Shutdown's biggest casualty could be NYSE itself

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For a day, at least, it seemed like the New York Stock Exchange mattered again.

Wednesday's meltdown that stopped trading at the Wall Street facility turned the eyes of the investing world on a building that has lost much of its relevance over the years. With 11 other exchanges operating and dozens of other "dark pool" operations in existence around the financial world, the NYSE no longer is the heartbeat of capital markets.

Even during the trading shutdown that lasted nearly four hours, trading essentially went on unabated, with other platforms happily filling the need created by the NYSE's problems.

"The folks who sit on the NYSE, the corporate public relations guys who do investor relations for IBM and all the stocks listed (on the NYSE) ... don't like it, but frankly their stocks (were) trading just fine on the other venues," said Sal Arnuk, a principal at Themis Trading. "This was one of those times where fragmentation actually works to the long-term investor's advantage."

In fact, the big story of the day was less the impact the shutdown had on trading and far more on whether the exchange's problems weren't part of a larger orchestrated hacking operation. That kind of speculation arose on social media after The Wall Street Journal's website went down, United Airlines had to ground flights due to a computer issue and a minor power outage hit Washington, D.C.

Conspiracy theories aside— NYSE officials insist the problems were due to a routine software upgrade gone bad—the lack of a real market impact from the shutdown could renew a pointedly existential debate about the facility's future.

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"This is going to make it more difficult to say the floor traders are important when there's a technical problem," said Richard Repetto, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill. "Because the technical problems take out the floor traders, too."

An exchange that used to house more than 5,000 traders shouting out their orders now is a mostly docile habitat in which those still left on the floor quietly tap out transactions on hand-held computers and barely make a peep at swift moves in market activity.

Indeed, the lack of a market impact raises questions about whether the NYSE, now owned by IntercontinentalExchange, will play a significant role in the market's future.