May 26, 2020

Welcome to the era of the socially distant stock exchange

When the trading floor reopens, workers will be greeted by plenty of plexiglass -- and even more rules.

Today, the floor of the New York Stock Exchange will reopen to traders — but it’s going to look a lot different.

The floor shut down in March after 2 people tested positive for COVID-19, and went all-electronic for the first time in the exchange’s 228-year history.

Masks are a buy, and crowds are a sell

As The Wall Street Journal reported, the days of elbow-to-elbow traders shouting over each other are gone for now. Only about 25% of the people who work on the floor will be back when the bell rings today.

Other restrictions should sound familiar: Traders will be required to wear masks, plexiglass barriers will keep them apart, and they’ll have to sign a waiver preventing them from suing the exchange if they get infected.

Some firms, like Morgan Stanley, aren’t planning to send brokers back to the floor right away. The Journal said many floor brokerages are smaller — with fewer than 20 employees — and their revenue dried up when the pandemic hit.

These days, floor trading is a throwback

Most markets have gone online, and the vast majority of transactions take place electronically. But the floor is still important for daily closing auctions, which are increasingly used to buy or sell big quantities of stocks.

Trading IRL might also provide cooped-up brokers a chance to blow off a little steam. One startup that helps companies keep track of their workers found Wall Streeters were cursing and complaining about their situations more often after their employers shifted to remote work.

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