The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) has re-opened its trading floor after a two-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the exchange looks and feels very different as new social distance rules come into effect.
The NYSE is one of the few bourses to still feature floor trade – most have shifted to fully-electronic trading.
New York City has been hit hard by the outbreak with some 200,000 cases and more than 20,000 deaths.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was on hand to ring the bell that re-started in-person trade, a sign of the symbolic weight attached to the reopening.
Financial markets have continued to trade throughout the pandemic, but the exchange’s trading floor was closed from 23 March and activity temporarily moved to fully-electronic trading to protect workers.
NYSE president Stacey Cunningham tweeted that reopening was an important step towards restarting the US economy after lockdowns across the country.
“For the trading floor community it supports their small businesses, which have been challenged by the temporary floor closure. And for our economy, reopening our trading floors offers a path to reopening that other businesses in densely populated areas may choose to follow.”
US shares jumped about 2% at the start of trading on Tuesday in a sign of optimism about the broader restart of the economy, but the new NYSE measures governing in-person trade are a reminder that full return to business will take time.
Under the new rules, only a quarter of the normal number of traders will be allowed to return to work.
Traders must also avoid public transport, wear masks and follow strict social distancing rules, with newly fitted transparent barriers to keep people apart.
They will also be screened and have their temperatures taken as they enter the building. Anyone who fails pass the check will be barred until they test negative for Covid-19 or self-quarantine in accordance with US government guidelines.
To return to their jobs, floor traders also have to sign a liability waiver that prevents them from suing the NYSE if they get infected at the exchange.
According to the Wall Street Journal, traders will have to acknowledge that returning to the trading floor could result in them “contracting Covid-19, respiratory failure, death, and transmitting Covid-19 to family or household members and others who may also suffer these effects”.
In an interview with broadcaster CNBC, Ms Cunningham defended the waiver as a way to ensure that traders, which are not employed by the exchange, abide by the new rules. “Reopening is not a return to normal,” she said.
NYSE, which is owned by Intercontinental Exchange, is the world’s largest stock exchange in terms of the total market capitalisation of listed companies.
The 228-year-old exchange last closed its doors on 29 October 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy. It also shut for four sessions in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
But the bourse resisted closing at the start of the pandemic and the closure reignited debate about the necessity of the floor in an era dominated by electronic activity.
Ms Cunningham said most of the firms that have opted to return are smaller, while some large financial companies, such as Morgan Stanley have reportedly balked at signing the waiver.
She said trading has functioned smoothly with the floor closed, but she believed reopening will further ease volatility.
“We are relevant we are necessary and WE ARE BACK,” floor trader Peter Tuchman wrote on Twitter ahead of the reopening.
For most people outside the financial world, NYSE’s trading floor is a rare glimpse into the seemingly opaque workings of the global markets as well as being a colourful setting for companies to showcase their stock market debuts.
The new regulations mean that for now the NYSE’s high-profile opening bell events and stock market debut celebrations have been put on hold as visitors are banned.
Media organisations that usually broadcast from the trading floor won’t be allowed back until further notice.