I have been in this business along time. I have been through the 1987 crash, the 1989 mini-crash, the “tech wreck” of 2000 and the crash of 2008-09. Some of these crashes were caused by economic factors, but some have been blamed on human error and computers. The SEC will sift through the wreckage (including my newly-created Roth IRA conversion) and figure out who to blame.
TheStreet.com has its own analysis that includes the Greek crisis and the “trading error” theory. It is the latter theory that concerns me. The 1987 and 1989 crashes were blamed on technical trading mechanisms, usually referred to as “program trading”, that were triggered by market events. In 1987, the crash occurred on the day when the October options and futures expired on the same day. This is believed to have caused the crash.
The 1989 crash started when UAL, the parent company of United Airlines, announced that its management buyout had failed. Many speculators were using a short put strategy as a proxy for buying UAL stock. This could later be described as a failed put strategy. When the covering started, this caused another downward spiral that took the rest of the market with it as the computers took over.
One of the suspects in this most recent crash is a trading error in one stock, Procter & Gamble. It has been reported that some genius entered an order to sell one billion shares of the company’s stock instead of one million shares. Apparently he skipped the lesson in Mrs. Smith’s fourth grade class that covered the difference between one billion and one million.
Anyway…this erroneous order supposedly indicated to the new bad guys in the markets, the “high-frequency” traders, that the market was going to fall. So these automated traders – “program trading” again – started to sell. When there is an oversupply of sell orders, prices drop. When prices drop, more sell orders are generated and before you know it, the computers caused my IRA to lose 10% of its value in an instant.
I have been concerned about this “high-frequency” trading since it came on the scene. It seems to me that this type of trading is harmful to the markets overall and is another reason for the entire “main street v. wall street” debate. A retiree sitting in his living room in Peoria cannot access the markets in the same manner as some “high-frequency” trading computer in a server farm in New Jersey. To make matters worse, it seems that the New York Stock Exchange is encouraging this behavior.
In my humble opinion, this is a result of the NYSE becoming a public company and placing profits over fairness in its markets.
That’s the 10% down view of one Lawyer from Jupiter, Palm Beach County, Florida. I’m Marc Dobin.