Futures Pits Close & One Trader Remembers When….
US Futures Pits are closed. They’ve been loss leaders for some time as their primary use has been hedging the option pits which will remain on the exchange floors until contingent orders requiring special handling can be executed electronically.
I’m happy to see the industry move forward, embracing new technology and economies of scale. But this trader’s memories of her days on the exchange floors are blog-worthy. Growing up as an options market marker on exchange floors in New York was fantastic – an experience equal to none.
I remember signing the Exchange’s Member Books: HUGE books spanning generations of members who signed the same book before me. I was proud of our community. My employers operated with strict adherence to strong ethics and integrity. I was lucky to have worked with some of the finest minds in derivatives at a time when the market was new and ideas were fresh. I also met some of the most colorful characters on the planet.
Boys were Boys and Sheep were Scared?
OK, I’ve got a confession to make: I was not the red haired beauty you see today. Rather I looked a bit like Michael J Fox as a young man. Having to wear a trading jacket did nothing to improve the overall effect. There was something about those trading jackets that equalized the genders in a way. We were all just other people who’s money it was our job to take.
Growing up in New York City didn’t make me shy. Rather it made me quick with a comeback and appreciative of good humor. Some of them were giggle-worthy. Well, at least I laughed. Maybe you will too.
Man on Floor “I remember the days they wouldn’t let a woman be a member of the exchange”
Female Reply: “oh yeah, my mother told me about those days. That’s when they made real men and we could get married and stay home instead”
Man on Floor “you will never be equal to a man”
Female replay: “gosh I hope not, I’d hate to give up my natural superiority”
Man on Floor “Women will never equal a man’s intelligence”
Female replay: “How would they do that? A frontal lobotomy or do I just need a swift kick in the head?” Like would I lose 20 IQ points for each kick?
Pocket Protector Meets Little Big Mouth
One incident which remains inked in my mind is the day I, in a fit of anger called the trader who provoked my ire and told him to meet me in Trinity Church graveyard after the close. He said “oh why, you’re going to kick my ass?”. I said, “oh no, but we can arrange that if you’d like”. We both hung up still a bit heated but leveled by the humor.
I arrived at the graveyard and sat down on a bench to wait. He walked up to me as I stood to greet him he stopped in his tracks. He said, “wow! You’re really small to have such a big mouth”. Hahaha. He won that round hands down! My only comeback was “oh I like the pocket protector, you must be a real babe magnet”. (I know, weak in comparison). This man is still among my best friends. I’m still too small for the things that come out of my mouth and he still wears his pocket protector like a religious relic. Recently I got his baby a onesy with a faux protector embroidered on the front (his wife gets the assist on that one – great lady!)
Regrets? We have a few, well two anyway
I’d be remiss not to share one slightly off color memory. There was an older member who would ask women everyday – using gentler phrasing than he did – to lift our shirts and show him (you get the picture). He’d get a variety of slaps and smiles; kisses and a few fines. And then he died.
The morning we heard he had passed away his friends went over to his booth. As we stood around in this ad hoc memorial one women said to me “are you thinking what I’m thinking”? I nodded “yes”. A third woman joined us and said, “yeah, I wish I’d shown him mine too”. Somewhere up in Heaven St. Peter laughed and opened the Gate. For a man well loved will be well remembered. I’ve just proven that!
These memories are a time capsule. They represent a time when women were showing up in large numbers and men were doing their best to adjust. While some saw the behavior as misogynistic, I saw it as pit psychology. Men tested and teased other men just as much as the women. Most of the time.
Holiday Cheer & The Ides of The Bear
Christmas time was a special time on the floors. Revenue producers made sure their support staffs were well bonused. The exchange employees who made trading possible were taken care of by each member firm as the firm saw fit. Good cheer was felt across the floor. In good years and bad the floors just felt more joyous around the holidays. They remain some of my fondest memories of fresh baked cookies and silly corporate gifts.
