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A Day Filled With Market Jitters, But Not Panic

A trader claps on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the close of the day after trading was paused for nearly four hours due to a "technical glitch" on Wednesday.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
A trader claps on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the close of the day after trading was paused for nearly four hours due to a "technical glitch" on Wednesday.

If you were looking for reasons to be nervous, Wednesday provided lots of them, like these:

-- Chinese stocks plunged again, with the Shanghai Composite Index falling another 5.9 percent.

-- The Greek debt crisis remained unresolved, with European officials still scrambling for a solution.

-- Many raw-material prices continued their slide — with the Bloomberg Commodity Index down 26 percent from last year.

And then came a thunderbolt. A "technical issue" forced the shutdown of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for most of the day. The world's largest stock exchange stood silent from 11:32 a.m. until 3:10 p.m. ET.

NYSE officials said they needed the downtime to untangle a malfunction of some sort.

Despite this daunting collection of financial-market problems, optimists could take heart: Investors did not panic. In the end, it was a tough day, but not a disastrous one.

By the 4 p.m. closing bell, the NYSE was returning to normal. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down about 261 to 17,515, and while that's lousy, it was no stampede.

Analysts generally attributed the NYSE's calm close to the market redundancies that allowed traders to do business. Investors were not trapped. They could continue buying and selling shares via NASDAQ or BATS or dozens of other exchanges and private trading venues.

So you could recap events this way:

Wednesday ended up being a good day because, even with disruptions and fears, free markets functioned around the world. Yes, Chinese stocks were dropping, but the recent plunge is no surprise after a super-fast run up over the past year. And even though the Greek situation is awful, it is not generating panic outside of Greece. In fact, the rest of the eurozone is seeing many economic indicators turning up.

And even without the NYSE functioning, investors had the freedom to continue going about their business.

So maybe we are actually seeing a world that is becoming more stable, thanks to trading-platform redundancies. And after learning from the financial crisis of 2008-09, central bankers and regulators everywhere are better equipped to roll with the disruptions related to Greek debt and Chinese stocks.

Bottom line: good for us. While there are serious trouble spots and plenty of pain for some individuals, the overall global financial markets are more stable and mature.

Or you could recap the day this way: yikes!

Just because we haven't seen panic yet, the planet is piling up lots of oily rags and kindling. Sooner or later, a spark could be struck somewhere, starting a global bonfire and melting down asset prices.

No matter what happens, some day, economic historians will be able to look back and see clearly where we were heading. For now, let's just say these are interesting times.

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Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.