NEW YORK – America's financial heart -- ordinarily singing a steady, if discordant chorus fueled by greed, ambition and audacity -- will fall silent on Wednesday, just as it did a year ago on the morning two hijacked planes struck.
Stocks rose for the third straight day Tuesday, the longest uptrend in a month, as buyers nibbled at shares despite mounting security concerns ahead of the Sept. 11 ceremonies. But in deference to the attacks that hit New York and Washington, most of corporate America is expected to avoid typical corporate chatter and focus on commemorating attacks instead.
That's the case of trucking firm SCS Transportation Inc. (SCSTV), which was recently spun off from transportation company Yellow Corp. Sept. 11 was the earliest date investors could trade SCS shares separately, but the company is downplaying the event in light of the more somber occasion the day will be remembered for.
"We just didn't think tomorrow is a news day. Realistically, it's much more important for the country to be thinking about other things as opposed to SCS stock," said John Burton, the company's vice president for marketing. "Out of deference for the whole situation, we'll be relatively silent on the 11th ... We definitely would not have picked this date, but we're just dealing with it."
SCS isn't alone. Few companies want to appear indifferent to a tragedy that left almost 3000 people dead by focusing on mundane corporate matters. Others realize there's common business sense behind keeping the corporate news window shut.
"You run into two problems - one is, if it's something for which you want attention, you're not going to get very much of it," said Frank Oviatt, co-chairman of the Institute for Public Relations. "And if it's something for which you don't want to get attention, you're nevertheless going to really look like you're trying to hide it on Sept. 11."
At at the New York office of press release distribution agency PRNewswire, the volume of corporate news set to run on Wednesday is down 90 percent from regular levels. Business Wire, the other major U.S. press release distributor, also expects to have a quiet day.
Public relations agencies are also driving home the message, telling clients to hold off on press releases until later in the week or month. Robert Dilenschneider, chairman of public relations firm Dilenschneider Group, bluntly told a client eager to promote a product ready for launch in mid-September to simply wait.
"We've told many companies - 'Don't put out material on the 11 or 12 until because it will be lost in the welter of data on Sept. 11,"' said Dilenschneider.
Nevertheless, some companies are biting the bullet and going ahead with normal business.
Alpha Technologies Group Inc. (ATGI), a small Los-Angeles based maker of heat management products, is set to announce its quarterly earnings on Wednesday morning, complete with a conference call and Webcast later in the day.
According to data from earnings-tracking firm Thomson First Call, a handful of European firms are scheduled to release earnings reports on the 11th, but Alpha appears to be the only U.S. company set to release quarterly results.
Alpha didn't have much choice. Since its third quarter closed toward the end of July, the latest it could announce its results without violating disclosure regulations is Sept. 12, a company spokesman said.
A Pennsylvania court involved in the dispute over the sale of Hershey Foods Corp. (HSY) wasn't preoccupied with sidestepping the date either. The appellate court scheduled a Sept. 11 hearing over a controlling shareholder's appeal of an injunction blocking the proposed sale of the candy maker.
"Companies ought to do the respectful thing. but if you've got material news that needs to be disseminated, then it needs to be done," said Louis Thompson, the president of the National Investor Relations Institute. "And I don't think it's distasteful at all."
EERIE SILENCE A YEAR AGO
In some ways, the silence is similar to the eerie quiet that hung over the corporate activity a year ago.
The morning of Sept. 11 had started off normally at PRNewswire's offices around the country, and the agency sent out six press releases with corporate earnings forecasts in the morning.
At 10:11 a.m. Eastern time, the last of those press releases went out.
In the mayhem that ensued after two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center, companies rushed to cancel corporate news releases that were scheduled to appear later.
Soon, the wires were deserted. Both Business Wire and PRNewswire offered companies the option of putting out attack-related press releases free of charge, and the only news that crawled through was that of companies urging employees to call toll-free numbers or statements from authorities.
The few releases that crossed the wire included statements by UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and AMR Corp.'s American Airlines saying that each lost two planes in the attacks.
Hijackers took control of four flights, using two to destroy the World Trade Center and another to attack the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers apparently fought back against the hijackers.
The United States accuses Osama bin Laden and his Muslim extremist group al Qaeda of masterminding the attacks.
The days that followed were even quieter on the news front. A total of 785 press releases went out on Sept. 11 on Business Wire, but the number plunged to 334 the next day and 399 the day after that, said Cathy Baron Tamraz, chief operating officer of Business Wire.
And while the flow of releases on this Sept. 11 will also slow to a trickle, a year later companies aren't likely to take long to reopen the floodgates.
"Basically what we're looking at is a one-day slowdown out of a respect," said Dave Armon, president of PRNewswire in the Americas region.
Reuters contributed to this report.