The New York Stock Exchange (sometimes referred to as "the Big Board") provides a means for buyers and sellers to trade shares of stock in companies registered for public trading. The NYSE is open for trading Monday through Friday from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm ET, with the exception of holidays declared by the Exchange in advance.
The NYSE trades in a continuous auction format, where traders can execute stock transactions on behalf of investors. They will gather around the appropriate post where a specialist broker, who is employed by a NYSE member firm (that is, he/she is not an employee of the New York Stock Exchange), acts as an auctioneer in an open outcry auction market environment to bring buyers and sellers together and to manage the actual auction. They do on occasion (approximately 10% of the time) facilitate the trades by committing their own capital and as a matter of course disseminate information to the crowd that helps to bring buyers and sellers together. The auction process moved toward automation in 1995 through the use of wireless hand held computers (HHC). The system enabled traders to receive and execute orders electronically via wireless transmission. On September 25, 1995, NYSE member Michael Einersen, who designed and developed this system, executed 1000 shares of IBM through this HHC ending a 203-year process of paper transactions and ushering in an era of automated trading.
As of January 24, 2007, all NYSE stocks can be traded via its electronic hybrid market (except for a small group of very high-priced stocks). Customers can now send orders for immediate electronic execution, or route orders to the floor for trade in the auction market. In the first three months of 2007, in excess of 82% of all order volume was delivered to the floor electronically. NYSE works with US regulators like the SEC and CFTC to coordinate risk management measures in the electronic trading environment through the implementation of mechanisms like circuit breakers and liquidity replenishment points.
Until 2005, the right to directly trade shares on the exchange was conferred upon owners of the 1366 "seats". The term comes from the fact that up until the 1870s NYSE members sat in chairs to trade. In 1868, the number of seats was fixed at 533, and this number was increased several times over the years. In 1953, the number of seats was set at 1,366. These seats were a sought-after commodity as they conferred the ability to directly trade stock on the NYSE, and seat holders were commonly referred to as members of the NYSE. The Barnes family is the only known lineage to have five generations of NYSE members: Winthrop H. Barnes (admitted 1894), Richard W.P. Barnes (admitted 1926), Richard S. Barnes (admitted 1951), Robert H. Barnes (admitted 1972), Derek J. Barnes (admitted 2003). Seat prices varied widely over the years, generally falling during recessions and rising during economic expansions. The most expensive inflation-adjusted seat was sold in 1929 for $625,000, which, today, would be over six million dollars. In recent times, seats have sold for as high as $4 million in the late 1990s and as low as $1 million in 2001. In 2005, seat prices shot up to $3.25 million as the exchange entered into an agreement to merge with Archipelago and become a for-profit, publicly traded company. Seat owners received $500,000 in cash per seat and 77,000 shares of the newly formed corporation. The NYSE now sells one-year licenses to trade directly on the exchange. Licenses for floor trading are available for $40,000 and a license for bond trading is available for as little as $1,000 as of 2010. Neither are resell-able, but may be transferable in during the change of ownership of a cooperation holding a trading license.
Following the Black Monday market crash in 1987, NYSE imposed trading curbs to reduce market volatility and massive panic sell-offs. Following the 2011 rule change, at the start of each trading day, the NYSE sets three circuit breaker levels at levels of 7% (Level 1), 13% (Level 2), and 20% (Level 3) of the average closing price of the S&P 500 for the preceding trading day. Level 1 and Level 2 declines result in a 15-minute trading halt unless they occur after 3:25pm, when no trading halts apply. A Level 3 decline results in trading being suspended for the remainder of the day. (The biggest one-day decline in the S&P 500 since 1987 was the 9.0% drop on October 15, 2008.)