NEW YORK — For the first time in its history, the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday voluntarily delayed its 9:30 a.m. opening, waiting until noon in deference to ceremonies nearby at the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers.
The normal levity of traders, who often banter and joke with one another before the markets open, was absent on the first anniversary of the attacks on lower Manhattan that destroyed the World Trade Center, killed more than 2,800 people and forced the stock markets to halt trading for four days.
Big Board Chairman Richard Grasso received a warm welcome from the floor traders as he led a delegation of dignitaries including Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt, to the trading floor’s balcony to ring the opening bell shortly before noon. Also on hand for the opening bell were representatives of the New York police and fire departments.
After an initial upturn, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day off a slight 21.44 points or 0.25% following a hijacking scare and drab economic indicators.
The difficulty of the day was obvious in the subdued mood of traders, some of whom had tears in their eyes after a singing of the national anthem at the start of the market session. Several traders said they wished the markets had stayed closed for the entire day, noting that it was a hard day to stay interested in trading stocks.
Others commented that Sept. 17 would also be a hard day, the anniversary of when all U.S. financial markets reopened following the unprecedented four-day closure.
Several big media stocks outpaced the overall market. Vivendi Universal was up 2.92% to $13.76 as it moves forward with assets sales. News Corp. rose 2.16% to $21.75. Viacom gained 1.75% to close at $43.49.
Walt Disney dipped 0.43% to $16.18. AOL Time Warner eased 0.82% to $13.25.
The DJIA is down 10% and the Nasdaq off 21% from a year ago. The attack weakened an already sluggish economy and contributed to a volatile market. It demolished a large area surrounding Wall Street, took the lives of hundreds of employees in brokerages and financial services and forced a number of firms to relocate — some permanently.
Tens of thousands of mourners converged at Ground Zero for the memorial that began at 8:46 a.m. — the moment the first hijacked jet struck the north tower of the Trade Center one year ago.
“Today is a day of reflection,” said Alan Ackerman, market strategist at Fahnestock & Co. “People don’t feel concerned about the market but about the turmoil and tragedy we experienced a year ago.”
Casting another pall on the market was a reminder of the soft economic recovery. U.S. economic growth slowed in recent weeks, although activity varied widely by sector, the Federal Reserve reported in its so-called Beige Book report.
Investors will be watching and listening intently today as President Bush address the U.N. General Assembly on Iraq and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testifies on the economy before the House of Representatives Budget Committee.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)