Japanese brokers ride out tsunami

The decision to stay open

In the hours after the quake, brokers in Tokyo and across the country reconnected from homes and other low-rise locations, creating a sort of virtual trading community.

“Later in the day, we learned that TOCOM decided to continue the night session, which began at 5 p.m. local time,” Tamagawa says.

Across the country and around the world, a vocal minority of investors were asking for a shut-down until damage could be assessed. Exchange bosses, however, adamantly refused to blink – arguing that all systems were intact and that a shut-down would erode investor confidence.

That resolve continued even in the wake of growing concern over the safety of Tokyo’s drinking water, which showed traces of radioactive material from the Fukushima plant.

At a press conference last week, TSE President Atsushi Saito lashed out at non-Japanese banks that pushed for closure, accusing them of cowardice – and accusing the international media of sensationalism.

“It’s not as bad as it’s being reported outside the country,” echoes Eiichi Kojima, a former derivatives reporter (and onetime contributor to Futures) who now works with the Futures Industry Association of Japan.

Current threats

The rolling blackouts have so far spared the central Tokyo wards of Chuo, Chiyoda and Minato, where both TOCOM and TSE are located. The exchanges, however, have drawn-up emergency plans to shut down voluntarily if the blackouts cause a major drop in volume and liquidity or if they are extended to the city center in response to pressure from other industry groups.

Meanwhile, brokers are sitting tight – with one eye on the door, and the other on the Geiger counter.

“I have told my family – including my parents and my wife’s parents – to get ready to evacuate at any time,” Tamagawa says. “We have relatives in the western part of Japan, and that’s where we’ll go if the situation gets any worse.”

TOCOM message to market participants

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