Publish date:

Curtains Up on Nasdaq's Transition Initiative

The Nazz debuts a 4 p.m. ceremony, initiating extended-hours trading.

Nasdaq chief Frank Zarb's ears are ringing, and the irritating sensation is coming directly from the intersection of Wall and Broad streets in lower Manhattan, home of the New York Stock Exchange.

The NYSE has been clanging its bell for the market's opening and closing for more than 100 years -- long before Zarb was even around -- but he thinks it gets too much attention, while the Nasdaq doesn't get enough. So since the Nasdaq's eight-story electronic billboard in Times Square has failed to steal the Big Board's bell-ringing thunder, the younger, electronic market has started its own ceremony to initiate extended-hours trading at 4 p.m. ET each business day.

Beginning last week, the Nasdaq kicked off plans to bring a well-known person to its

MarketSite

, at 43rd Street and Broadway, at the 4 p.m. close of the regular trading to push a button and light up the studio wall with after-hours quotes and graphs. Nasdaq calls this its "transition" initiative, from regular to extended trading hours.

The big question: Will all the world anticipate a button-pushing to open extended hours trading of stocks such as

CMGI

(CMGI)

at the fluorescent market site with as much fervor as they do the time-honored opening of

IBM

(IBM) - Get International Business Machines (IBM) Report

and

General Motors

(GM) - Get General Motors Company (GM) Report

on the venerable NYSE floor.

Ring My Bell

Every day, millions of people watch on television screens around the world as a celebrity, athlete, head of state or business star, rings the bell to open trading on the Big Board. Often Zarb's NYSE counterpart Richard Grasso is standing by. And the NYSE isn't shy about touting this exposure. "The opening and closing are believed to be the most widely viewed daily event in the world," it boasts on its Web site.

This has Zarb grinding his teeth.

TheStreet Recommends

His frustration burst into the open at a recent meeting of the

Financial Executives Institute

, when he told a group of corporate CFOs that barely a day passes when he doesn't think of that annoying bell down on Wall Street. He wants people to think Nasdaq when they ponder the opening of the markets.

But even the $37 million the

National Association of Securities Dealers

, Nasdaq's parent, spent building an electronic

"MarketSite" showcase in Times Square last year hasn't kept those images of the Big Board's bell ringing off the morning and evening news broadcasts.

Nasdaq hopes its new scheme will capture the public's attention.

Nasdaq's answer to the bell: (Left to right) Pat Campbell - Nasdaq, John Herzog, chairman Board of Trustees - MAFH, Mary Ellen Withrow, treasurer of the United States and Larry Small, secretary Smithsonian Institution, push the button to signal the beginning of after-hours trading

Copyright 2000, The Nasdaq Stock Market, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of The Nasdaq Stock Market, Inc.

"Obviously, we'd like to see more coverage on our end," Nasdaq spokeswoman Judy Inosanto says. As Nasdaq sees it, the NYSE closing bell is inaccurate, since trading continues on Nasdaq until 6:30 p.m.

Nasdaq began a button-pushing ceremony for the 9:30 a.m. market opening last year, and Inosanto says the exchange now hopes to start a new tradition that focuses on its button-pushings rather than the clapper on brass downtown.

"It's sort of our version of the opening bell," she says. "We're working with the broadcast stations to have them pick up our opening and the transition on a regular basis."

Bucking Tradition

But Nasdaq, barely 30 years old, is bucking more than a century of existing tradition. The NYSE began ringing a bell to signify the start and finish of trading in the 1870s. Today, there are five bells, one in each of the NYSE's trading rooms, that clang simultaneously at the open and close of the trading day. The bell ringing is so entrenched, it's now often accompanied by

sometimes elaborate presentations at the NYSE.

There are 15 broadcast outlets that beam the image of the open and closing bell to their viewers worldwide daily, says Big Board spokesman Ray Pellecchia. "We really see it first and foremost as a reflection of the fact that the world sees us at the center of global business and global finance," he says.

Inosanto thinks Nasdaq's button-pushing ceremony will eventually become the new gold standard.

"As more and more companies come to us, that'll happen -- as it becomes a high-tech world," she says. "It's more indicative of where the markets are today."