 crash (options in the money – I didn’t think they could trade lower than wall paper), along with the layoffs and reading in the Sunday paper that Rothschild’s muni business would close the next day. And I was there for the credit crunches, currency (and country) failures, the Tec ‘hits’ and bust, and I’m here now, for all the fun.

Our industry is known for its ups and downs, you have to make it when you can, and there’s little sympathy for second place. But this time is different. Maybe its automation and outsourcing. You used to need two traders to do the arb on an issue – buy on Ph and match on NY, all for an eighth, now there’s not even a Yen on currency variances. Or maybe it’s my age wondering why, or maybe I’m just rewriting history. Regardless of why, the already diminishing street is getting a lot smaller, and my point is institutions, like Bear and so many others, stood for something. Lehman is in a battle, and rightfully to the street it’s survival of the fittest – if they can make it great, if not its part of the continuing process. But for just one moment, again maybe its age or fear that I’m next in line, I actually feel sad. Sad for the people who invested in the stock, sad for the non-executive workers and their families, and sad for the decline of an institution that stood for something to so many of us. There should be no asterisk on Maris’ name (I was there that day, I know), and more importantly to the world, where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

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About

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ben Steverman focuses on the latest moves in financial markets and emerging trends in stocks, bonds, and funds, always with an eye toward giving readers a better understanding of the sometimes confusing and often chaotic world of money. Standard & Poor’s senior index analyst Howard Silverblatt will also provide his take on companies’ finances and the markets. Voted one of the “Top 100 Finance Blogs” in 2007.

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