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NYSE chief shows thin skin on jobs

Feb 15, 2011

Did someone neglect to remind Duncan Niederauer that people are anxious about jobs nowadays?

You might wonder after the NYSE Euronext (nyx) CEO’s snappish performance at Tuesday’s press conference announcing the $10 billion tie-up of the NYSE and Frankfurt’s Deutsche Boerse.

By his own admission, Niederauer turned “snippy” after being asked how the deal will change the NYSE. He badgered naysaying reporters about focusing on possible job cuts at the expense of what he naturally sees as the bigger story, the creation of the biggest global platform for trading shares and derivatives.

“I’m disappointed in the question,” Niederauer said in response to one about job cuts. “That is a negative, pessimistic way of looking at this merger.”

Of course, Niederauer doesn’t mind that point of view when it suits him, such as when the company is trying to sell investors on the economics of combining two big companies in an intensively competitive market. The success of that pitch wasn't clear cut Tuesday, as NYSE shares dropped 3% following a big jump last week.

Deutsche Boerse and the NYSE said in their press release Tuesday they expect the merger to result in $400 million in “synergies” -- cost savings reaped by cutting jobs in information technology, clearing, market operations, administration and support.

The companies, which are going out of their way not to offend any more politicians than necessary, didn’t say how many jobs might be cut, or where. The NYSE employed 3,367 people at the end of 2009.

Yet for as touchy as the subject obviously is, it is odd that the questions caught Niederauer flat-footed. The addition-by-subtraction theme is nothing new for CEOs, and questions about employment are particularly sensitive for the NYSE.

U.S. unemployment is 9%, after all, and even if Niederauer insists on portraying Tuesday’s deal generically as a “business combination” rather than a takeover, New Yorkers are sensitive about seeing foreigners snap up a company that has been a source of high-paying jobs for more than 200 years.

That’s not to downplay the challenges facing exchanges like the NYSE. Niederauer was frank about the problems in his most famous business, stock trading, saying it is “challenged” economically.

“We cannot rely on that business,” he said – even as he conceded that the exchange’s trading floor in Lower Manhattan is “at the center of financial markets in the world, and we aim to keep it that way.”

So what kind of changes will the deal bring to the trading floor? Niederauer, who made $24 million between 2007 and 2009, didn’t like that question, sniping, “How about none?”

Gathering himself, he continued that he would “try to answer the question politely” before adding, “The trading floor is certainly not going anywhere.”

The same is probably true of Niederauer. But his stay surely would go more smoothly if he'd stop acting so exasperated about questions that aren't going away any time soon.

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