For many municipal professionals on Wall Street, the memory 10 years later of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, is as raw as it was in the chaos following that terrible day.
The attacks at the World Trade Center wreaked havoc on Wall Street and tested the resiliency of the municipal bond market itself. Cantor Fitzgerald Fixed Income Brokers Inc., a broker-dealer that for years had supplied price quotes for The Bond Buyer municipal bond index, was virtually wiped out. Dozens of other firms on the Street suffered catastrophic losses. Regulators were forced to shut down the markets.
Bond issues were postponed and activity in the secondary market ground to a halt.
The Bond Buyer spoke to several industry professionals who shared their memories of 9/11 and how the tragic events impacted their careers, lives, colleagues, and the municipal market.
“What I remember most is sitting in the office with Bob Jackman, who lost his daughter that day,” said Dan Keating.
Keating in September of 2001 was the senior managing director of municipals at Bear, Stearns & Co. located in Midtown. Jackman, who died in December, was then head of municipal trading.
Now chief operating officer of public finance at Ramirez & Co., Keating said the anniversary is weighing heavily on people’s minds.
“I can’t wait to get it over,” he said Thursday. “I just can’t believe 10 years have gone by.”
“It’s a reality check,” he said from Ramirez’s Broadway office downtown where he now works. “You can never forget what happened, but you can’t look back. You have to move on.”
The tragedy brought firms together and proved the market’s strength.
“The market reacted in an orderly manner and the industry did a great job in putting it back together as soon as possible,” Keating said.
The lack of communication with so many phone and computer systems out made it challenging to get things done, but firms managed to do business.
“It was tough,” Keating said. “Firms had to service customers, issuers had to sell debt, the investors had to buy and sell bonds.”
“It was a sign that we were vulnerable, but we certainly regrouped as a country and as an industry,” said Jacob “Jay” Alpert, now an executive vice president and manager of sales, trading, and underwriting at M.R. Beal & Co. on Wall Street.
“I think it showed the resiliency of the market. Obviously we were all caught off guard and knocked off our skates. Everything shut down, but we kind of crept back into it,” he said.
On that crisp and sunny morning, Alpert was the senior vice president and manager of the bond department at Stern, Agee & Leach Inc. in Midtown. He was on the phone with a colleague from Cantor — which, along with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter’s retail municipal trading arm, were two of the largest tenants of the trade center.
The colleague suddenly said to him, “Something is wrong. … Something just hit us,” Alpert said. “You heard a roar in the background of voices and everyone didn’t know what was going on.”
“It just kind of all became surreal after that.” He remembered leaving the office and seeing the streets filled with “bleary-eyed people on that beautiful day looking downtown and seeing that plume of smoke.”
“I remember not really having much conversation except… 'Oh my God,’ ” he said.
The market itself has come a long way since the attacks, Alpert said. It is again subject to the normal course of business and the event risks of the world we live in.
“Do I know people whose lives were forever changed? Absolutely,” he said. “Do I know people who never made it out of the towers? Absolutely. But I don’t think that is something where you can say, `That was then and this is now.’”
Peter Delahunt was the senior vice president and national sales manager at Raymond James & Associates Inc. located in Midtown.
“I remember seeing it on TV and the traders were on the phone with the brokers that were right there at the trade center. And then the phones went dead,” he said. “We have TV screens all around the trading floor and you saw nothing but those planes sticking out of the buildings.”
“I don’t think anybody for a second thought it was an accident,” he said. “When the second plane came in, you knew conclusively we were under attack.”
Delahunt’s sister was working at the trade center at the time. He remembers frantically trying to call her on her cell phone but not getting through.
“Finally, she showed up at my office,” he said.
Delahunt is now the senior vice president and managing director of underwriting and trading at Raymond James. “It’s a small industry and we had close ties and family relationships with many firms, so it was very tenuous,” he said.
Delahunt said the biggest change in the market occurred over the next couple of months after the attacks as the industry united and firms worked harder to get the market back on track.
“Shops, like [Lehman Brothers], were displaced and they were working out of temporary headquarters scattered around New Jersey and Manhattan. Some were sharing phones, sharing desks, others didn’t have [Bloomberg terminals],” he said.
“It gave us more resolve to make sure we worked even harder when there were firms like Lehman displaced,” Delahunt continued.
“Every weekend we had three funerals, and every other night, wakes to go to … that encouraged us to be more aggressive and to have more resolve,” he said.
He said he sensed an especially somber tone in the city last week. The absence of the towers affects his everyday routine.
“When I would get out of a subway, I would always look to the trade towers as my compass,” Delahunt said.
Terry Atkinson, at the time a director of UBS PaineWebber Inc.’s municipal securities group, said that like most people, he watched the television reports after the first plane hit the trade center.
“We actually did see the second one crash,” he said. “From my office on 51st and 6th Avenue, you could look straight down 6th Avenue and see the Twin Towers. I knew people at Cantor and people who died in the building.”
“Ten years later, 20 years later, 100 years later, no one is going to forget that,” he said.
“The shock of the day got worse and worse,” Atkinson said on Friday at his office at Morgan Stanley in San Francisco, where he now works as managing director of public finance. He joined Morgan Stanley in January 2010 after retiring in 2007 after 19 years at UBS.
While he said the personal impact far outweighed the market impact, he recalled the market turning the challenges into triumph.
“There was a lack of liquidity, but the market handled it,” he added. “That kind of event doesn’t happen more than once in a lifetime and it’s amazing how fast we came back and had a market that wasn’t perfect but you could trade bonds and trade stocks on the New York Stock Exchange.”
Firms united for one purpose and put their business interests aside temporarily.
“We’re as competitive as the day is long, but this wasn’t about business, this was about survival,” Atkinson said. “No one was worrying about getting that next deal, but worrying about how their people were doing and overwhelmed by what was taking place.”
Ten years later, “it’s not changed the markets, per se, but it elevated concern about terrorism attacks and homeland security,” he said. “It was one of the finest hours” for New Yorkers and those in the market, he added.
Atkinson compares the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on his psyche to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy when he was a child.
“When I was a kid, Kennedy was like a hero to me, and that was the biggest thing at the time that changed my life and showed how terrible things could happen,” he said. “This was so much bigger.”