The market is wearing down its makers.
More than anything else, the rush to buy stocks over the past two months is exhausting the men and women who fight, scream and cajole on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, they say.
It is a tense, frenetic world, particularly on a day like today when the exchange recorded its busiest day ever, with a volume of 149.1 million shares -- there was some confusion about that total, so heavy was yesterday's trading. Not until this year had a single day's volume even topped 84 million shares.
But trying to interview these traders as they leave the floor can seem like asking impertinent questions of a prizefighter in the middle of a losing bout. Few want to talk while the action is hot and heavy, particularly to a nosy reporter.
Traders who stepped off the brawling floor for a cigarette or a quick drink of water and were willing to kibbitz, talked about the tension and anxiety of trading on days like today.
"Every day is taxing," said John H. Woods, a floor trader and partner with Lynch, Jones, & Ryan. "It's insanity. It's like trying to put five pounds of sugar into a two-pound bag."
Traders complain that, since the market boom began in August, the action gets so frenetic so soon that they cannot even finish their coffee before the bell sounds at 10 a.m.
This morning, bleary-eyed traders also had to cope with the after-effects of a rash of parties celebrating Wednesday's setting of a record Dow Jones industrial average. The partying seemed to leave many floor professionals drawn and, let's say, irritable. "Tonight, it's off to bed at 8 p.m.," said one, pleading for anonymity.
"There are a lot of tired people down there," said Martin Albanese, first vice president and senior floor officer for Prudential Bache Securities.
Nevertheless, trading opened with a bang today, as a record 46 million shares changed hands by 11 a.m. Early-morning records at the exchange are nothing new of late: The 10 busiest first hours have all occurred since the market boom began in mid-August.
Floor veterans can hear when something special is happening at the stock exchange, like Wednesday when the Election Day results pushed the market to an all-time high, with the Dow industrials rising by 43 points, the biggest one-day gain ever recorded. "You're always aware of what's going on by the buzz of activity," said Albert R. Harmon of Frank Wilson & Co.
They also can see it when the "tape" that displays stock prices is running late, and today -- with a printing capacity of only 900 characters a minute -- it ran as much as an hour late. Traders also know when a volume crunch occurs because it is more difficult to find the floor dealer for a particular stock.
Executives of the New York Stock Exchange also are acutely aware of the problem that a late ticker tape creates. Every hour today they were forced to print a message on the thin tape that shows trading prices reminding brokers and others that the tape is only an information service. With the Big Board fully computerized, trading continues with little regard to the ticker tape's progress.
"That is the ticker and the ticker only," said Carl Bolton, the exchange's assistant vice president of data communications. "It has nothing to do with trading on the floor."
"Tape lateness during periods of unusually active trading does not signify any difficulty in handling volume," the message read. "It does not delay trading and does not adversely affect the instantaneous delivery of quote and last-sale information to vendors."
The reality on the floor was not as clockwork smooth as the statement suggested. Traders -- some with telephones crammed under their chins -- took orders and yelled quotations for the transactions they wanted to make, standing amid the flotsam of discarded stock transaction slips.
The flood of orders seemed to indicate that many small trades, the kind that ordinary investors would make, were coming in. The market moves much more smoothly when institutions such as pension and mutual funds are buying and selling blocks worth millions of dollars.
But a few years ago, before the New York exchange put into place the third and most sophisticated computerized system for tracking stock activity, days like today would have been impossible. "It would have been chaos," Bolton said. "The paperwork would have bogged us down to the point where we would have had to shut down," said Albanese.
Even with the computerization of the exchange, however, the floor of the market can seem like a big cat-and-mouse game. Floor professionals say a lot of activity was very tentative Wednesday morning. Most came to the exchange thinking that the market, reflecting Republican losses at the polls, would sag.
"After the market didn't sell off by midday, they rushed in," said Albanese. "That picks up steam, and there is a crush of bodies on the floor. You can hear it. There is a buzzing in the air. It's electric."