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Raymond James floor mirrors market frenzy

Published Oct. 2, 2005

The call came in to the trading floor at Raymond James & Associates Inc. around 10:05 Tuesday morning.

It was a buy order. Not a big one, but someone wanting to buy stocks.

To traders who'd been swimming in sell orders since the market opened, this made no sense. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had shed nearly 200 points before the first cup of coffee had gone cold. The sequel to Monday's stock selloff seemed imminent. Why buy now?

"We don't know why, but things turned around," said Dave Santoro, who runs the trading floor for the St. Petersburg-based brokerage.

Did they ever.

A stampede of traders squished a WFLA-Ch. 8 television cameraman against a desk while getting to their phones and computers. Trading shouts _ punctuated with "Buy!" followed by a stock price _ resounded around the rows of brokers.

Wall Street's busiest day exploded at Raymond James on Tuesday morning, the start of a 600-point rally that smashed trading volume records and helped soothe many of Monday's wounds. But by afternoon, things had slowed, with most of the big money waiting to see where the market was headed.

The mayhem here mirrors what has occurred at brokerages and businesses around the country this week; nearly everyone has watched the markets' roller-coaster ride with interest.

On the trading floor at Raymond James, shirt-and-tied traders bark at each other, haggle over prices and whip minifootballs at each other when they're not watching screens full of numbers that represent billions of dollars.

On Tuesday, they were watching two things that were good news for the firm. Prices were going up, which helped stocks in which Raymond James has a stake. And volume was soaring, meaning the firm would make more money on commissions.

At 2:50 p.m., the number of shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange passed 1-billion, long after smashing the previous daily volume record of around 700-million.

Light applause was scattered around Judy Jones' desk, where Jones, 58, buys and sells for mutual funds and other big market movers. Some traders grumbled that the history was not in the number itself, but in who was making the money driving the numbers. "Let's make sure we make our part of it!" groused one.

Pictures of Jones' three dogs gaze up from a desk stacked with research reports touting drug stocks (one titled "Even Bears Need Their Drugs") and notes showing how she'd bought tens of thousands of Westinghouse Electric Corp. shares. Its price was climbing about $3 a share, startling for a big "safe" stock.

When Jones started in the business 37 years ago, trading just 3.5-million shares in a day meant big bonuses for traders. Firms typically shut down on Wednesdays to catch up on transactions.

Tuesday, more than 2.7-billion shares changed hands across all American markets, creating a computer logjam around the country that made filling orders sometimes impossible.

For example, a customer wanting to buy a stock at a certain price would phone a broker, who would place the order. Delays of up to 40 minutes meant that the stock price often would have changed by several dollars before the order could be filled. Lots of orders simply couldn't be executed.

"I've been upbeat about it all," Jones said. "It's stressful, but all I have to do is walk outside this building and it all fades away."

On Raymond James' trading floor, the traders cuss loudly, gesture wildly at market machinations and devour catered sandwiches. Leaving their phones and computers, even for a bathroom break, can cost thousands of dollars if stock prices move.

"They get a little more leeway than most employees," explained Larry Silver, spokesman for the brokerage. "If it relieves their stress, we let them do it."

Raymond James is Tampa Bay's big brokerage, larger than most in the country but smaller than the big ones based in New York. It's a "market maker" for 220 small to midsize companies like Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc., meaning it buys a lot of their shares to help its clients have access to them.

Having those shares on its books means that days like Tuesday, despite the record volume, can cost Raymond James. "We took a hit on some of our positions today," Silver said. "It was a good day, because we generated commissions, but it wasn't a great day."

And Raymond James' stock took a hit Monday as investors dumped brokerages' stock. But after closing up 12.5 cents to $29.75 Tuesday, the stock has risen 50 percent just this year.

Jones feels that the hesitation that some big brokerage houses have in dealing with some smaller stocks helped contribute to the slide Monday, as fund managers couldn't find ways to sell those stocks.

But Tuesday, things looked better. Jones likes to see "waves" of selling followed by buying instead of movement straight up or down. That creates a more stable range in which her stocks trade, making it easier to know where they might be headed. And she appreciates that investors aren't as panicky as in other market drops.

"People out there are just far more educated about the markets right now," she said. "They just know how to look at it. I like to see it."