Did “Fat Finger” Syndrome contribute to Thursday’s market plunge?

By: Tracy Levine, President, Advantage Talent, Inc.

Thursday the stock market dropped 347.8 points by closing.  During the day, the stock market had plunged even lower, almost 1,000 points.  The world news alone does not explain this huge plunge.  Yes, there looks like there might be a hung parliament in the U.K. with no decisive winner and Greece’s economy has crashed.  All of this is old news.  Back in December political watchers were predicting that there would be no clear victory in the Parliamentary elections.  The news about Greece’s economy came out last week.  It is to be expected that the stock market would be affected by these events but not to the degree it was on Thursday.

Wall Street Veterans are blaming it on “Fat Finger” Syndrome.   “Fat Finger” Syndrome is when a trader makes an error in keying in a quantity or presses the wrong button. According to CNBC, the spotlight has been focused on a Citigroup trader who has been accused of having “Fat Finger” Syndrome and keying in the wrong number.  Over the years sophisticated computer trading systems running algorithms which trigger trades under preset conditions have become the norm at many Brokerage Firms.  Many believe that the Citigroup Trader’s supposed “fat finger” mistake contributed to Thursday’s huge market plunge and triggered automated trading by these algorithm programs.  Purportedly, the trader meant to key in a $16 million futures contract but instead typed in $16 Billion.  Citigroup has denied that a trader at their firm had made an error while keying in a trade.

It is surprising that something like this has not happened sooner.  In reality computer trading over the past twenty years has affected the markets.  Thursday’s supposed “fat finger” mistake only served to magnify the impact of automated trades on the stock market.   As Washington looks at financial regulation reform, it will be interesting to see if anyone will address the impact that one human error can have on the market in this age of fast, market responsive computer generated trading.

Post Update: May 07, 2010 est.—The following new articles contain more information and speculation about what happened on Thursday.  There is a debate over whether this was human error or a swing caused independently by computer trading.  Either way it caused investors to take notice yesterday.  The debate will continue as the incident is investigated further.

Did a Citibank Traders Error Worsen the Market Collapse? By Sam Guston http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/investing/did-a-citigroup-traders-error-add-to-market-collapse/19467905/

NYSE & Nasdaq’s 60% Cancellation Mystery: http://www.cnbc.com/id/37019184

Trading System May Have Dangerous Flaw: http://www.cnbc.com/id/37016611

The Blame Game: NYSE vs. Nasdaq:  http://www.cnbc.com/id/37017292