The sign language of capitalism.
April 7, 2008 4:56 AM   Subscribe

Ever wonder about the sign language used amongst stock market traders? Wonder no more, with this handy visual guide (NYT link) to the hand signals used by traders on the floor.
posted by zardoz (22 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
These are commodity markets. Not the same thing as the stock market.

posted by sfts2 at 5:13 AM on April 7, 2008

posted by notsnot at 5:20 AM on April 7, 2008

Will this help me understand trading any better?

Soitenly Not!
posted by chillmost at 5:51 AM on April 7, 2008

Bit reminiscent of bookie's tic-tac for on-course betting (appropriately enough for bingo capitalism at work).
posted by Abiezer at 6:18 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can anyone offer insight into how the signals for months of the year were derived?
posted by surenoproblem at 6:26 AM on April 7, 2008

Cool, I always wanted to know what those guys were up to.
posted by hadjiboy at 6:30 AM on April 7, 2008

Reminds me of the old SWAT hand signals.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:58 AM on April 7, 2008 [9 favorites]

This is great. Was anyone else struck by the guy's expressions in the second link? There are subtle differences in the pictures. He mainly looks weary and annoyed, and occasionally almost disgusted. It cracks me up and makes it seem more true to life.
posted by salvia at 7:02 AM on April 7, 2008

This is commodities. This is not 'bingo' capitalism, whatever that is. Those guys work for businesses that need to know how much they will be paying for the inputs that they need. This is pretty purely businesses trying to get a good price for their goods going forward.

Skilled commodity trading is a game changer. Southwest Airlines' hedges over the last six months have protected it from jet fuel price rises. They are doing well because they hired good commodities traders.
posted by OldReliable at 7:19 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great presentation. I love the model Raymond Carbone; I thing he has a sense of humour. I love that his biographic picture at the bottom is him with a phone glued to his ear. Which simultaneously makes sense for a broker, and yet is entirely opposite the purpose of the rest of this pictures of him communicating without a phone. I think this was deliberate and I like to imagine Carbone has a subtle sense of humour.
posted by Nelson at 7:30 AM on April 7, 2008

Reminds me of watching the press guys at work. We have a massive, four-story press that is extremely loud, and these guys communicate over short and long distances with their own sign language. (There are actually two deaf guys working the press, and they communicate seamlessly with everyone else this way.)
posted by azpenguin at 7:41 AM on April 7, 2008

This is cool. Also, I had forgotten how much I liked the movie, Trading Places.
posted by hojoki at 7:52 AM on April 7, 2008

These are great, here are crane and hoist hand signals. Now I'm nostalgic for the restaurant sign language ("Give me a minute to bus table 73, then seat six and take a drink order.") a co-worker and I made up.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:02 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Does anybody know how out-of-date the Trading Places scene is? Are there still all the exchanges of scraps of paper, or is more done electronically?
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:13 AM on April 7, 2008

Corpse -I believe that there are fewer and fewer markets left that use open outcry. I ran across this, which looks really good and seems as though it may answer your question specifically, but I don't see any broadcast times. There is also a documentary called Floored that deals with this. You can see a clip here.
posted by horsemuth at 8:38 AM on April 7, 2008

Great post! Very interesting. Thanks!!
posted by pearlybob at 8:41 AM on April 7, 2008

Corpse - most exchanges are purely electronic these days - it's easier to scale when you're electronic, and more trades means more commissions for the exchange.

The older the exchange, the more likely it is to still use open-outcry; Nymex and Nybot are still partly open-outcry, and the London Metals Exchange is as well. You can even come in and watch the LME ring sessions, once you jump through a few security hoops.
posted by The Shiny Thing at 10:06 AM on April 7, 2008

Typically, how long does it take a rookie to pick this up? More to the point, how long before anyone would trust said rookie on the floor with real money?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:05 PM on April 7, 2008

What's the sign for "Soy! Soy! Soy!"?
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:22 PM on April 7, 2008

What's the sign for "We're all screwed! Get out while you can!"?
posted by wendell at 6:20 PM on April 7, 2008

wendell: A trader-shaped hole in a plate glass window.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:41 AM on April 8, 2008

Huh. Back in the day I traded commodities, amongst other things, and our executing broker (the guy I gave the orders to over the phone, who then passed them via runner to the pit) used a floor broker who I'll refer to as Not-Ray. Never met him, never seen him, never knew a damn thing about him other than a lot of mutual screaming (your broker would be shouting 'Not-Ray! Not-Ray! We done at 25? Market! Size? Where the fuck are we? Who's buying in front? Talk to me, Not-Ray!') while the market ran away and you pictured yourself catching a flight to Chicago that very evening with a baseball bat to take care of business with the whole thieving goddam town who were no doubt now happily lighting their enormous cuban cigars with the same dollar bills they'd stolen from you that morning. Despite the stakes, the atmosphere was mostly half-serious, half-kidding in-jokery, much like you'd imagine the on-field banter at a pro baseball or NFL game.

First things first: you pick up the phone or flick open the squawk box, ask for a market in april crude in size - ie not where the locals (brokers) where, but where the 'paper' or real money was - and there'd be this low kinda hum in the background as it came back '20 at 30, 20 up' (market is 98.20 buyer, 98.30 seller, 20 contracts or more showing per side). You'd ask for colour - market tone, feel, news, who was in doing what - and then come in with your first order to test them out.

Convention was unless otherwise specified you were trading 'top step' or the front / closest contract month, and for brevity's sake you'd only ever specify the last couple digits of the price - so 'pay 20 for 50' was shorthand for buy me 50 contracts limit (at or better than) a price of 98.20. You avoided everything in front of the decimal place - otherwise known as the handle. Yes, like a door. Don't ask. When buying it was price x at quantity y. When selling, quantity y at price x (so 'sell 50 at 20').

As soon as you hit them with 'pay 20 for 50' and the order was passed via executing broker through the runner to the pit, the background hum would become a dull roar. It was exhilarating. Game on.

Problem was the locals all knew who we were and who our brokers were and that our first order would be followed by more, so very helpfully they'd lift (buy) the 20 lots on offer at 30 above before you could get at them and then offer to sell them back to you at 50, pocketing the extra 20 points for their trouble (no small change - this was $10,000 on your 50-lot order) . They all made their living scalping our orders like this, frontrunning as we came in to buy before selling everything back to us a few ticks higher. Led to a lot of gamesmanship - you'd pull orders, switch brokers, start selling instead of buying, give em nothing for 20 minutes (an eternity in market time) or try odd lots to make em think you'd finished (so you'd try 50-50-20-17 even though you had more to follow). You'd win some, you'd lose some, but more often than not the locals took a piece of you with them before you'd finished.

So your broker would come back in a heartbeat with 'now 20 at 50, 20 up, nothing done' and you'd look about the room for something breakable to throw at the wall because you were about to get royally fucked over and there was nothing you could do about it because you had to buy the goddam crude this morning. All part of the fun. We'd call it 'the icing on the fuck-you cake'.

You'd also have stops placed above the market as a safety in case things got away from you - say a stop to buy 100 at 99.10 - and if things were quiet and the locals knew which way the wind was blowing they'd push the market higher looking for you. As soon as your floor brokers started getting jumpy and checking their decks (order books) or toe-tapping or sweating or going quiet or whatever other telltale signal they had, the locals would know they'd found something and run for it. Market would jump for no reason from 98.50 to 99.00 and then some smartarse would buy one lot (one contract) at 99.10, triggering your stop at the high of the day. Suddenly every local in the pit would be in your face selling and those same hundred lots you couldn't get for love nor money at 98.20 were all yours at 99.10 and plenty more besides. And inside maybe a minute the market would fade back to 98.20, the locals would cover their shorts for a good profit and your broker would say '20 at 30, 20 up' again like nothing had just happened and you were back where you started with the roar gone and replaced by the locals' smug money-counting silence. Ahh those were the days.

Today it's all screen, click-click and you're done. The pits, for the most part, are a ghost town. All the intrigue, the romance, the excitement of the pits are gone - as is the gamemanship, the crookedness, the maddening inefficiency. And I miss those thieving bastards every damn day.

The contract month hand signals? Mostly borrowed from the one-letter contract month shorthand, though I don't know from where the letter itself is derived. They should be more or less apparent, particularly the back half of the year - you can see Jan (F), Feb (G), March (H), April (J), May (K) June (M), July (N), Aug (Q), Sep (U), Oct (V), Nov (X), Dec (Z).
posted by bookie at 1:04 AM on April 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

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