Street Squawker

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Class of ’89 | Another Tilt-A-Whirl day in the fall stock-market frenzy has dawned and Mark Haines L’89 is squinting through his glasses, trying to get a better focus on just what sort of carnival ride it will be. 

For two hours every market morning, Haines—the cool-headed senior anchor of Squawk on the Street, CNBC’s two-hour morning financial show—cracks his ringmaster’s whip over the analysis of Wall Street’s pre-opening and early moments of stock, bond, and commodities trading. Squawk is the most-watched of the financial-news programs, especially when markets are depressed. In normal times about 400,000 homes tune in. During the fall crash the audience was pushing a million.

On one level, Squawk could be viewed as a financial kind of reality TV. Erin Burnett, Haines’ co-anchor, is the Paula Abdul to his Simon Cowell, attempting to see the positives while Haines crunches his brow and fires off educated and sometimes-acerbic critiques. (Which doesn’t stop Burnett from describing Haines as “one of the most fun people and one of the smartest people I have ever worked with.”)

The “contestants” are the alleged market experts and company executives who vie for airtime. Haines doesn’t care about their degrees, their lofty corporate status, or their stock-picking track records. If they are spewing jargon or touting a flimsy company line, he will browbeat them like a grandmom who just caught her grandson slipping a piece of liver to the dog.

“I love sparring with these people—some of whom think that, because of their status as CEOs, or whatever, they can get away with saying anything,” says Haines. “This is a crucial time in the financial markets. It is my responsibility to keep the right kind of information flowing.

“I would hesitate to call it fun,” he adds. “But I do love doing it. I know I am capable of swinging between topics, and I hope people view what I give them as reliable and important information.”

Starting in October, Haines pressed CNBC’s management to launch an evening wrap-up hour to examine the market’s wild daily gyrations.

“I thought it would match what ABC had done in the late 1970s to respond to the hostage crisis in Iran. That eventually became Nightline,” says Haines. “I felt and still do that this is history-making stuff—and I want to be there.”

So his day lengthened, with a quick nap back at home before driving to the CNBC main studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. That nap is essential, since a normal day for Haines starts at 5 a.m., when he arises at his Morris County home, about an hour from Wall Street, to read The Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesThe Financial Times, and The Economist online. By 6 a.m. he is on the road to the CNBC studio at the New York Stock Exchange, where he does his morning briefings to determine who will be on the air during his stint between 9 and 11.

Haines started reporting and anchoring after graduating from Denison University in 1969. The road to TV stardom led from Providence to New York to Philadelphia’s Channel 3 (NBC), where he met his eventual wife, Cindy, then a producer. By the mid-1980s he was ready for a new challenge, and quit Channel 3 to go to law school, first at Rutgers-Camden, then transferring to Penn. But shortly after graduating in 1989, a former boss at NBC offered him a job at CNBC, which was just being started by the parent network as a way to capitalize on the burgeoning cable market and Americans’ growing interest in the stock and financial markets.

Haines’ wryness and his polymath knowledge of finance and industry (not to mention off-track subjects like the National Football League) have served him well. So does his ability to get to the point, as Dr. Jeremy Siegel, the Russell E. Palmer Professor of Finance and a frequent guest and sparring partner on Squawk, points out.

“I enjoy when Mark interviews me,” says Siegel. “He always asks the ‘big picture’ questions. He’s much more than just a reporter.”

Haines has a silly side—one running bit linked the nation’s economic health to how stuffed Alan Greenspan’s briefcase was on his way to testify before Congress—but he hasn’t indulged it much lately.

“The next five years are not going to look like the last five. The financial world is being reformed. I can’t imagine there will be these insane levels of debt,” he says. “I really believe the idea of prosperity will be more like the 1950s—slow and steady. People have to be sane about this.”

Haines intends to stay with CNBC for as long as they will give him the opportunity to browbeat and spar and even have a bit of fun.

“I have a broad range,” he says, with an only slightly muffled chuckle. “I can be cynical, sardonic, sarcastic and, on occasion, I hope, just plain knowledgeable. As long as everyone appreciates that, I plan on sticking around.”

—Robert Strauss

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