As you approach the Ring – the circular trading floor of the London Metal Exchange – a low murmur crescendoes into a bewildering cacophony.
This is where the bulk of the world’s industrial metals are traded, using the traditional ‘open-outcry’ method that makes the LME unique in the City.
It is the first day of trading at LME’s new headquarters and dealers are perched on padded red leather seats in the centre of the circle, shouting bids and offers on contracts for the sale of metals such as copper, zinc and aluminium.
Behind them stand the clerks, making frenetic hand gestures known as tic-tacs to convey information about amounts, prices and types of metal without adding to the noise. At the back, often clutching a telephone to each ear, are the account executives, who pass instructions and information to and from clients buying or selling metals.
All of the deals happen during five-minute trading windows, each for a different metal. As the window for aluminium opens, very little happens.
But as the clock ticks down to the end of the five-minute window, the noise level rises and the entire room seems to be arguing with itself, barking prices and amounts seemingly at random.
Everyone is trying to make themselves heard, with some screaming at the top of their lungs to do the best job for their clients - the companies and investors who buy and sell metals.
“It’s quiet today,” says Peter Childs, the head of trading operations.
Suddenly, a buzzer sounds to signal the end of the session and the competitive whirlwind gives way to a cordial atmosphere of camaraderie. Anywhere else, this sort of to-do would seem like the total breakdown of law and order but at the London Metal Exchange, this is business as usual.
This is the first day of open-outcry trading at the LME’s shiny new headquarters in Moorgate, London, the exchange’s fourth home since it was established above a hat shop in Lombard Street in 1877.
Despite anxiety among veteran Ring dealers – many of whom feared that the circular floor would be abandoned in favour of electronic trading – the LME’s heritage is going strong.
It will need to draw on that strength. Due to the global economic slowdown, the volume of trading on the LME, and therefore its income, has been hit.
Its chief executive Garry Jones acknowledges that times are tough but says the LME is “in it for the long term and we’ll ride the ups and the downs”.
To offset the metals malaise, the LME is planning to broaden out its market to include transactions related to metals, such as shipping contracts.
It is also looking for new member companies, while parent company HKEX plans to start a new trading platform in mainland China, building on the overall strength of the group.
Whatever comes next, the Ring looks set to endure for several years yet, providing a rare glimpse into an idiosyncratic world that is somehow still alive in the digital age.
This article was written by Rob Davies, for theguardian.com on Thursday 18th February 2016 18.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010