Dick Grasso, a skinny bald guy with an annoying, high-pitched voice who had never proven himself in the trenches of Corporate America, was an unlikely Sept. 11 superstar. Yet there he was, a mere six days after the destruction of his neighbourhood in lower Manhattan, presiding over the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange. “We have served notice that the criminals have failed,” the exchange boss said from the trading floor balcony. “Our economy is intact.”
Although the Dow plunged 7 per cent that day, the epicentre of American capitalism was back in business and Mr. Grasso was the financial world’s answer to Rudolph Giuliani, who was at his side when the opening bell rang after two minutes of silence for the World Trade Center victims.
His transformation from hero to zero happened when the world learned he had a $140-million (U.S.) pay package.
Two years ago, about 3,000 people in the World Trade Center were killed when two airliners struck the towers. Nearby buildings, among them the vast World Financial Center, were heavily damaged. Most of lower Manhattan was uninhabitable. The NYSE shut down. New Yorkers feared a second attack. The heart of the world’s financial industry was dead and there were dire predictions that no rebuilding or remarketing effort would prevent a mass exodus of talent and businesses, not to mention tax dollars, to skyscraper-free outer suburbia.
Dick Grasso’s shameful behaviour is ample evidence that things are pretty much back to normal. Capitalism did not die. The markets reopened. Executive greed replaced patriotism in a flash (maybe the two are the same), there was no mass exodus and investors went on investing. Perhaps they should be added to the list of Sept. 11 heroes.
The latest investor comeback is all the more impressive given the magnitude of the shock and tragedy of Sept. 11. Two years later, the market has more than recouped its lost value — it’s up 15 per cent. This year alone, the Dow is up more than 13 per cent, while Nasdaq has gained more than 38 per cent. Not a bad comeback. Of course, another massive attack on New York could erase those gains in a second. Still, the message is clear: Nothing but another major terrorist incident could do so. Such is the optimism and resiliency of the American investor.