Open outcry is still alive and well in New York.

The New York Stock Exchange opened a new trading floor for the NYSE Amex options market this week, a completely renovated space that also houses: NYSE’s US cash equities, ICE Futures US members, NYSE Arca’s customer service and the NYSE/ICE’s national operations center.

The 7,000-square-foot space, with 22-foot ceilings, has been renamed “The Buttonwood Room,” a tip of the cap to the origins of the NYSE, and a shift away from the room’s less than flattering name of “The Garage,” as it was called when it originally opened in 1922. It’s also a new home for AMEX, which had been relegated to a low-ceilinged area called the Blue Room, off to the side after the NYSE purchased AMEX. The space now has 352 positions and features five specialist firms, 12 floor market maker firms and eight floor brokerage firms.

While many inside and outside financial markets believe open outcry is near death, NYSE and its parent Intercontinental Exchange Holdings say that AMEX is a vibrant piece of its equity options business, along with NYSE Arca’s open outcry venue in San Francisco, the former Pacific Exchange. Steve Crutchfield, vice president, head of options markets, exchange traded products and bonds for NYSE, said open outcry execution still represents a significant percentage of the business.

“Open outcry volumes have been quite strong in both our markets,” Crutchfield said. “With AMEX and Arca, we do between one-quarter and one-third of our total volume through open outcry process. And in terms of raw numbers, it’s been quite steady with around 500,000 to 600,000 contracts daily on our AMEX trading floor.”

Crutchfield said the floor is still evolving and changing, with some consolidation among market makers, as well as new specialists such as Group One, which opened operations there within the last two years.  AMEX is also happy to have a semi-exclusive licensing deal to list the Russell Index options contracts on the exchange. The other license is with the Chicago Board Options Exchange. AMEX has seen its open outcry volume in the Russell Index options grow substantially over the past two years. In 2013, 21 percent of Russell options were traded via open outcry. Last year, that rose to 38 percent.

The AMEX floor looks and feels different from, say, the CBOE, where the floor hosts traditional trading pits. Instead, AMEX is a collection of desks and terminals, or booths, where orders are taken and executed with others nearby. It more resembles an upstairs trading floor than a traditional pit.

As such NYSE plans to expand its technology offerings to floor participants. Next up in 2015, AMEX plans to integrate its instant messaging system called ICE Chat so orders can be routed via instant message to a broker on the floor.

“This is still an important part of our business,” Crutchfield said. “The floor provides enhanced liquidity, special handling for large orders and complex orders. Options are different from stocks. A large order doesn’t just mean 2 million shares. For a professional who has a relationship with a floor broker who has a couple decades of experience getting trades down, often it’s easier, more efficient and reduces risk to pick up the phone and call someone and say, “Hey, can you do this trade for me?’ ”  

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