Summertime Blues on Wall Street

Kraig Scarbinsky | Photodisc | Getty Images

The economy is slowing. The markets are volatile. Trading glitches bedeviled the biggest IPOs in recent memory. A huge bank has suffered an unexpected loss.

It’s shaping up to be another rough summer on Wall Street—in more ways than one.

It’s not just that markets seem to be entering their third consecutive summer slump. If you listen closely enough to conversations among Wall Streeters, you’ll hear a different kind of complaint.

“We really haven’t had one good summer since 2006. No one can relax on the beach—again!” an executive at one of the best-known private equity firms said on a recent evening, while waiting for a fourth martini at a once-fashionable midtown bar.

It was a three-martini complaint. Nothing that you’d ordinarily bring up around strangers, certainly not in front of a reporter. The public isn’t exactly sympathetic to the woes of wealthy Wall Streeters these days.

“Go down the years. Everything was getting unhinged summer of 2007. The next year was bananas. Then you get the great depression of 2009, when everyone lost their jobs or almost did. The past two years looked good until May, then everything goes haywire,” he explained.

“Before the crisis, people could actually enjoy the summer. Relax on the beach. Grill with friends and drink beer on your back porch,” he said.

He believed that this was having a deep effect on Wall Street’s psychological health.

“Nerves get frayed. That summer recharge just isn’t happening,” he said.

Later that evening, at a tavern along a cobble-stoned street in the financial district, a managing director at Goldman Sachs voiced a similar complaint.

“The London Whale thing has everyone rattled. You don’t know if some crazy guy in London or Paris or Jakarta is going to cost you the whole year’s bonus. I’m working my [posterier] off just so that I don’t wind up on the cutting block,” he said.

In the winter of 2006, the Goldman guy bought a house on Long Island’s North Fork. His wife and two daughters live there full-time during the summer. He expected to be able to spend weekends and perhaps two full weeks there during the summer. He said he’s barely spent any time there at all.

“I’m not even sure I remember the address,” he said.

At Stone Rose in the Time Warner center, a credit trader said he decided not to join his friends in a house they’ve shared for the past five years.

“Last year, it just wasn’t any fun. You’d wake up on Sunday morning worrying about Asia, worrying about central bank action. I drank too much just trying to find some way to unwind. So this year I gave up. I’m just staying wound,” he said.

Junior people at Wall Street firms are also feeling the summer crunch.

“I’ve got a share in Amagansett. I go out on weekends. But everyone just talks about work. People can’t kick back anymore,” said a woman who works at an investment bank headquartered near Times Square. (She asked that I not use her firm’s name for fear that co-workers would guess her identity.)

She was having a drink with a colleague at Emmett O’Lunney’s, a block or so away from work. Even though it was past eight at night, both said they were headed back into the office after their drinks.

“I think it’s worse this year. Last year, some of the senior people took Fridays off altogether. This year—at least so far—everyone is sticking around,” the Amagansett share-house investment banker said.

Her colleague pointed out that this complaint would strike many people as absurd.

“Oh my God. Are you going to write about investment bankers complaining about not having enough fun while they are sunning themselves in the Hamptons?” she asked. “That’s going to do our image a load of good.”

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