If 100% of a firm's traders are fully vaccinated, it can start sending more to the stock exchange floor. They can eat lunch in their booths again. Masks will be optional in some parts of the floor.



When a company's stock starts trading on the New York Stock Exchange, there's a tradition.


MARTIN: Executives crowd onto a small balcony.


MARTIN: And there it is. They ring the opening bell. That has played out differently during this pandemic year. When the New York City lockdown started, the exchange operated without its trading floor for the first time in its 228-year history. Two months later, it reopened but with limited capacity. Today, that changes. Here's NPR's David Gura.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: When the opening bell rang on Friday, the trading floor was still pretty empty and quiet, a far cry from how boisterous it used to be. And there was only one person standing on that balcony.

STACEY CUNNINGHAM: You'll see a bigger crowd on the podiums going forward.

GURA: Stacey Cunningham runs the New York Stock Exchange.

CUNNINGHAM: Now that the vaccine rollout has been progressing, we're not as concerned about having both masks and social distancing as a double protection.

GURA: As of today, more traders will be allowed back in the building. If 100% of a firm's traders are fully vaccinated, more of them can be on site. Another big thing - TV networks will broadcast live from the trading floor again. They haven't done that since March of 2020.

CUNNINGHAM: So we were making a decision about the health and safety of the people on the trading floor, as well as the livelihoods of the people on the trading floor.

GURA: Peter Tuchman is one of them. He's a legend, 62 years old, and he's been at the stock exchange since 1985.

PETER TUCHMAN: So look. I am one of the brand ambassadors of this place.

GURA: You'd recognize Tuchman from newspapers and TV. He's been dubbed the most photographed man on Wall Street, with white hair, a white goatee, this amazing expressiveness that tells you instantly if stocks are up or down. Tuchman caught COVID-19 early on, and he's had health issues ever since.

TUCHMAN: I basically came very close to dying.

GURA: He returned full time in November, part of a skeleton crew on the trading floor.

TUCHMAN: We, as the ones who are still left here, are significant and relevant and important.

GURA: But there's been a debate over whether the markets need traders like Tuchman anymore, and that picked up steam during the pandemic. Joel Hasbrouck is professor of finance at NYU's Stern School of Business.

JOEL HASBROUCK: Electronics have taken over. But there are some situations in which the floor seems to function very well.

GURA: He says that's true of complicated trades when someone buys and sells several things at once. But it's not like other stock markets that don't have human traders can't handle that. There was a time when the New York Stock Exchange trading floor was packed, and everyone had to shout and jostle, wink and nod. There were lots of hand signals. Now there are iPads. Yelling has been replaced by beeps and other sound effects.

HASBROUCK: Yes, we can feel nostalgic for the trading floors. They were exciting places. But on the whole, markets are better off electronically.

GURA: Just last week, the CME Group said it will close most of its trading pits in Chicago. Stacey Cunningham doesn't foresee that happening in New York.

CUNNINGHAM: It's absolutely true that you can run a market without a trading floor. The difference is you get a much better result when you combine people with technology in a well-integrated way.

GURA: That debate will continue. NYU's Joel Hasbrouck says the trading floor is at the very least an asset, something that's good for PR. It makes trading seem less abstract. While companies have a choice of where to list their stocks, and the New York Stock Exchange is doing brisk business, it says 2020 was its busiest year on record - David Gura, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARLEY CARROLL'S "FIREFLIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.