Coming Soon: Stocks Around The Clock

You can get cash from the bank at midnight and buy insurance on Saturday. But the financial markets still keep bankers' hours. New York Stock Exchange trading doesn't start until 9:30 and cuts off at 4 p.m. sharp. On the weekend, exchanges close down all over the world.

That is changing slowIy. Last week the Securities and Exchange Commission authorized the Big Board to start afterhours trading. From 4:15 to 5 p.m., a computer will match buy and sell orders-but only at a stock's 4 p.m. closing price. A separate session will let pension plans and mutual funds trade "baskets" of at least 15 stocks. If that sounds less than earth shattering, it is. "We don't expect a lot of volume out of this," says Robert Dissitt of St. Louis broker A.G. Edwards & Sons. Big investors already trade after hours privately or on foreign exchanges; the new hours may help the NYSE grab a small piece of that business.

But longer hours don't deal with the New York exchange's biggest competitive problem: brokers and investors find trading through its floor specialists an expensive way to do business. The American Stock Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange are developing a computer system to match buyers and sellers day or night, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange hopes to make computerized 24-hour futures trading a reality by next year. By comparison, the NYSE's longer day may still look like bankers' hours to the 5l.4 million Americans who own stocks.