You could wonder about the substance of some of these investigations. JPMorgan’s electric boogaloo, while intensely naughty, also seems pretty clearly to have followed FERC/ISO rules to the letter, so it’s hard to imagine charging anyone with a crime, as the FBI is apparently contemplating.2 And while I don’t know much about the SEC rules re: electronic options trading, the actual thing that Goldman did was sell options really cheaply, and it would be pretty weird if there were a rule against that, so I don’t know where the SEC is going with its enforcement investigation.3 (The Whale, I’ll give you, that stuff seems bad.) But basically, yeah, sure: bad things happened, rules might have been violated, market safeguards were shown to be less robust than had previously been thought, it is altogether fitting and proper that someone look into it. Or a lot of someones I guess.
Still the stories carry a whiff of looking for the keys under the lamppost: Read more »
Yesterday the computer at Goldman Sachs responsible for trading options whose symbols start with the letters H through L traded a bunch of options at the wrong prices and put Goldman out by a hundred million dollars or so. Today various exchanges are sitting down and pondering whether to give Goldman that money back. This strikes some people as unfair because, y’know, hahaha Goldman you screwed up, but also because someone was on the other side of those trades, made a profit, hedged it out, and will now be sad and possibly screwed when it is unwound.1
Which all seems pretty justified, and the image of a bunch of exchange operators getting together and being all “better cancel these trades, it’s Goldman, don’t want to make them mad” is in fact disturbing. However! That is not apparently what is happening. From Bloomberg:Read more »
A trader at RBS has admitted to making a fat finger trade in the EUR/CHF pair Monday, a spokesperson for the bank told Reuters. The error caused a series of algorithmic trades from other traders to flood the market, sending the pair spiking for a short period of time. The trades which took place on the EBS foreign exchange platform sent the currency pair to spike to levels just shy of 1.21, the highest levels seen in a long time…EBS daily charts showed that the euro surged to 1.20928 francs from around 1.2015 within three minutes on Monday as the algorithmic traders went berserk…Initial reports had claimed that it was RBS’s algorithms that caused the spike. However, those reports were later proven wrong. It turns out that it was a simple fat finger trade that caused the spike and algos reacted to send the pair even higher. [MarketWatch, Reuters]
Yesterday I and others pointed out that, while UBS was not alone in getting screwed by Nasdaq failures on Facebook, it was alone in losing 10x as much as other, more competent market makers like Knight Capital, and ha ha ha. This apparently had a jinxing effect:
Knight Capital Group Inc., one of the largest trading firms, told brokerages to send their orders elsewhere and was probing a software problem, according to people involved in the matter. U.S. exchanges said they were examining potentially erroneous trading in more than 100 securities that saw big price swings or unusually high volume. Knight saw a fifth of its own market value wiped out. …
The system error and reports of irregular trading stoked suspicions that trades had been accidentally duplicated via computer algorithms, rather than the problem being contained to one server, as has happened in the past, traders said.
Knight is down ~21%, vs. ~4% yesterday for UBS and its costly Facebook fail, a useful reminder that focusing on perfecting your market-making business may make you less likely to fuck it up, but when you do fuck it up it goes far worse for you. That’s maybe some sort of a metaphor for high-frequency electronic market-making generally, which it will not surprise you to learn is coming in for some flak today.* Algorithmic high frequency trading makes it more likely that your small trade will be executed quickly and cheaply, but it also makes it more likely that larger orders will go horribly awry as prices move away from them.
Which is why this coincidence (?) pointed out by the Journal is kind of tantalizing: Read more »