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Economy & Business

New York Stock Exchange Reopens After The Pandemic Closure

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That is the sound of some semblance of normalcy returning to New York City today as the floor of the New York Stock Exchange opened for the first time in two months. Governor Andrew Cuomo was on hand to ring the bell, but the opening is of a limited variety. Only about a quarter of the usual number of traders will be on the floor. There is plexiglass for social distancing. And traders are required to wear masks. For more on this opening, we are joined now by the president of the New York Stock Exchange, Stacey Cunningham.

Welcome, and congrats for opening back up.

STACEY CUNNINGHAM: Thanks, Ailsa. Thanks for having me on. While the cheering this morning came from fewer people on the trading floor, I can assure you it was just as robust.

CHANG: (Laughter). Well why did it feel that now was the right time to reopen the trading floor?

CUNNINGHAM: You know, we took a pause two months ago to understand more about the virus, to see the conditions in New York City playing out, to make sure that we could understand how we can limit the spread of the virus and limit strain on the health care system. And given all of the information we've learned over the past two months and the trends that we've seen in New York City, we felt confident that we can reduce the risk by bringing in a limited number of people back in and start to get the economy reopened, get New York reopened, get the United States reopened.

CHANG: OK. So just give us a sense - for people who can't see it up close, what does the trading floor look like now? How does it feel different right now?

CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, it's very important to recognize that reopen does not mean a return to normal. We've implemented new safety precautions by requiring all of the traders on the floor and everyone working on the trading floor to wear a mask. We are enforcing social distancing. We're sanitizing the floor and the building every single night. We are restricting, you know, movement around the floor. So importantly, we're only bringing back about 25% of the trading floor. And we've skewed that toward the small and independent businesses on the floor. So there - the employees that work on the New York Stock Exchange trading floor don't work for the New York Stock Exchange. Most of them work for their own trading firms.

CHANG: And why did you skew them towards the smaller, more independent businesses?

CUNNINGHAM: Because they're most impacted by the pandemic. If more of their income is tied to their activities on the trading floor, those are the businesses feeling the shutdown the most. And just like other cities and states need to be considering those who are most impacted, that's the mindset that we used when we thought about who to prioritize getting back to work.

CHANG: Now, you said that part of the reason you wanted to reopen is because you want to help jump-start the economy. But, I mean, trading has been going relatively smoothly the last two months electronically, right? Why do people need to be on the floor, physically in person at all? Explain that.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Trading has been very smooth over the past two months since we moved to 100% electronic trading. But the value of the New York Stock Exchange market model is that we incorporate human judgment on top of the most sophisticated technology. The combination of those two leads to the fairest prices. What we've seen - and data shows that since the floor has been closed, we're not delivering exactly the same level of quality 'cause you don't get that same benefit of human judgment.

CHANG: You know, when I think of the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, it's kind of this iconic image - the chaos, the adrenaline, hordes of people crushed up against each other. But obviously, we're living in a new time. Do you think we could ever go back to that image of the New York Stock Exchange?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, certainly when we don't have a vaccine, we're going to be sensitive to the interactions on the floor and how people interact with each other and to protect the community. But the value that the human interaction provides to investors is measurable. We've been able to measure it over the past two months. It's millions of dollars a day that investors don't get the benefit of that interaction. And so we fully intend to go back to a full-service level for our customers, just like many restaurants today are offering takeout and delivery but not opening their dining rooms. Once we get to a place where we can do so safely, they're going to go back to full service, as will we.

CHANG: Stacy Cunningham is the president of the New York Stock Exchange.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

CUNNINGHAM: Thanks, Ailsa. Be safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.