The Real Story Behind the Flash Crash in ‘The Speed Traders’, The Most Comprehensive Book on High-Frequency Trading
The real story behind the flash crash, the sudden decline and ultimate recovery of the U.S. financial markets on May 6, 2010, is described in unprecedented detail in The Speed Traders, An Insider’s Look at the New High-Frequency Trading Phenomenon That is Transforming the Investing World (http://www.thespeedtraders.com), book by recognized author Edgar Perez.
Building on interviews with influential high-frequency traders that experienced the flash crash first-hand, Mr. Perez has been able to build a narrative that captures the readers’ attention. Referring to Manoj Narang, Chief Executive Officer of Tradeworx, the book says: “As early as May 7, 2010, it was pretty apparent to him what had happened. Investors were on hair-trigger alert because of a huge run-up (around 70 percent in 12 months) in stock prices, because of recent weakness (down around 7 percent for the week before May 6), and because of geopolitical events, particularly the threat that Greece and other European nations would default on their sovereign debt. Into this economic backdrop a mutual fund dumped around $4 billion worth of Standard & Poor’s (S&P) E-Mini futures contracts into the open market, setting off a self-reinforcing wave of selling. Mr. Narang has calculated that the mutual fund’s trade had a likely impact of about 3 percent on the S&P 500 Index’s price over the course of a few minutes. This was a rather large impact, particularly at a time when the market was already spooked. Thus a snowball quickly turned into an avalanche as investors’ stop-loss orders were repeatedly set off at lower and lower levels.”
The book explains that no matter what regulators do as part of liquidity obligations, no matter how much they force people to stay in the market, there will be times when herd like behavior among long-term investors will see them all stampeding for the exits at the same time; there simply won’t be enough high-frequency trading to cover the demand for liquidity. Liquidity crises are not driven by the lack of liquidity but by the demand for liquidity. This is why Mr. Narang thinks that it is a bit misguided on the part of regulators to try to prevent flash crashes from occurring. In order to prevent liquidity crises from occurring, regulators would need to prevent herd like behavior among long-term investors, because that’s what causes bubbles and that’s what causes liquidity crises.