While professional traders get used to dramatic market swings, there has been concern about how the burgeoning numbers of daytraders are handling the daily pressure of risking their own money.
When former daytrader Mark Barton, 44, allegedly opened fire in an
office, and possibly another firm's office, in Atlanta Thursday and killed 12 people, it seemed the worst of those fears had become reality.
Of course, if Barton was indeed the shooter, he could just be a lone and extreme example. After all, according to the
Barton was a suspect in the murders of his wife and mother-in-law in Alabama in 1993. But Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell said Barton was upset about his finances, according to published reports.
Either way, the mental stability of clients is something many in the daytrading community wonder about.
"We tell them in training that trading is not just a job, it's an emotional job," says Andrew Actman, an executive with Manhattan-based
, one of the largest daytrading operations. "We put things in place here to make sure people start slow to prevent anything like this from happening. We tell them they're not going to make money for the first six to nine months."
Still, most daytraders are trained for only a week or so, enough to be counseled but not enough to feel the pain of trading losses.
Some mental health professionals say that financial losses typically aren't enough to prompt violence but that the pressure of the rapid-fire daytrading with your own money on the line can be overwhelming. Psychiatrist Robert Reiner, of
in Manhattan, says he regularly treats patients suffering from financial-related problems and cautions against daytrading.
Daytraders "sit there in front on their computers all day and get more and more into it. They begin to follow psychological factors instead of financial ones," he says. "If that's all you have, it becomes dangerous."
Daytraders' penchant for volatile tech stocks puts them on an even more dangerous precipice. And the tech-heavy
has suffered sizable losses recently.
"The last few months have been the most stressful for daytraders, and by far the hardest time to make money," says Christopher Farrell, author of
Day Trade Online
. "There's not as much as conviction in the market, and that's what's hurting them. A daytrader makes a living at the game, you live and die by your profit and loss. You never get away from it. It's on your mind 24 hours a day. You don't have a steady paycheck."
"We have this image of someone just snapping, but that's rarely the case," says Steve Kaufer, co-founder of
Workplace Violence Research Institute
in Palm Springs, Calif. "Usually when people turn to violence, they do so out of frustration." It can happen in any type of workplace environment, but stress on the job is often a factor, adds Kaufer.
Threats and actual violence aren't unprecedented on Wall Street. After 1987's
crash, Arthur Kane murdered Jose Argilagos, the manager of
Miami branch and paralyzed his broker, Lloyd Kolokoff.
Farrell (the author of
Day Trade Online
) recalls one Chicago futures trader who charged the pitcher during a
Major League Baseball
game several years ago. "He was losing money as a trader, and he wasn't happy with the pitcher. He tackled him. When trading is your livelihood, you feel certain stresses that other people don't," Farrell says.
New York securities attorney Bill Singer, who has worked with daytrading firms for several years, says people will hold the shooting against the industry, which already has been vilified for exposing individual investors to a profession that many believe is far too risky.
Staff reporters Erin Arvedlund and Katherine Hobson contributed to this report.