RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And after the longest weather-related closure in more than a century, the New York Stock Exchange reopened to cheers yesterday, running on generator power.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL, CHEERING)
MONTAGNE: As Jacob Goldstein of our Planet Money team explains, the market's two-day shutdown was a reminder that the financial world is not yet an entirely digital realm.
JACOB GOLDSTEIN, BYLINE: There's this narrative you hear a lot these days about how the stock market now is just computers making automated trades with other computers, about how the new Wall Street is a bundle of fiber optic cables headed for a server in, say, Kansas City. And so as the storm headed for the East Coast on Sunday, New York Stock Exchange officials made a decision: The trading floor would be closed Monday, but the market would be open as an electronic exchange - no traders in bright-colored vests waving their arms around in a big room, just computers talking to each other.
Other big stock exchanges always operate this way, but financial firms did not like this decision. For one thing, the New York Stock Exchange has never operated as an electronic-only exchange. Tom Price is the head of operations at SIFMA, a financial services trade group. He says there's an even more important reason financial firms wanted the market to be closed.
TOM PRICE: I think absolutely, unequivocally the major concern was about safety for individuals coming into Downtown Manhattan and the potential for them to be in harm's way.
GOLDSTEIN: So, Sunday night, officials at the New York Stock Exchange changed their minds. Along with the leaders of the other major U.S. exchanges, they shut down all stock trading on Monday and Tuesday. There is a lot of truth to that narrative about computers taking over the market. Most trades do occur on all electronic exchanges. Computers do make lots of super-fast trades with other computers.
But this week's shutdown is a reminder that Wall Street is not just a metaphor. It's an actual street that sits in the center of a financial district where tens of thousands of people go to work every day. And for now, anyway, if those people can't get to work, the financial system can't function. Jacob Goldstein, NPR News.