Knight trading loss shows cracks in equity markets

Fri Aug 3, 2012 5:10am EDT
 
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By Jed Horowitz and Joseph Menn

(Reuters) - The software glitch that cost Knight Capital Group $440 million in just 45 minutes reveals the deep fault lines in stock markets that are increasingly dominated by sophisticated high-speed trading systems. But Wall Street firms and regulators have few easy solutions for such problems.

Automated trading can handle massive volumes of transactions in milliseconds, something human traders could never do. But the benefits come at a cost: stock markets have become a jumble of exchanges, market makers, high-frequency traders, and investors using different systems that can interact in unexpected ways.

The May 2010 'Flash Crash', in which U.S. stocks inexplicably sank in a matter of minutes, illustrated how technological problems can cascade. These sorts of problems may be more likely given that many market participants are under pressure to cut costs - including technology spending - as trading margins narrow and regulation costs increase.

Since April, a series of embarrassing and costly technology issues have rocked markets and shaken the confidence of investors.

BATS Global Markets, an exchange, was unable to complete its own initial public offering because of a technical problem. Nasdaq botched the market debut of Facebook due to technical glitches, costing it tens of millions of dollars, while UBS AG lost more than $350 million in trading Facebook shares and is blaming Nasdaq.

"The structure just may be too complicated to work," said Larry Tabb, founder of Tabb Group, a consulting firm that focuses on capital markets.

"We may need to think about changing the structure of the market to simplify this," Tabb added.

'DARK POOLS'   Continued...

 
A trader stands by the post that trades Knight Capital on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange August 2, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid