Nanex Research

Nanex ~ 03-May-2012 ~ Liquidity Dropout Event in BRK.A

On May 3, 2012 at 9:32:21, the stock price of Berkshire Hathaway crashed, losing 90% of its value in the blink of an eye. Literally. In about 180 milliseconds, 29 trades took BRK.A from $121,862.00 to $12,011.10. Nasdaq's bid dropped all the way to $1.00 -- which is an improvement from 2 years ago when many stocks went to a penny after the flash crash.

Maybe someone needed to get out of the stock right away. Maybe the owners of Berkshire aren't market savvy. Maybe Warren Buffett was splitting the stock. Maybe these High Frequency Traders (HFT) know a lot more about pricing stocks than the rest of us. Maybe this was their new volatility inducing algo (that we stumbled on yesterday) gone awry.

What may be even more damaging to the credibility of HFT, is how the bid price returns from $1.00 to back above $120,000 about 16 milliseconds later. How can this possibly be justified as acceptable? Liquidity in one of the most recognized stock symbols in America suddenly vanishes and reappears 0.2 seconds (200ms) later? This is a prime example of market dysfunction caused by giving priority to speed above everything else. Common sense included.

It is important to understand that this is not a glitch. This is the way HFT operates. These Liquidity Dropout Events (LDE) happen thousands of times every day and occasionally a few will have equally spectacular price changes. But more disturbing are the thousands of LDEs with price changes small enough that they go unnoticed by people who trade infrequently.

1 millisecond chart showing trades (circles), bids and asks (triangles) color coded by exchange.

At 10:37:48, the NYSE sent out the following notice which busted the trades. Note that BRK.A traded all the way down to $12,011.10 on Nasdaq.
The Sell Short Restriction in BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY (NYSE: BRK A) was triggered by trades at or below $118,340.96 that were executed at 9:32:21 a.m. ET.  The exchange trades have been busted pursuant to exchange clearly erroneous rules. (No trade at or below that price occurred on the NYSE.)  According to the ruling market(s), this decision is not subject to appeal.

Accordingly, the Sell Short Restriction that was triggered by these trades will be lifted at 10:47 a.m. ET today.  Once the Sell Short Restriction is lifted, Sell Short orders on the NYSE will be refiled at their limit prices.

Nanex Research