NEW YORK/ SINGAPORE: Urgent messages flashed on cell phones, e-mail alerts popped up and telephone extensions rang at the desks of a team at Asset Manager Legg Mason on Friday. Dial in to a conference now, the 30-strong enterprise risk management team were told. A major event is underway. This time it was just a drill, but what Maryland-based Legg Mason wants to be prepared for is any fallout if Greece leaves the euro.
Companies across the globe were on similar high alert last weekend as Greeks vote in an election today that could decide the future of
the European single currency. Fathers’ Day celebrations have been cancelled for some and the head of a USD one billion Hong Kong-based hedge fund was among those dropping holiday plans to prepare for any disruption. All eyes are on first indications of a result likely to emerge early in the Athens evening — just before global markets open to a new week with the start of the Asian day.
“We really do not think anything is going to happen, but we would rather be over prepared than under prepared,” said Joe Carrier, director of enterprise risk management at Legg Mason, which manages USD 627 billion in assets.
Such war gaming has become routine for companies, particularly for those in financial services, as the Euro Zone crisis has intensified. But the Greek vote has assumed greater significance. Victory for the leftist party, which opposes terms for an international bailout, could make an exit from the Euro Zone look more likely.
Asia wake upIn Asia, where markets will be first to react to the result, banks are calling in extra staff, some much earlier than usual. “We’re on code red. Asia is the first out of the blocks so across the region we’ve got IT and solutions staff in early,” said Toby Lawson, Asia-Pacific Head of Financial Futures and Options and Cash Equities for broker Newedge. “It’s likely to be a lot more frantic given the volatility in the market,” he said.
In Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, traders plan to show up as early as 2:00 am — that is 9:00 pm in Athens — to be at their screens when the news comes in. The Swiss National Bank has said it will intervene to prevent a huge appreciation of the Swiss franc if there is a flight from the euro to the currency seen as safer. “From the first trading hour in Asia, we’re ready for action,” Bank Spokesman Walter Meier said.
All hands on deckPhil Orlando still expects to be sitting in the audience of his daughter Nina’s graduation from Horace Greely High School in Chappaqua, New York, today night when the results come in.
The chief equity strategist at
investment management comp-any Federated Investors is confident he is prepared. But he will be clutching his Blackberry and attempting to direct his team and plotting strategies with his trading desk. “For the next two weeks, it’s all hands on deck,” he said. It is a similar tale for Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Asset Management Group. Stone’s team are not taking any vacations because of the Greek elections. They will be ready to dash for the office today night should the market take an extreme move.
Others are taking a more philosophical view. But while they are not planning to be in the office on Sunday, they are braced for a period of further market turbulence.
Big banks, including HSBC, Bank of New York Mellon and Citigroup said they were watching events carefully but gave no further details.
Corporate payments Companies outside the world of finance are watching closely, but do not expect immediate changes to trading after Sunday. Drug companies such as Roche and Novo Nordisk have already had to adapt to asking for cash-on-delivery from some Greek hospitals as supplies run short and payment squabbles rage between local pharmacies and the state insurer.
Under moral pressure to avert a health catastrophe, drug makers are weighing emergency plans to keep medicines flowing if Greece crashes out of the euro. Xerox CEO Ursula Burns said the company’s plans were around how to take care of its business, how
to pay employees and how the financial infrastructure would run if Greece left the euro.
Burns said she did not think she was alone among chief executives in not expecting a European Armageddon. In Greece itself, bankers told Reuters preparations were being made to avoid any shortage of cash at branches or ATMs.
Even in Britain, one bank said it had a plan for staff to be ready to give extra reassurance to depositors on Monday.
Credit card and payments firms are making contingency plans and Visa Europe said it was working with authorities to put systems
in place in case any country left the euro.
Many of those asked said that even if the Greek election result does point towards a likely exit from the euro, this would not
happen immediately and there would be time to prepare.