Stock Exchanges Trade Fractions for Decimals

ByABC News
August 22, 2000, 5:07 PM

Aug. 23 -- The French have done it for hundreds of years and the British embraced it decades ago. But when it comes to quoting stock prices, the U.S. markets have avoided trading shares in decimals for more than 200 years.

Instead, stock prices, like weights and measures, havent changed since the early 1800s when stockbrokers in New York and Philadelphia happily traded securities in fractions, like eighths and sixteenths of dollars.

Thats about to change. On Monday, 13 stocks on the New YorkStock Exchange and their associated options will start trading in dollars and cents.

The second phase of the pilot program at the NYSE begins Sept. 25 and includes 52 companies, representing 57 issues, including some of the Big Boards most active stocks, such as America Online and Compaq.

The rest of the securities industry will embrace decimal pricing nextspring the deadline set by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Concerning Decimals

U.S. markets happily traded in eighths and sixteenths until 1997, when more Americans than ever began to invest in the stocks. The House of Representatives then began to look into changing to a more easily understandable pricing system.

Earlier this year, the SEC ordered the NYSE and the Nasdaq to switch from fractions to decimal pricing by July 3. The transformation was halted to allow for any technical difficultiesassociated with the change to the year 2000.

But the Nasdaqs parent, the National Association of Securities Dealers, cried foul, saying its computer systems would not be ready for such a swift move. In response, the SEC said it would leave the switch to the markets themselves. Now the timetable for decimalization has the NYSE and the Nasdaq implementing decimalization by April.

A phase-in approach was chosen because of the laundry list of what needs to be working properly, says JohnPanchery, decimals projects manager at the Securities Industry Association, an industry trade group. The slower implementation also allows companies, regulators and consumers to get up to speed, he adds.