Friday October 16, 1987 was an expiration day. Markets were down more than 100 points as we ran from post to post hedging risk as best we could. Over the weekend we assessed our global risk and were each given marching orders for Monday morning. “Remember when everyone else is losing their head it’s those who remain calm and prepared who see opportunity. And no matter what, continue to make a market”.
Monday October 19, 1987 while everything melted down around us, my colleagues and I with our game plan in hand worked in symphony throughout the day. The day passed by so quickly, it could have been a moment. But the day was done. Now we had to get to work and see where we stood. We ran our plays, we played our plan and were coming into the next trading day with risk we could live with.
Tuesday morning we dragged ourselves to the floor after a very long evening making sure each trade cleared and our risk calculations reflected possibly scenario’s for Tuesday. The prior days sell off had taken it’s share of victims. Survivors approached the day with trepidation. Would the trading floor ever be the same? Looking across the trading floor I saw my female colleague shaking her index finger and screaming at a guy twice her size. I exhaled a large sigh-filled breath. Things were back to normal. For a while..
Of Tragedy & Hand Signals
On the afternoon of February 26, 1993, the Commodities Exchange Floor shook as if there had been an earthquake. The first terrorist attack on US soil had taken place. The damage was structural and eventually fixed, memories were harder to repair.
In July 1997, the Commodities Exchange moved to their new building at the water’s edge of the World Financial Center. The fresh breeze off the River swept New York’s summer humidity away. The view of New York Harbor and our proximity to the yachts that called the North Cove Marina home made for a lovely work environment. Upstairs the brand new tech-forward trading floor hummed along smoothly. “We go from the beach to the casino”, one friend said as we left the building for lunch one day. The analogy fit and we happily settled into out new home. Looking back it was a fortuitous move.
On September 11 2001 I was back working at The American Stock Exchange. The AMEX building, 2 blocks south of Liberty Street was in the shadow of the towers of the World Trade Center. But in the midst of unbearable tragedy there were a few miracles. One of which bears retelling.
A gentleman whom I‘d known for many years was working with a group of independent brokers who met for their weekly breakfast meeting at Windows on the World. “Windows” was a collection of venues on the top 2 floors of One World Trade Center (the North Tower). Having been asked to take a large pay cut the prior week my friend opted not to attend the meeting on Tuesday September 11. I saw him near his booth staring at the picture of his five daughters and gorgeous wife. “Yo can I rub your head for good luck?” people joked to somehow relieve the tension. I couldn’t say anything. So, I walked away. As I made my way through the crowd of people he called out “yo, ‘cabe!” I turned and he hand signaled “Thank you” I signaled back “you too”. Knowing his daughters would be able to attend college and dance with their father at their weddings helped me push the dark thoughts of all the members we lost that day out of my mind for a moment.
Although hand signals (exchange floor signals differ from ASL) are now an archaic art, they were in wide use that morning. They allowed us to communicate without our voices betraying our emotions. The ensuing period was one of remarkable strength and resilience. But I will keep those memories to myself. I know you all understand. Some may even thank me for keeping this blog on the lighter side.
The Closing Bell (or Paragraph)
Some of you may be wondering about the tricks and pranks we played on one another. The lost art of taping a paper tomahawk to a colleagues back (followed by people making the sounds of charging Indians) is one that every generation should know. Maybe I’ll blog on those the next time.
But for now to my fellow option market makers, I raise a 3/16 bid to all of you. Thank you for making my youth fun, interesting, profitable and for teaching me that being a woman in a man’s world wasn’t a big deal – unless you made it one. I think Eleanor Roosevelt put it best: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.
N.B.: The hand signal for 3/16 looks like a middle finger raised and all surrounding fingers folded – you get the picture.
Well, that’s it for now. The sun is preparing to set so I’m going to take a walk with the fam. Enjoy the rest of the weekend everyone. And please share your memories in the comment section below.