Sun, Apr 06, 2003 - Page 10 News List

New York Stock Exchange opening bell loses appeal

BLOOMBERG , NEW YORK

Traders watch screens in front of a television carrying the latest news from the war in Iraq on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Is the bell tolling for the New York Stock Exchange's daily market-opening ritual? On three mornings this week, the exchange refrained from its daily ceremony in which invited guests, who have included Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nelson Mandela, ring the opening bell for television viewers around the world.

The longest bear market since the Great Depression, and the Iraq war may have dampened enthusiasm for the eight-year-old practice.

"People are not in a celebratory mood," said Clive Chajet, chairman of Chajet Consultancy, who recently rang the opening bell at the neighboring American Stock Exchange after advising that exchange on marketing.

Ringing the opening bell Monday: Susan Byrne, chief executive of Westwood Holdings Group Inc, a Dallas-based institutional money manager celebrating its 20th anniversary. NYSE clerk Martin Torelli rang the bell today. His brother, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Torelli, is with a US Army counter-terrorism unit overseas.

Robert Zito, the exchange's executive vice president for communications, didn't immediately return calls for comment.

When the exchange skips the opening bell ceremony, a sole floor official pushes a button that clangs a 10-second bell in each of the exchange's five trading rooms. It kicks off US trading in stocks at 9:30am.

Commercializing the opening bell dates to 1995, when exchange Chairman Richard Grasso, elevated to the top job after working his way up the exchange ranks, began promoting the NYSE as a "brand." Zito approached General Electric Co's CNBC financial news network, which was broadcasting from the American Stock Exchange, and suggested the company do live reports from the NYSE floor. The bell ceremony is now broadcast on some two-dozen networks around the world and reaches some 110 million viewers a day.

Exchange staffers cautioned not to read too much into the ringing rout. Chief executives of the exchange's 2,800 listed companies often ask to ring the bell to mark anniversaries or promotions, and the lull may be a fluke of scheduling.

Yet the ringing is also a perk of companies going public, and just three this year debuted on the Big Board: Provident Financial Services, Endurance Specialty Holdings Ltd, and Telkom SA Ltd.

The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index has lost 43 percent from its peak in March 2000.

"The IPO business," said Grasso at a briefing yesterday, "is virtually non-existent."

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