Market falling, but a time to bond at home

Market falling, but a time to bond at home

Eight-year-old Stuti Thakker is happy to see her father come home at 6pm these days. She is playing her favourite games with him and even forcing him to help her study.

It’s ironic that the trigger for Stuti’s happiness is a source of unhappiness for her father, Rishee Thakker, a sub-broker and a dealer with the Bombay Stock Exchange, or BSE.

With trading volumes thinning, the Indian stock market has turned sluggish and Thakker is managing to wind up his day by 5pm. Every morning, he is in his seat when trading opens at 9.55, and till the close at 3.30pm, he takes buy and sell orders from his clients on his one fixed-line and two mobile phones, and punches the orders into the trading terminal.

After the market closes, Thakker continues sitting in his office, and prepares a list of the buy and sell orders to be keyed into the system on the next trading day. Till mid-January, when Sensex, the benchmark index of BSE, was hitting new highs every day and trading volumes were rising, he used to end his day at 7pm.

These days it’s different as clients rarely call to give buy or sell orders. The number of calls has reduced to a third of what he used to take when business was good.

Small-time businessmen, diamond traders and bank employees who used to spend almost the entire day in Thakker’s office are now conspicuous by their absence. There is hardly any list of orders to be prepared for the next trading day.

Earlier, clients used to call up for tips. Now, it’s the other way round. Thakkar keeps calling them once in a while to offer stock tips.

“The frenzy was such that we used to carry three chargers for our cellphones and even batteries, as clients never stopped calling us. But now even one battery lasts for days," says Paresh Layzawada, Thakker’s colleague.

“We could hardly manage to get up from our seat. There was no time for reading the newspapers, eating lunch and even attending calls from our families. We always promised to call back in five minutes but they knew that call will be returned only after the market closes," says Deepak Lodaya, another colleague.

Now, after many years, Lodaya gets back home early and helps his daughter prepare for her board exams.

Thakker and his colleagues are the essential link in the market chain as they punch buy or sell orders for stocks into an automated trading system. Some dealers get the orders directly from clients, while others get it from the relationship managers who deal with the clients. A small error by them could mean huge losses for their employers or clients.

Typically, if a dealer works for a broker who is a member of both the National Stock Exchange, or NSE, and BSE, he has to manage three trading terminals—one for the BSE and two for the cash and derivatives segments of the NSE.

So, at any point of time during market hours, a dealer has to attend to three terminals, keep his eyes on the trading screen and ears glued to a phone. Such a work style often exposes them to occupational hazards such as weak eyesight and joint pains.

Sensex has lost 23% of its value since the beginning of the year or almost half of what it gained in 2007. Trading volumes on the NSE have come down by about 30%—an indication that fewer people are willing to invest these days.

This has reduced the income of the dealers, as it is directly linked to the brokerage they manage to generate. It has, however, allowed them to take some time off from the keyboards and concentrate on their family life. During trading hours, dealers are killing time by playing computer games, reading newspapers or researching about companies.

Nilesh Dhruv, head of dealing at Keynote Capitals Ltd, a domestic brokeage, says that the market’s fall is a welcome break for his fingers and shoulders. In the past, he would typically get one call every minute. But now the frequency has drastically reduced to a call every 12-15 minutes. Unlike Thakker who deals largely with retail clients, Dhruv takes orders from foreign institutional clients as well.

His work timings haven’t reduced as he still needs to be in office at around 9am every day to respond to queries of foreign and local clients. “It’s tough not to get burnt-out in this kind of a profession, especially when the markets were going up in a crazy way. But we manage to keep our cool. I try to delegate as much work as possible within my team of 10 dealers," says Dhruv.

Kavita, Dhruv’s wife, has seen a noticeable change in her husband after the market crash. “Earlier, I would eagerly wait to get five seconds to talk to him. But now, even during trading hours, he has time to call and find out what we are up to," she says. Their 12-year-old son Kaunil is also happy as he gets to spend more time with his father.

The number of client calls at home has also come down. Dhurv now visits a doctor for his eye check-up—something he could never do when the markets were going up.

Other dealers such as Bharat V. Thakur, an assistant manager with Karvy Stock Broking Ltd, say their job is not restricted to punching orders alone. “We need to meet our clients more often, counsel them and tell them not to be afraid by such market movements," says Thakur, a dealer to the private clientele of the broking firm.

While dealers are finding ways to keep themselves busy in a falling market, their families are not complaining at all.