Volume 18 • Issue 5 | JUNE 24- 2, 20

Downtown Notebook

Stock trading a world away from The Street

Downtown Express photos by Ramin Talaie

Administrators monitor and place orders on the floor of Tehran’s stock exchange, where over 430 different companies are traded. A few women work on the floor, but most work upstairs.

By Ramin Talaie

TEHRAN, Iran—Walking into the Tehran Stock Exchange, the Bourse as it is known, I get the feeling that this place is very different from the Big Board’s floor on Wall St.

The building sits on a major north-south street in a busy section of Tehran. There is no evidence of any of the security that I am used to seeing both here and in New York. There are no car bomb barriers and no remote control cameras zooming in at the entrance.

Right outside, men with peculiar Farsi accents, mostly from small cities in central Iran, sell a variety of business dailies.

The doors are wide open but the entrance is crammed with people just standing there. There’s no guard checking for proper identifications. It seems like anyone off the street can walk in and take a look, stay and hang out.

As you walk in, an unpleasant aroma of body heat hits you in the face and welcomes you to a packed room of men and a handful of women.

Everyone stands closely, almost touching each other, and stares at a series of flat-screen monitors on the left for the latest updates. At the end of the entrance hall a few computer kiosks provides online information. Many people stare over other people’s shoulders to learn how to use them.

On the far left, a young guard in a dark forest green uniform, one of the many Iranian military outfits, stands by an unpretentious door which provides entry to the actual trading room.

The trading floor is not like the exchanges in Lower Manhattan, where traders walk or gather around or work in specific pits. There are a series of cubical desks with computers and monitors.

Upstairs, a glass rotunda provides a bird’s eye view of the trading floor and the big board which posts the latest changes and top movers. Two big portraits of Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Revolution, and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khaminaie, are on each side of the board. There are seats around the U-shaped area but all are taken. Like downstairs, the place is overcrowded.

It is impossible for me with my backpack to make my way to the back where I am supposed to meet some people. I push and pull and make my path trying not to be too obvious.

Men occupying the seats debate and watch the changes as if they are at a soccer match while they skillfully play with their tasbehs, Muslim prayer beads.

The place has more of a feel of an Off- Track-Betting location than a sophisticated stock exchange. I see a few men squatting in a corner reading financial papers and a guy fervently talking on his mobile phone with tension and making hand gestures. Thank God, there is no smoking allowed here.

Middle-aged Iranian men, unshaven and wearing buttoned-up shirts and no tie huddle in groups of three and four. There is no sense of urgency here either. The exchange opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 12:30 p.m. The rest of the day, which ends at 3, is for filing paperwork.

Nobody is screaming “sell sell sell,” or signaling funny finger signs to their buyers. All the trading is done on the floor. Administrators, who sit behind the computers, take calls and place orders inside the trading room.

I get the feeling that some people are here to check out the place and nothing else. Maybe some just like to watch their stock going up and down.

After I take my pictures I swim my way back through the sea of people. Through my struggle with my heavy backpack, I hear “take my picture mister.” Younger men realizing that I am a reporter and perhaps a foreigner, practice their latest international communiqué.

I smile and nod and continue to push through. In this very polite Eastern society you don’t need to say “excuse me” or “I am sorry” as you bang your way out. Just gently tug at the people in front of you and they move without even looking back.

Stepping outside and into Tehran’s heat, I now have to deal with midday traffic but I don’t miss the odor and the constant touching.

I close my eyes for a second imagining the corner of Wall and Broad Sts., by the historic Federal Hall. I see the N.Y.P.D. Emergency Service Unit officer in full body armor and A4 assault riffles.

Ramin Talaie, a freelance photographer who works regularly for Downtown Express, is covering the elections in Iran.

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