Fight Breaks Out on Floor of New York Merc in Throwback to Bygone Era

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In a throwback to a bygone era when financial markets were flush with human traders and tempers often ran high, an old-fashioned fight broke out Tuesday on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange, the largest physical commodity futures exchange in the world.

People who work on the floor of the Merc in lower Manhattan told TheStreet that two traders in the so-called 'open outcry pits,' where investors sell futures and options of precious metals, crude oil and natural gas, engaged in what might be euphemistically called a physical confrontation but which a half-dozen people interviewed described as including shoving or throwing punches.

The altercation became quite heated, according to four traders, one of whom said someone's shirt was ripped during the fracas. Two other traders called it a "fist fight." The two men were subsequently escorted from the building by security, said two security guards. 

A source said that one trader walked-up to another trader to tell him to get out of "his spot" in the pits. When the "spot" was not vacated, the first trader shoved the other man, another trader said.

"We're not in the schoolyard and you can't push anybody, and that's it," he said. "Once you put your hands on somebody then that's like the real no-no, so that's what happened."

The two security guards confirmed that a fight occurred and that the two traders were escorted off the floor. Damon Leavell, a spokesman for the CME Group, which runs the NYMEX, would not comment on whether a fight took place or what fines would be levied in the case of such an incident. 

"We've only had a handful of altercations," said one trader who has worked at the NYMEX for decades. "There's a couple of guys who might go outside [to fight] and that kind of crap. A couple of guys push each other [on the floor] maybe here and there -- you can't, you get thrown off the floor and fined seriously."

NYMEX floor trading has significantly dwindled from its peak days when brokers stuffed open outcry pits and screaming filled the space. Traders used to occupy multiple commodity trading floors in the building, but officials have consolidated physical trading to one room amid the boom of electronic off-site trading.

Technological advancements have turned many markets completely electronic, leaving questions as to what will eventually happen to historic locations such as the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the NYMEX. The London Metals Exchange on Monday announced that it will preserve its iconic open outcry ring past 2015.

All the sources interviewed said it has been years since a fight occurred on the trading floor. While one source said the "skirmish" was prompted by a disagreement over space in the trading floor, others said that these types of events usually occur when trading is sluggish and volatility is low.