More than 300 people stood with clenched jaws at the Australian Stock Exchange this morning, but reactions were muted when the exchange opened and the market reacted to Nasdaq's Friday plunge.
Only the slightest, if any, displays of emotion were to be seen at Exchange Square. In the true Australian spirit, plain-clothes punters, businesspeople, family members and press stood with their eyes fixed on the giant electronic trading board.
Stern faces, secretive murmurs and curious circumspect glances were the only tell-tale signs that the ASX was five minutes away from delivering its response to Friday night's history-making Nasdaq nosedive.
"Weary trader" photo ops were scarce and there were no well-dressed middle-aged business execs crumpled in heaps in the corner. There were no riots and no police. There were, by all accounts, no suicides.
By 10:10am, after 10 minutes of tentative trading, the atmosphere had hardly changed. In fact, one punter who claimed to "dabble" in tech stocks breathed a sigh of relief. "It's not as bad as they thought," he said, referring to an All Ords drop of only thirty-odd points. "They said it would drop 100."
Another spectator, an amused C&W Optus investor, said the "fantasy" enjoyed by the market over the last 12 months needed correction. "Overheated" companies falling to their true value did not qualify as a crash, he said.
And in minutes the All Ords had fallen more than 170 points. There was silence for a moment, until a garbage truck hurtled down Bridge Street with yells of "Sell! Sell! Sell!" emanating from within. This sent a nervous titter rippling across a largely reserved but fast-growing throng. At 10:20am, shares in bread 'n' butter dotcoms, such as Sausage Software, Solution 6 and BMCMedia, fell below half their trading prices of only a few weeks ago.
One self-described veteran investor nevertheless maintained that today's market moves paled in comparison to the crash he endured in 1987 -- a moment in history he believes few of today's keenest spectators would have experienced.
Another onlooker agreed, saying it was likely most investors in technology stocks -- those hardest hit by the temperamental Nasdaq crash late last Friday -- had only been involved in the market for five or six years.
The veteran investor, who said he had been actively involved in market trading for over 20 years, admitted he had come along today in search of bargains in blue chip and gold stocks. He expected to leave empty-handed, however, because "old economy" stocks had not noticeably reacted to the dotcom frenzy that was taking place.
For example, AMP shares suffered more from recent executive staffing changes than from the Nasdaq's Friday meltdown, he said. The market veteran claimed an amateur-friendly market had limited the performance of solid blue chip stocks for over 12 months. However, he believes many investors will either exit the market after today's scare or treat the foolhardy investments as a "necessary learning exercise".
Either way, blue chip stocks will finally enjoy growth after today's drama, he predicted.
"Suddenly everyone's an expert," he said. "When there are lots of floats and lots of experts, when you can go into Angus & Robinson and buy lots of books (on share trading), when you've got people on TV telling you how to do it . . . the alarm bells should start ringing."