Wall Street Reacts To Obama's Push For Regulation
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
We just heard President Obama say he was speaking a few blocks from Wall Street. Well, in fact, he was about 30 blocks from the stock exchange. We sent NPR's Robert Smith to Wall Street to find out how the speech played there.
ROBERT SMITH: I'll ask you. Would you spend your lunch hour listening to some guy scold your profession? I didn't think so. Investment banker Eric Williams would rather just stare at his Grey Goose vodka straight up.
Mr. ERIC WILLIAMS (Investment Banker): I have no plans to watch it.
SMITH: Now, you don't have to watch his speech to know what he's saying because you're going to be watching the stock market.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Yeah. And once it starts tanking, I know he started talking.
SMITH: In fact, the Wall Street bars playing the speech on TV were so empty you could toss a credit default swap across the room without hitting a counterparty. Williams gets the joke. He voted for Mr. Obama, but says that the president might want to stick with the things he knows.
Mr. WILLIAMS: He doesn't understand. All he understands is that people have lost money and some people are complaining, but everyone is adults. You can't -I just feel like sometimes he wants to be someone's father. And, listen, everybody's grown. We all have our own parents. We don't need you to parent us.
SMITH: As the speech began, most lunch places around Wall Street didn't even bother turning their TVs away from sports. One guy in a three-piece suit joked that he could feel the heat from two miles away, he didn't need to watch it. But a few wanted to see what the fuss was about.
Mr. JOHN ATKINS (Corporate Bond Analyst): John Atkins, I'm an analyst, corporate bond analyst.
SMITH: Atkins explains the markets were more obsessed today with Greece's bad debts than the barnburner at Cooper Union. But he did say that people are talking about how the reform plan could actually benefit Wall Street. For instance, the proposal to have a new exchange for all those mysterious, complicated derivatives. Atkins says that might mean more jobs in the financial sector.
Mr. ATKINS: Having a lot of derivatives money flow through New York as opposed to Chicago, again, it's of limited interest to the broader national conversation. But, you know, more jobs are better for New York downtown right now.
SMITH: And goodness knows we have the office space.
Mr. ATKINS: Oh, we have plenty of office space. We're standing very near a largely empty building once inhabited by Goldman Sachs.
SMITH: President Obama's call for more transparency and openness in the financial sector seemed to get the best reviews on Wall Street. Vladimir Baranov works in index arbitrage. He says that despite the stereotype, Wall Streeters love more data, more information.
Mr. VLADIMIR BARANOV (Index Arbitrage Trader): The firms which are in the shadows, I'm not going to name names, but there are companies which are selling instruments, but nobody knows how they work. And you are just forced to buy them because everybody else is buying them. But the better you understand them, the change is going to bring some good things to Wall Street.
SMITH: But that doesn't mean it will be easy. Al Avery(ph) sits on Wall Street every day hawking souvenirs.
You sell pictures of Bernie Madoff, do you think a picture of President Obama would sell on Wall Street here?
Mr. AL AVERY: Well, I have bulls that say President Obama.
Mr. AVERY: And I know for a fact not one trader on Wall Street has bought one of them.
SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.
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