October 31, 2008 / 2:10 PM / 11 years ago

Whipped by crisis, mortgage traders turn to rock

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Roughed up by the global credit crunch and Wall Street layoffs, dozens of mortgage bond traders turned their talents to music in a Halloween rock concert that raised about $50,000 for charity.

The bond pros, more accustomed to the vagaries of trading floors, hit the stage at a New York club for “Refi Rock,” a fundraiser with a name dear — or menacing — to Wall Street traders who spend countless hours poring over mortgage refinancing statistics.

Russell Middleton, of JPMorgan Chase & Co., organized the third annual concert that displayed the hidden talents on guitar, horns and vocals of traders more accustomed to flipping millions in esoteric mortgage-backed securities.

“2008 handed out more tricks than treats” for the financial markets, said Middleton, who has organized fundraisers for more than 16 years.

But that came to an end for the night, he added.

The Halloween concert distracted the traders, bankers and bond salesmen from one of the most volatile years on Wall Street as the housing slump wreaked havoc on markets, and sent values of even the best-quality bonds to shockingly low levels.

More than eight bands representing JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Credit Suisse and others belted out hits from U2, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen at the sold-out B.B. King Blues Club & Grill club.

They raised money for the H.G.I. Foundation, which supports children’s charities, and the Boomer Esiason Foundation for cystic fibrosis research.

The bands included Credit Suisse’s “Aged Inventory,” a group led by Michael Marriott, global head of the firm’s structured product business. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Marathon Asset Management banded together to form “BOC.”

Some players were victims of the thousands of lost Wall Street jobs since they played their first Refi Rock two years ago.

But “they can’t get run out of the band,” Marriott said.

“So this is what the mortgage guys are doing now,” said Jean Bartels, a reveler who declined to give an affiliation.

The traders, who normally don’t think twice about nipping one another for a few cents on bonds every trade, put aside their cutthroat instincts as soon as the music started. Dressed as hippies, Alice in Wonderland and presidential candidate Barack Obama, concert-goers left the financial havoc behind them.

One woman brandished a sign of a home foreclosure, a big reason for the financial crisis.

“It’s a great event for some very good charities, and where a lot of people can get together to commiserate over what’s happened in the market over the last few months,” said Sadie Gurley, a managing director at Marathon Asset Management.

Middleton planned prizes for best costume, and for best reason for not wearing a costume.

“I was going to give out a prize for scariest costume, but I was afraid somebody might dress up as a CDO,” he said, referring to collateralized debt obligation, a notorious type of bond that caused billions of dollars of losses for banks this year.

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