May Day for Traders

The Day Wall Street Changed


On May Day 1975, fixed-rate commissions were abolished by regulators. Until then, a broker who tried to charge customers less than the fixed rate to trade shares ran the risk of being expelled from the stock exchange. With some minor exceptions, for 183 years it had cost the same amount per share to trade 100 shares as it did to trade 1,000 or 100,000—and brokers regularly shaved 2% or more for themselves off the typical trade. May Day blew that cozy world to smithereens. One of its lessons for today’s investors is obvious; another is more subtle. The obvious lesson is that when brokers treat their customers more fairly, the customers prosper. May Day smashed Wall Street’s monopoly, unleashing the discount-brokerage industry, fostering independent research and democratizing the world of investing. The subtle lesson is that when brokers treat their customers more fairly, everyone prospers. May Day, which brokers at the time expected to be the most apocalyptic event in their industry’s long history, turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to them. Trading boomed, investors flocked back to the markets and brokerages minted money for decades. To understand the changes wrought by May Day, consider what it cost to buy 100 shares trading at $25 on the New York Stock Exchange before May 1, 1975. You would have paid a minimum commission of $49 and a bid-ask spread (the difference between the selling price and purchase price) of $13, reckons Charles M. Jones, an economist at Columbia Business School who studies brokerage costs. That totaled 2.5% of the $2,500 transaction.
Comment: Image snap from WSJ article and from Tradeking. On a personal note, we use Wells Trade. Last week we bought a lot of GE for no commission. Trade deals abound

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