Financial Institutions Open With Tightened Security

Times Staff Writers

Financial markets rebounded today from morning losses in the wake of a heightened terrorist alert that left many of the nation’s most prominent financial institutions — including the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan and the International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington, D.C. — ringed by heavy security.

Exchange and government officials reported that the nation’s financial systems were operating smoothly behind a heavy curtain of security. In a show of confidence, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 39.45 points today to close at 10,179.

“Federal regulators and law enforcement officials will continue to work closely with financial market participants to quickly respond to any potential market disruptions,” said Treasury Secretary John Snow. “The international financial institutions — the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group in particular — have also taken extraordinary measures to protect against the threat of a terrorist attack.”

Additional police and security forces greeted workers and visitors to the institutions that Homeland Security officials Sunday identified as possible targets of terrorist truck and car bombs: the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup headquarters in New York, the IMF and World Bank headquarters in Washington, and the offices of Prudential Financial in Newark, N.J.

Except for the heavy media presence and a somewhat more visible police presence, the scene outside the New York Stock Exchange this morning was little different than on most trading days since 9/11.

Traders on their way to work filed past the wrought-iron barriers surrounding the NYSE and flashed their picture IDs at police checkpoints — security measures that have been in place since the attack on the World Trade Center nearly three years ago.

Today, John A. Thain, the exchange’s chief executive, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) stood at the intersection of Wall and Broad streets about an hour before the market opening, shaking hands and greeting arriving workers.

“There may be butterflies in some stomachs,” Schumer told reporters, but people in New York’s financial community are feeling “almost a moral imperative” to go to work as usual and deny terrorists any victory.

On the trading floor, Gordon Charlop, president of the trading firm of W.J. Dowd Inc., said that all 15 of his employees showed up for work.

“There’s been some hoopla about the perceived threat,” Charlop said, “but really, we’re been working under these conditions for a while.”

Kenneth J. Polcari, managing director of NYSE floor-trading firm of Polcari/Weicker, said he had a conference call Sunday in which he told the firm’s 10 employees that anyone who was worried about the threat could stay home on Monday.

“They all kind of laughed at me,” Polcari said.

In Midtown Manhattan, the effects of stepped-up security were much more obvious at New York’s other named target site, the 59-story Citigroup Center.

Shoppers trying to reach the stores and restaurants of the building’s street-level public atrium were turned away by paper signs notifying them that the atrium was closed.

On the west side of the building, along Lexington Avenue between 53rd and 54th streets, more than a dozen police vehicles were parked, squeezing the flow of southbound traffic on Lexington Avenue. Police officers, some helmeted with flak jackets and automatic weapons, monitored traffic, occasionally stopping vehicles to look inside.

Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Financial, a securities and insurance conglomerate, said its top executives decided late Sunday to remain open for business today after conferring with the Department of Homeland Security.

“Based on the information provided by that agency, we have taken the steps necessary to ensure the safety of our employees and customers,” Prudential said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in Washington, security police at the IMF inspected the underside of cars entering the institution’s parking garage and police inspected employees’ identification badges as workers entered the World Bank headquarters near the White House, according to Associated Press.

Mulligan reported from New York, Sanchez handled rewrite in Los Angeles. Times wire services contributed to this report.