Final bell tolls for Hong Kong trading floor

Traders and guests pose for photos at an event to celebrate the end of floor trading at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on October 27. - AFP

Hong Kong (AFP) - Veteran deal-makers in Hong Kong donned their distinctive red vests for the last time Friday as the city's historic share trading hall closed for business for the final time.

As electronic and internet services burgeoned, the vast majority of stockbrokers drifted away from the once raucous hall to base themselves in corporate offices, leaving just a handful who used the floor daily.

But traders past and present gathered there once more to commemorate its closing at a farewell ceremony on Friday.

They remembered it as a thriving hub of brokers who saw each other as friends and relied on word of mouth and trust.

Chan Pui-yee, 66, wore the old red vest emblazoned with her trader identification number as she reminisced in the hall and says she is still good friends with her former colleagues.

"We traded together for 20 years," she told AFP.

"It's a shame -- I grew up here," she said of the closure.

Under British rule, Hong Kong transformed into a commercial and financial hub, becoming a gateway between China and the rest of the world as the mainland opened up its economy from the late 1970s.

In 1986 the city's four separate stock exchanges merged into one and the trading floor opened.

Brokers exchanged gossip, gesticulated wildly and yelled into telephones, but the introduction of electronic trading in 1993 triggered a major shift away from face-to-face deals.

Three years later brokers were able to trade away from the hall as terminals were installed in their own offices.

And from 2000 they could offer services online, after the exchange invested HK$300 million ($38 million) in cutting-edge technology.

Those who still used the hall mainly saw it as convenient and affordable office space.

Hong Kong exchange chairman Chow Chung-kong called the floor a "symbol of the Hong Kong security market" over the past three decades at the farewell ceremony.

Even city leader Carrie Lam put on a red vest for the occasion -- labelled with the number 001.

While trading these days is quicker and more convenient, the brokers gathered said something would be lost with the closure.

"Everyone will miss this," said former trader Yip Wing-keung, now in his 70s.

"The atmosphere will be gone."

The Hong Kong exchange has said the hall will be remade into an exhibition and event space as part of wider renovations to its building in the commercial zone of Central.

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