Every September 11th, I watch the “As it happened” videos from that day on YouTube. I do this for a variety of reasons. I don’t want to ever forget the friends I have lost as a result of that day and the wars that followed and continue today, some 18 years later. I don’t want to forget the feelings of patriotism and the acts of human kindness. I don’t want to take anything for granted.
On that late summer day in 2001, I was working at Solomon Smith Barney at 390 Greenwich Street. The building was easy to find at night because it used to have the old Travelers umbrella on its façade lit up in red. I suppose it symbolized the safety inherent with their insurance. It didn’t protect us that day.
I also lived around the corner on Franklin Street in Tribeca and stayed down there for the days after the attacks.
There are a lot of ways to think about that day. Most of my memories are intense and directly related to specific physical senses.
There was the crisp air that greeted my skin on the walk to work. This breeze meant that the fleece vests came out of the closet. Like different sports teams, each trader had a jersey. The team logo was on the upper left pocket. There was the sight of two symbols of freedom collapsing upon themselves and with them the hopes and dreams of thousands of people. The sound of sirens. Neverending sirens. The smell of trash burning that is usually a smell emanating from the side of a road in a country like Indonesia. I can feel all of them this moment.
Until a year ago, I had never really given any thought to how the market traded that morning because the action of the markets that day were of little concern compared to the overwhelming loss of life. But in retrospect, the way the market traded mirrored the way my innocence changed that day.
That morning, NOK guided lower. AMZN was trading at $8. Lehman Brothers upgraded Goldman Sachs. David Faber, in one of the eeriest calls ever, discussed a negative call on BA from Prudential and an upgrade in AMR by UBS at 8:44am. Two minutes later the first plane hit the North Tower.
When I watch those videos from that morning, one of the things that cause me to reflect is the way the SPX futures reacted after the first attack. Or should I say the lack of reaction. 18 long minutes elapsed between the first plane attack and the second plane attack. Throughout that time, the SPX futures barely moved. Through the prism of 2019, that is a fact nearly impossible to believe. Today, a tweet can move the SPX futures 2%. On September 11, 2001 the possibility of a terrorist hijacking a plane and deliberately flying it into a skyscraper was so remote that practically nobody considered it to be real and the SPX futures did not move. In fact, the premarket indices actually rallied from 8:47 to 8:58am. I left our trading desk and went down to the street. As I looked southward on Greenwich Street I saw the gaping hole in the tower. When the second plane hit the South Tower, at 9:02am it was clear we were under attack. The futures on the market sold off and eventually closed for trading.
I think the action of those index futures that morning is a microcosm for my entire life. Before 8:46am, I did not give a whole lot of thought to “black swan” type of events. After 9:02 I searched for them everywhere.
Like life overall, trading stocks was never the same after that day. From that point forward, threats to the entire system seemed to be arising each day. A little white powder called Anthrax was being sent through the mail to people. I liked Anthrax better when it was just a poor person’s Megadeath. Every time a plane slid off the runway, or hit a bird during takeoff the market moved violently. In fact, all kinds of external threats caused people to assume the worst possible outcomes. Avian Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, Zika, West Nile. People started using a TAM of 7 Billion people to measure the market for vaccines.
None of those extinction level events came close to actually ending life as we know it. On the contrary, all we needed were the letters CMBS and CDS to nearly eradicate ourselves.
I cannot speak for anyone else. I lost a lot that morning. Call it my naivete. I prefer to think of it as innocence lost. A new world began both on and off the trading desk after that day. Negative possibilities and probabilities grew exponentially in my mind. I began to focus intently on mitigating risk wherever possible.
People have adjusted and persisted and so has the stock market. These days, any dips related to terror events are usually very short term phenomena. So as I reflect on that day I want to remember all those emotions and feel them again, albeit briefly. I think the markets are living creatures and like the markets, my optimism has rebounded and is at all time highs. I pray it stays there.