Last night I saw a BBC report on how foreign companies are quietly evacuating their staffs from Japan due to the nuclear emergency. Today it appears that it is no longer a quiet evacuation.
The foreign bankers are leaving.
(Reuters) - Foreign bankers are fleeing Tokyo as Japan's nuclear crisis worsens, scrambling for commercial and charter flights out of the country and into other major cities in the region.
BNP Paribas <BNPP.PA>, Standard Chartered <STAN.L> and Morgan Stanley <MS.N> were among the banks whose staff have left since Friday's earthquake and tsunami, and now a nuclear plant disaster, according to industry sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
Expatriate staff at most foreign banks in Tokyo make up a small portion of the total, by some estimates less than 10 percent. But many are often in senior positions so their departure can have a significant impact.
And while Japan's investment banking market is famously tough, it's an essential place for large banks to be and can produce hefty fees.
"The foreign banker presence on the ground in Tokyo now is very thin and depending on how long it takes them to return there could be lasting implications of that," said one banker. "Every time there's a washout of foreigners in Japan they never quite return in the same numbers."
With bankers joining the growing exodus, private jet operators reported a surge in demand for evacuation flights which sent prices surging as much as a quarter. One jet operator said the cost of flying 14 people to Hong Kong from Tokyo was more than $160,000.
While others try to find anyway to get out of the country."I got a request yesterday to fly 14 people from Tokyo to Hong Kong, 5 hour 5 minutes trip. They did not care about price," said Jackie Wu, COO of Hong Kong Jet, a newly established private jet subsidiary of China's HNA Group.
Panicked passengers hoping to flee Japan waited for hours at the country's largest international airport today as concerns about radioactive fallout heightened.
The international and domestic terminals at Narita International Airport were crammed with passengers leaving the capital after a small spike in radiation levels were detected in Tokyo following a reactor fire that has raged for two days at a troubled nuclear plant 150 miles north of the city. Four of the plant's six reactors were damaged in last Friday's earthquake. People living in a 30 kilometer radius of the plant were evacuated, but those further away are no less nervous.
[snip]Germany's Lufthansa airline became the first major carrier to cancel flights to Narita International Airport, which services Tokyo, and will reroute all flights through Nagoya and Osaka, some 300 miles south of the capitol. Dutch carrier KLM followed.
Korean Airlines arranged special charter flights out of Narita to take Koreans out. The company offered discounted one-way tickets. Priority goes to Koreans living in Japan who are likely to be affected by the explosion.
"It was a spur of the moment decision," said Adam Lobel, an American expatriate who has lived in Japan for 11 years but decided to fly to New York today.
"It is a heart-wrenching decision, but the situation does not appear good," he said while standing in line with his wife to check in at Narita airport.
Lobel said he would "assess the situation" and planned to return next week if things had become more settled.
Lobel said he arrived at the airport five hours early anticipating long lines.