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Scene on Wall Street: Bankers mum and glum

The ominous cloud that surrounded Lehman Brothers last week moved to Morgan Stanley & Co. on Thursday.

Grim-faced employees strode purposefully in and out of the company's Times Square headquarters under the watch of TV news trucks, as speculation swirled about whether the company needed a merger or another boost to survive the financial industry's swoon.

Adding to the surreal feel was the cacophony of Times Square around the corner, complete with gawking tourists, idling double-decker buses and a kangaroo mascot distributing fliers. A whirling ticker on one of the signs above read: “Morgan Stanley talking to Wachovia, others.”

Employees were mostly mum on the mood inside. Asked about the New York giant possibly joining a Charlotte bank, one smiled and said: “Whatever John Mack says is good for us,” referring to the firm's chief executive, a native of Mooresville.

Wall Street's struggles were evident around the city this week, as newspaper headlines blasted the turmoil of the moment and conversations often turned to the latest stunning event. Just last week, some Morgan Stanley employees were shaking their heads at the demise of Lehman, thinking it couldn't happen to them, said an employee of another firm in the building.

One of the biggest stunners was Bank of America's purchase Monday of New York icon Merrill Lynch & Co. Employees of that firm, known for its bull mascot, were still digesting the news at Merrill's financial district headquarters this week.

One employee said he was walking to work with a glum face this week, when a construction worker at the nearby World Trade Center site called out, “Good luck, guys.”

That's what it's come to: Construction workers cheering up investment bankers on Wall Street. RICK ROTHACKER

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