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For New Yorkers, news just a bump

Residents of nation's financial center say they've been too busy with Wall Street woes.

By Kirsten Valle
kvalle@charlotteobserver.com

NEW YORK For this city, where Wall Street's woes have hit hardest, losing the battle for Wachovia is just the latest bump on a long, rough financial road.

New York-based Citigroup said Thursday that it was ending discussions with Wells Fargo and giving up its claim to taking a piece of the Charlotte-based bank, though it intends to continue its legal fight for compensation.

While the love triangle had been the center of conversations in Charlotte circles in recent days, New Yorkers said this week they had bigger things to worry about.

One man, who declined to be named because his law firm works for Citi and Wachovia, shrugged when asked about the banks' negotiations but said, “I don't know if the mood (in New York) is reflective of this situation so much as everything going on.”

New York has been pelted this year with pieces of a shattered Wall Street: investment banking giants Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers' fall, Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill Lynch, sweeping job cuts.

Wall Street's lifeblood – stocks – are down nearly 40 percent for the year, on track for the worst year since 1931.

Workers here see the crisis on Wall Street as a crisis on Main Street.

“Everybody here is very depressed,” said Charles Geisst, a Wall Street historian and economics professor at Manhattan College. “When you walk down the sidewalk … (beware) of bodies falling.”

Employees outside the Citigroup Center on Thursday evening declined to comment on the latest twist.

“It's over,” one man said, walking by. “The talks are done.”

One man with a gray mustache and suit, who was not an employee, said he wasn't surprised that Citi backed out of the talks.

“I'm a Citigroup stockholder who got really burned,” said the man, who gave only his first name, Marty. “… Citigroup was trying to steal something.”

Charlotte, the nation's No. 2 banking center behind New York, is not on the top of New Yorkers' minds. Some interviewed this week said they didn't know where Charlotte was.

Others described Charlotte as “peaceful,” “beautiful,” and, in the case of one cab driver, “too quiet.”

“I think if people know Charlotte at all, it's as the heart of the Bible Belt,” said Geisst, the professor. “As far as people are concerned, it's a regional finance center, even though Bank of America and Wachovia are based there. And Billy Graham.”

Kirsten Valle: 704-358-5248

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