The New York stock exchange reopened on Wednesday afternoon after a more than three-and-a-half-hour shutdown caused by a still unexplained “internal technical issue”.
Trading restarted at 3.10pm local time after all NYSE-listed stocks, worth a combined $28tn, were suspended at 11.32am because of technical problem which the authorities said was not a cyber-attack or the result of criminal activity.
The suspension is just one of seven NYSE closures since the founding of a predecessor exchange in 1817. The other closures were due to major world events, including the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, the September 11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Tom Farley, president of NYSE, admitted that “it’s not a good day”, but still failed to explain what caused the problem beyond ruling out a cyber-attack. The outage was caused by a “configuration problem in our system that needed fixing”, Farley told CNBC.
“We found what was wrong and we fixed what was wrong and we have no evidence whatsoever to suspect that it was external,” he said. “Tonight and overnight starts the investigation of what exactly we need to change. Do we need to change those protocols? Absolutely. Exactly what those changes are I’m not prepared to say.”
President Barack Obama had been briefed on the situation by Department of Homeland Security, which ruled out a cyber terrorism attack, the prospect of which has long worried politicians, regulators and traders. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there was “no indication that malicious actors were involved”.
The FBI said there were no signs of suspicious activity and no law enforcement action was needed, but the NYSE had as of Wednesday night still not explained the cause of the shutdown.
“We’re currently experiencing a technical issue that we’re working to resolve as quickly as possible,” a NYSE spokesman said. “We are doing our utmost to produce a swift resolution, communicate thoroughly and transparently, and ensure a timely and orderly market re-open.”
The NYSE updated traders about the halt in a series of tweets. “The issue we are experiencing is an internal technical issue and is not the result of a cyber breach,” the Twitter feed said. “We chose to suspend trading on NYSE to avoid problems arising from our technical issue. NYSE-listed securities continue to trade unaffected on other market centers.”
Mary Jo White, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the regulator was “in contact with NYSE and are closely monitoring the situation and trading in NYSE-listed stocks”.
Traders at the exchange said they had been told the problem was caused by an overnight software update. “They told us they did some software updates overnight and tested it without problems, but this morning something happened,” Peter Costa, president of Empire Executions, told the Wall Street Journal.
Costa, a floor trader, said NYSE executives had promised that trading would “soon” be restored. The exchange did not respond to requests for comment on the source of the technical problem.
Rich Barry, the floor governor of the NYSE, said: “We have our best and smartest on the issue and hope that it is resolved ASAP.”
As trading reopened at 3.10pm, later than a previously planned restart at 2.45pm, the NYSE tweeted: “Trading on NYSE and NYSE MKT has resumed.” All the major indices dipped when trading resumed, but had already been lower before the suspension in trading.
The stock market shutdown came just hours after United Airlines was forced to ground all of its US flights following a separate technical glitch it described as a “automation issues”. The airline, which has 4,935 daily departures, halted all flights for more than an hour on Wednesday morning. The Wall Street Journal’s website also went down due to a technical issue at the same time as the NYSE suspended trading.
The NYSE glitch came as China’s stock markets continued to free-fall and with the Greek debt crisis still rattling European investors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen 213 points when trading was halted, a fall of 1.2%.
China’s stock markets, which lost 6% on Wednesday, have fallen more than 30% in the past three weeks after soaring 150% in the past year. China’s regulators have blamed “irrational selling” and “panic sentiment”. The FTSE 100, which closed as normal just before the NYSE glitch occurred, closed up 0.9% to 6,491.
Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of BMO Private Bank, said he initially worried that China’s woes had spread to the US when he heard the news and was relieved that it appeared to be a technical glitch. “That said, it doesn’t add a lot of confidence in the markets when investors don’t have a lot to begin with,” he said.
At about 1pm – an hour and a half after the trading halted – one NYSE’s trader walked over to the barricades outside the exchange’s Wall Street headquarters. As he strolled over reporters flocked to him. “What? Do you want my autograph now?” he asked. “I can’t comment. What’s scary is you asking me all these questions.”
Rumours that the NYSE shutdown may have been caused by a possible cyber-attack were heightened by a tweet from hacking group Anonymous. “Wonder if tomorrow is going to be bad for Wall Street … We can only hope,” said a tweet posted from one of its main Twitter accounts early on Wednesday morning.
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