High-frequency trading and the $440m mistake

Reported by Tim Harford, BBC Radio 4, a strange thing happened earlier this month. The New York Stock Exchange launched a new electronic trading platform.

A company called Knight Capital had created a new computer program to link up with the new platform in order to trade shares on it. The stock market opened, and Knight Capital prepared to launch its new software.

“There was some problem with the program,” says Felix Salmon, finance blogger for Reuters in New York.

“We don’t know exactly what. They switched it on and immediately they started losing literally $10 million [£6.4m] a minute. It looks like they were buying high and selling low many, many times per second, and losing 10 or 15 dollars each time. And this went on for 45 minutes. At the end of it all they wound up having lost $440 million [£281m].”

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