24-Hour Stock Trading

Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. (NASDAQ: NDAQ) has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to allow it to process trades as early at 4 a.m. Although some U.S. equities are traded on international exchanges, the advance would allow for a longer trading period for some of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization. The idea is an old one that has come of age.

Traders have considered two ways to extend trading hours over the past several years. One was to allow the all-out trading of shares in U.S. companies in Asia, then in Europe and finally America. That involved coordination among public corporations and a number of exchanges. Nothing happened. The other plan was to allow traders at NYSE Euronext Inc. (NYSE: NYX) and Nasdaq to stay up all night and trade stocks well after the sun has gone down. The plan never advanced, perhaps because companies did not want to have investor relations people and executives sitting in their offices in case the stocks in their firms made unexpected moves, either up or down. Regulators wanted to get their sleep as well, which left no one to stand guard against odd trading activity.

The fact of the matter is that activity in China can affect Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) prospects when America is asleep. Traders have to wait until the morning to react by buying and selling. Apple is one of thousands of examples of U.S. public corporations the fortunes of which can change 24 hours a day.

The explosion of a nuclear device in North Korea can change the fates of firms that provide the United States and much of the rest of the world with weapons. As the crippled Carnival Corp. (NYSE: CCL) cruise ship Triumph put ashore in Alabama in the wee hours of the morning, the extent of passenger health was ascertained. And cyber attacks on American companies have made threats to security, and perhaps revenue, something that can happen at any hour.

The reasons for U.S. equities to be traded on a 24-hour cycle are countless. What does it matter if a few people need to work in the dark?

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