After being on the floor for 34 years I believe I have seen everything. The ’87 crash, the mini-crash, 1999-2000 tech bubble, the Asian and Russian currency crises, 9-11, Gulf War I and II, the credit crisis, and last but not least, the flash crash that stuck our desk with an $8 million loss. Sure we were upset; it cost us everything we had saved for the last 10 years. There have been a lot more shakeouts and losses during my career, but do you see us crying? No, because when you stop fighting, you have lost the battle.
The Reuters story on Aug 5, 2013, was right. The Board of Trade started 165 years ago. Back then, traders yelled out their trades to a CBOT employee who used blackboards and chalk to post the last price or a bid and offer. That much is right. Change at the CME is nothing new. In fact, people have been saying the floor was going to close since 1995-1996 when Globex was introduced. Many well-known traders threw in the towel. Unless there is a plan to shut the floor down that we don’t know about, most people think it has at least another 5 years left and some think even longer.
Like Wall Street
It isn’t just the trading floor that is shrinking. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost jobs on Wall Street and the industry as a whole during the credit crisis. From the big investment firms to the big hedge funds to the banks and prop trading desk, new regulations have killed the way they used to trade and do business. Our desk lost one of its biggest account due to the credit crisis, Bank of America. Remember how the government negotiated a deal to sell B of A to Merrill? That account covered a big share of the cost of the desk, but do you see us crying? Hundreds of desks and pit people lost during the credit crisis but they still get up to fight every day. Is it what it used to be? No, but it’s all most people know, so we roll with the punches.
MF Global & PFG
There are a lot of reasons for why the pits are slow but none hurt the floor more than MF Global and PFG. Yesterday I met a guy (William) from Germany, his small prop trading firm was a victim of the PFG scam. It’s not what time a futures contract opens or closes, and when they say pit volume is down 50% how much does 100% add up to when 99% of all the futures are traded electronically…? Unless you’re in the S&P pit there are no real big orders flowing into the futures pits, it’s been like that for years. Sure there are a few guys still left in the bean and corn futures pits, but it’s more than one guy hiking his leg up on the rail to “stretch his hamstring.” The guys that are left in the futures pit still trade with their hands but they also trade on a tablet that hangs around their neck. They don’t go down to the floor expecting big futures order to hit the pits, they are there because that’s where they go to trade. And the bouncing the ball stuff, you can see that anywhere, including our desk in the S&Ps. The yawning part? Well, I hate to tell you, but it’s August and many of the people that do go to the floor are taking time off like the rest of the industry is.
Sure the floor is in decline, but it’s been in decline for almost 20 years. And yes, most of the big futures traders are gone. The floor, like the rest of the industry, is evolving. Nothing stays the same forever. As for the 165-year-old open outcry market being in decline, that has to be the oldest news on in town. What we have learned is there is no fighting change. Going from one of the largest desks in the S&Ps to doing options was how our desk stayed in the business. Most futures traders are well beyond fighting for their place in the pit. In the end the customers decide where they want to go and they unanimously have voted for electronic futures trading. And yes, more of the options are showing up on the screen, but you know what? We have been through this before.
We would love to go back to the “good old days,” but we know that’s not in the cards and we know it never will be again. There are guys that made millions and kept it and there are guys that made and stuck around too long. As the old saying goes, you have to know when to fold, and for many people that has been the hardest part of the trade.