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Wall St To Open Despite Irene

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The U.S. stock market will open for a normal, if possibly lighter, trading session on Monday despite the damage and flooding in New York and on Wall Street from Hurricane Irene.

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Nasdaq Stock Market and the alternative BATS venue said they will start the week as usual. But with the New York subway system closed down and commuter rail service into the city suspended, the question remains: who will staff Wall Street?

The decision to open the market was made early Sunday afternoon after regulators, exchange officials and others met to discuss the storm and market operations.

The subway and commuter rail systems, however, remain closed and city officials were unable to shed light on when service will be restored, raising the question of whether trading volumes will be light.

Big trading firms Citigroup and Knight Capital both said they are ready to go Monday morning.

The NYSE and broader US marketplace are mostly automated, quietly running out of powerful data centers in New Jersey and elsewhere. Electronic trading is expected to function normally on Monday.

"At this point, though like everybody else we don't have a hotline into the mayor's office, we're a lot more comfortable than we were yesterday when the strength of the storm was an unknown," said Mike Shea, a managing partner and trader with Direct Access Partners LLC in New York.

Shea's firm has a presence on the NYSE floor, and in Boston and Miami. He said virtually all of his firm's traders could function from home.

Hurricane Irene battered New York with heavy winds and driving rain on Sunday, knocking out power and flooding some of Manhattan's deserted streets, including in the Wall Street district.

Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm on Sunday morning but was still sending waves crashing onto shorelines and flooding coastal areas.

There was about a foot of water in the streets of the South Street Seaport in downtown Manhattan, although there was less damage than many had feared.

Backup Plans
Knight Capital Group, the top trader of NYSE-listed shares with 16.2 per cent market share, said it would be fully operational.

"Even in the event of a shutdown of our Jersey City campus - if that were to occur - we have redundancy built into our multiple trading desks," Peter Kenny, the firm's Jersey City-based managing director, said in an e-mail. "Our trading desk in Purchase, New York would act as our principle desk as Jersey City does on a day to day basis."

"Our sales coverage and technology - access to market - will not be compromised on any level," he said.

The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), a few blocks from the NYSE, also plans at this time to open on Monday, parent CME Group Inc said on Sunday.

The NYSE trading floor now handles a fraction of the buy and sell orders that it did five years ago, when about 3,000 brokers, specialists and others worked there.

There are now about 1,000 on the floor, and Lou Pastina, executive vice president of NYSE operations, estimated the Big Board would need half of them to open safely on Monday. Floor specialists are still important, particularly at the open and close of markets, when orders pile up.

Wall Street's biggest firms also said they weathered the storm well. Citigroup spokeswoman Danielle Romero-Apsilos said the bank's downtown buildings on Greenwich Street, which house its investment bank and other institutional client businesses, are fully functional, and employees can return when the city lifts its evacuation order for lower Manhattan.

The bank is looking at transport options for employees for Monday, pending updates on what will be happening with mass transit.

For staffers unable to report to their normal offices, Citi has alternative sites ready, and also offers employees remote access to company systems.

(Reuters)


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