Financial Markets Closed Through Wednesday

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A trader in Frankfurt looks in disbelief as German stocks plunge

All U.S. financial markets were closed before they opened Tuesday after the collapse — the eradication — of both towers of the World Trade Center bathed most of lower Manhattan in rubble, smoke and bodies.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday afternoon that all exchanges would be closed through Wednesday — the first two-day closing since the JFK assassination — with further announcements to come.

"There are no prices. There is no trade," an emerging markets trader in New York told CNNfn.

"As a safety precaution while the tragic events of today are sorted out, the securities markets have decided not to open for trading today," SEC chairman Harvey Pitt said in a statement. "We strongly support that decision."

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Overseas, world markets went on churning — and were down. In London, the FTSE 100 index of British blue chip shares closed down 5.7 percent from Monday's close, with British Airways stock — a bad day for airlines — dropping 21 percent. In Germany, the DAX plummeted as much as 11.4 percent lower before recovering somewhat to close the day down 8.5 percent. The Paris Stock Exchange's CAC 40 index tumbled 7.4 percent; the Mib30 index in Milan finished the day at its lowest closing level since Oct. 17, 1998 — down 7.7 percent for the day.

And if America was under siege, its currency was too. The dollar fell sharply in overseas trading, posting seven-month low against the pound and more than a 2 percent loss against the yen, as if the at least symbolic gutting of the world’s largest economy was inspiring a flight to the second-largest — the one still standing. (Certainly Japan’s economic woes are a faint memory now.)

Gold, the hedge of hedges, surged (along with Treasuries — the flight to quality still includes the U.S. government) and oil prices spiked. Insurance companies, meanwhile, posted double-digit percentage losses.

In the U.S., futures markets were rising before the explosion, and actually continued to creep up as the flames leapt from the tower — initial speculation on CNBC speculated that the plane crash was accidental. Then the import of the catastrophe became apparent, and the futures plunged until the trading day was called off. (The New York Stock Exchange building was unharmed, but dust and debris from the WTC collapses flew far enough to endanger anyone who stood outside.) Perhaps the only reassurance available was the news that Fed chairman Alan Greenspan was on a trip in Switzerland and safe from the concurrent destruction in Washington.

The SEC said Tuesday afteroon that markets would not reopen Wednesday, and announcements about future plans would be made then. But most guessing has it that the pulse of Wall Street could be silent for at least the rest of the week. Damage to the enormous technical apparatus that makes everyday financial trading possible — including commodities markets housed in the buildings themselves — must be assessed and repaired, and the human cost of this tragedy on the business of business can hardly be underestimated.

On any given day, according to city officials, the two towers might hold 10,000 people each, and as many as 50,000, most of whom are employed at the 1,200 offices and businesses that make lower Manhattan the heart of the financial world.

And now they are gone.