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The world of money and investing is pretty mysterious to most of us. One way to make money matters more tangible, and maybe more understandable, is to visit the places where high finance happens.

The Second City has a first-class presence in the financial markets. Here is a look at the tours and visitors’ privileges available at Chicago money and trading centers. All times are for Monday through Friday:

– The Chicago Mercantile Exchance (CME), 30 S. Wacker Dr.

The CME, which touts itself as the “world’s leading futures exchange,” is where you’ll see hundreds of clerks, runners and traders milling about the crowded trading floor, shouting and making hand gestures, all of which specify certain trades.

From 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., you can take the elevator in the 30 S. Wacker building up to the fourth-floor visitors’ gallery, where you can view one of two of the CME’s trading floors. There are interactive videos that help explain the pandemonium on the trading floor below. The videos and other electronic signage help visitors understand what’s happening and explain the definitions of the instruments and products traded, including stock index futures, foreign currency futures and agricultural commodities.

Visitors also can take the elevator to the eighth floor, where the larger CME trading floor is on view. Here, the action is even more hectic. The gallery here is open from 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., and is stricly for viewing-no videos or signage.

There are group tours (for 10 or more), during which guides explain the action and have tour members try a few hand signals as if they were trading. An instructive video presentation is also available. Call 312-930-8249. Arrangements must be made about two weeks in advance.

– The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), 141 W. Jackson Blvd.

The CBOT, which also bills itself as the world’s leading future exchange, has the same kind of chaotic trading action as the CME. If you’re going to visit just one, however, you may want to make it the CBOT.

That’s because the fifth-floor visitors’ center, open from 8 a.m. until 1:15 p.m., is much larger and has museum-like displays that help explain the business transacted on the trading floor below. Artifacts and photos from the early days of the CBOT also are on display.

The view from the center is of the agricultural trading floor. At 9:15 a.m., and then every half-hour thereafter, a guide gives a short speech that highlights what’s happening below. Visitors then are invited into a nearby theater for a 16-minute film that explains why futures markets such as the CBOT provide a necessary role in the economy. A Rockford farmer, for instance, explains why he uses futures to lock in prices on his crop.

While this tutorial doesn’t prepare you to start speculating in commodity futures, a visit to the CBOT does help one to conceptualize the esoteric subject of futures trading.

Although the visitors’ center is open at 8 a.m., action doesn’t get started on the floor below until 9:15 a.m. Reservations are required for groups of more than 10, and the minimum age for group members is 16. For information call 312-435-3590 or 3625.

– The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), LaSalle and Van Buren Streets.

The CBOE has a large visitors’ center on the fourth floor that has some “hands-on” gadgets, including a “Quotron” machine. You can fiddle with the Quotron to see how this computer terminal designed for the investment industry operates. You can also use your visitor’s card to activate a video that describes the options exchange.

The action on the floor below is interesting, although a little less chaotic than at either the CBOT or the CME. Computer terminals are in abundance on much of the floor and there is a section with traders shouting and gesturing as they complete transactions.

The business of the CBOE-involving options on financial entities such as the Standard & Poor’s 100 and 500 indexes-is even more involved than the workings of the CBOT or the CME, but serious students can check out the action from the visitors’ gallery from 8:30 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. It is open to individuals or groups. Call 312-786-7492.

– The Chicago Stock Exchange, 440 S. LaSalle St.

The fifth-floor visitors’ gallery, open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., is a quiet hallway with large windows looking out on the trading floor. Videos located at the base of the windows explain the scene below, where many people are sitting before computer screens and an electronic ticker tape runs across the top of the large room.

Indeed, the slogan of the exchange, “Where people and technology meet,” is an apt description of how business is conducted here. The scene isn’t as frantic as at the three previously mentioned locations, because trades are made electroncially, not with shouts and hand gestures. Still, in the few minutes that the explanatory video runs, visitors learn that several million shares of stock have been traded. The video does a good job of explaining the basics of the stock market.

For adult groups (high school groups are allowed only if the students are playing a stock market game in connection with one of their classes), call 312-663-2980 for more information.

– The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 230 S. LaSalle St.

The visitors’ center, on the lobby level, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The center, a mini-museum, provides a self-guided tour through interactive games that explain the workings of the Federal Reserve. The subjects are probably too sophisticated, however, for young children.

Group tours for high school-age and older visitors are available by reservation only. Individuals usually can attend the 1 p.m. Tuesday tour. Groups tour the bank and visit a high-speed cash-processing machine and a government securities area, among other things.

Call 312-322-5111 to make tour reservations. Individuals must call at least 24 hours in advance. It takes about two weeks to arrange a group tour. Tours are not recommended for children unless in the company of their parents.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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