Working From Home Feeds Market’s Woes in Little Ways That Add Up

Government officials who monitor the smooth functioning of markets, and traders and investors who depend on it, note that slower connections have created lags leading to uncertainty — say, about whether a buy or sell order is coming through.

Traders typically have three to four screens they use to keep a constant eye on price changes, communications from trading partners and market data sources. But at home, most probably have a laptop and another monitor, so more toggling and clicking is required to nail down the maturity schedule of a bond or call up the daily trading volume on a stock.

The phone is another matter. Traders usually use a specialized telephone known as a “turret,” with preprogrammed keys to connect with important clients and trading partners. While there are electronic solutions that would allow traders to replicate their turrets online at home, many seem to have reverted to simply looking up numbers and using their cellphones to connect — another small but significant slowdown in communications.

Jeff Warren, a Goldman Sachs banker who helped oversee the sale of $600 million in bonds on March 30 for the restaurant chain Yum Brands, found it much more onerous to deal with hundreds of investors from the attic of his mother-in-law’s home in Long Island than from the office. He said he joked to colleagues that while his Downtown Manhattan office has a phone turret that allows 600 calls to come through at once, he is barely able to patch together two lines on a desk phone while working remotely.

The coronavirus outbreak threw a wrench into the continuity planning that many Wall Street companies had put in place since at least the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those plans were largely built around the idea that if trading at a bank headquarters was knocked off-line, groups of traders would decamp to satellite trading floors outside the radius of whatever disaster had befallen New York. But those plans quickly became unworkable, given the dangers of infections from coronavirus for virtually all office work that puts people close to one another.

“This is really not the disaster that they had planned for,” said Daniel Beunza, a business professor at the City University of London, who has studied and recently written a book on bank trading floor culture.

The trading floor at Driehaus Capital Management, a boutique investment manager, occupies the second floor of a 19th century mansion in Chicago. On a typical day, a handful of traders — with four screens apiece — scour the markets for entry and exit points on the stocks and bonds the portfolio managers have earmarked for buying or selling.

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