Business Today

Life in a bear market

With Asian markets down and little hope that Indian markets will behave differently, the lives of dealers have turned upside down. Rachna Monga, who spent a day at a broker's office in Mumbai, says that cricket seems to have taken precedence over market moves.

Rachna Monga        Print Edition: November 30 2008

November 6, 2008 Mumbai

In 15 minutes, the ticker and the screen will start moving, but most of the 30-odd pairs of eyes at Sunidhi Consultancy Services’ South Mumbai office are hooked on to Virendra Sehwag’s next move in the ongoing Test match between Australia and India. At a time when the chips are down for the stock market, cricket seems to have taken precedence over market moves. And with Asian markets down at the moment, there is little hope that Indian markets will behave differently.

Nonetheless, as the clock approaches 9.55 a.m., some eyes turn towards the trading screens and as the ticker starts moving, there is an intermittent clatter of keyboards. The subbrokers and dealers sitting in the room have switched their loyalty from Sehwag to CNBC for the moment. But clearly, the bear run of the past few months has resulted in a sea change at brokerage firms like Sunidhi. No longer are there incessant phone calls from investors. In fact, there is hardly any buy or sell orders to be punched in. Little wonder then, those who get bored of watching the falling prices switch the channel to the match, which is more interesting as India has lost two wickets. A 200-odd point fall in Sensex is hardly a reason to get worried any more.

As the markets start recovering around 2-2.30 p.m., the trading screen gets more attention than the television screen. Sensex is down by just 11 points. As some stocks hit circuit breaker, a dealer knocks the table with joy. Another one is trying to juggle with simultaneous calls on his landline and mobile. Suddenly, the trading room is buzzing with activity. Elsewhere in the trading room, one group of dealers is quietly glued to the trading screens. Another has invented what can be called the humour of stock market crash 2008 that draws analogies of the bearish stock market with famous dialogues from the blockbuster movie Sholay. One dealer shouts Kitne aadmi the? (How many men were there); someone shouts back Sarkaar, 100 aadmi mandi wale the (100 men, who were all bears). Yeh bhav dekhne ko nahin milega (you won’t get to see Sensex at this level), I am told, at a time when the Sensex is inching to its day’s high of 10,109.45. “Does that mean it will go up or down from here?” I ask. “Madam, aaj kal bhav upar kahan jata hai; sab kuch neeche hi jata hai, (Nothing goes up these days; everything comes down),” I am told.

“Sale, sale, Suzlon on sale,” shouts another dealer Mukesh, who sounds like one of those vendors, who sell export surplus clothes in Fashion Street in Mumbai. His colleagues surround him and wish him—it’s his birthday and the dealers decide to celebrate with chocolates instead of cake. “Gone are the days when we used to have big parties,” a dealer says. Things have indeed changed. This isn’t the way these brokers and dealers started their day during the unprecedented bull run. Till January, the pre-market hours were spent on punching the client orders. During the trading hours, nobody had time to lift the remote and check India’s score or crack jokes. The post-market hour was the time to take stock of the day and call up clients for payments. And birthdays were surely a time to order cakes and bhajias.

Around 3.20 p.m., as trading hours draw to a close, the enthusiastic voices and jokes are decimated as Sensex slips by 400-odd points from its day’s high. “Change the channel now and check the news,” screams a dealer. The villain is inflation rate that has gone up from 10.68 per cent to 10.72 per cent. She is staring at the screen, which is full of red blocks that signify that most of the shares have fallen.

 Then

. Dealers spent the pre-market hours in taking down the ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ orders from clients and feeding it into the trading screen

. Lunch and coffee breaks were possible only after the market closed

. Historic highs of the market or birthdays of colleagues were celebrated with fanfare

Now

. Pre-market hours are spent in catching up with colleagues in the dealing room or attending general enquiries from clients

. Long lunches and coffee breaks can be accommodated before 3.30 p.m.

. Birthdays are no longer lavish. There is hardly any “high” which deserves a party 


At 3.30 p.m., trading halts. Some dealers are quick to shut the trading screens while others relax in their chairs. There are hardly any stock-taking jobs to be done or clients calls to be made. Some dealers switch to play Solitaire on their computers and others assemble around the television screen to watch Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly bat. The debate is not about why inflation has gone up or why the banks are cutting interest rates, but it’s about how many runs India will score in the match. Some shut the screen; pack up their bags and rush to catch the 4.18 p.m. train to Borivali. “Train was never the regular mode of transportation, but car fuel is unaffordable with this kind of income from market,” says Girish Kotian, who walks out in hurry.

The sharpest ever fall in markets has changed the mood and lifestyle of these dealers—for good or bad, and they seem to have taken it in the stride. The income levels have come down drastically, but there is more time to be spent with the family—or at least that’s what they say. Take for instance, Shilpa Zota, a sub-broker who has been associated with the firm for five years, who manages to step out for lunch, something she could rarely do during the good times. And her family isn’t complaining as she is home by six in the evening. Amit B. Shah, another sub-broker, celebrated this Diwali without crackers and his only hope is that next Diwali will be full of fireworks. It was another day of losses for 30-odd dealers and sub-brokers, but the smile on their faces gave me a feeling that this too shall pass someday.

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