In hectic gold pits, two traders find each other

If trading on the New York Stock Exchange can be called ``touch football,'' then Commodities Exchange (Comex) trading must be akin to a fierce game of rugby. It's louder, more physical, and more leveraged - so it's more volatile. Last Monday, when gold fell $19 an ounce, one bullion futures trader lost $1 million. Another pocketed $300,000 in three minutes. With so much money to be made or lost in seconds, tempers can flare. Last week, a fight broke out briefly in the Comex silver pit.

``When the markets get busy, you can really see a person's true colors,'' says Mary Daly, a former trader. It's not always pretty.''

But Ms. Daly did find something appealing in trader William Purpura's ``true colors.'' She traded gold futures with him and, ultimately, traded marriage vows. Daly has since stopped Comex trading (``I'm too much of a seat-of-the-pants trader. Bill's more disciplined.'') to raise their son, but she still clerks for her trader husband three days a week.

Besides the financial lure, what motivates traders? ``When it's slow, it's dreadfully boring,'' Daly says. ``But when it's busy, there's a real euphoria.''

``The competitive challenge,'' replies Mr. Purpura, who cut his teeth trading in the Chicago pits 10 years ago. ``That's why ex-athletes tend to make good traders.''

Purpura notes that his job does serve an essential economic function. ``Traders make the market work, make it more liquid, and a more liquid market is a fairer market for the public.''

It's a risky job. ``Tipping out'' (going bankrupt) is common. ``You all right?'' was the query on every Comex trader's lips after Monday's melee. To which Purpura would quietly reply, ``Yeah, I survived.''

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