Tue, 14 Jul 2020

The New York Stock Exchange, the symbolic heart of Wall Street, reopened its floor Tuesday after a two-month closure due to the coronavirus, with traders donning masks and separated by plexiglas.

Stocks surged at the outset of the session following the trademark opening bell, which was presided by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYSE officials - all donning masks.

While the NYSE is ramping only gradually, the moment is an important one symbolically for Wall Street and the United States as the country charts its recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

"The really important thing is to get us down there, to get trading, to be there symbolically," said longtime trader Peter Tuchman.

"We're willing to step back into the floor and to be part of the reopening of the economy, and markets and the world."

The 62-year-old Tuchman of Quattro Securities has been an oft-photographed symbol of NYSE activity in countless newspaper and online articles about the ups and downs of the market.

But Tuchman will not be among the first wave to return to the NYSE because he himself is still recovering from the coronavirus.

"I'm now in recovery mode so I'm through it," he told AFP. "I do have a lot of unfortunate residual damage from the virus which is a scarring of the lungs, which is why my voice is raspy and which will come back eventually we hope."

Gradual ramp-up

Only about 80 traders, primarily from smaller companies, will be permitted for the first round of the NYSE relaunch.

NYSE market makers, who provide liquidity to other market participants, are still working from home until exchange officials open up more broadly.

All people on the floor must wear masks and have their temperature taken before they are allowed in. Traders will be separated by plexiglas and required to respect social distancing protocols.

The NYSE has also asked floor participants to refrain from taking the subway or other public transport to limit the risk of contamination.

"We are starting cautiously, with new safety measures to limit the strain on the health-care system and the risk to those who work beneath our roof," said NYSE President Stacey Cunningham.

Cunningham, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, said the virus "will remain a stubborn reality," but that she hoped the exchange could help "chart a path that other businesses in densely populated areas might follow."

Stocks keep surging

After emerging as the epicenter of the global coronavirus struggle in March, New York City has stabilised its case loads through strict social distancing and the shutdown of most non-essential business.

The financial industry is among the essential sectors. Cunningham has said the NYSE waited to resume floor trading until it could study and implement effective safety strategies.

The city still remains in a largely dormant stage through June, although some restrictions are expected to ease after that.

While many transactions now are executed through computers -- enabling the market to function even when physical trade was halted - NYSE leaders say maintaining physical trading facilitates buy and sell orders particularly in the final moments of the day, or during first trades of a new company following an initial public offering.

The floor also has ceremonial benefit for companies to market IPOs and other corporate initiatives.

Investors greeted the NYSE's reboot with flying colours, lifting the Dow by more than 670 points, or 2.8%, in mid-morning to 25,137.61, on optimism about coronavirus vaccines and the reopening of the economy.

It was the latest example of Wall Street trading on hopes for the future and essentially shrugging off weak economic indicators, such as low consumer confidence.

Investors viewed pictures of mass gatherings over the Memorial Day Weekend "as more a sign of pent-up demand that is going to be good for the economy than a no-no in terms of public health risk," said Briefing.com analyst Patrick O'Hare.

Tuchman is hopeful, but said the NYSE's move needs to be seen realistically.

"Let's be clear that the pandemic is not over," said Tuchman. "We are hoping that the market stays strong, that the economy catches up with the market, which has rallied in the face of economic disaster."

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