Thursday, August 25, 2011

German Flash Crash Shows Vulnerability of the Market


The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

Between 3:30 and 4:00PM Central European time the DAX, the major German market index, lost around 250 points. This is roughly equivalent to a 500 point drop in the Dow Industrials in half an hour. Prior to that, the DAX had been slowly drifting lower. Then suddenly it dropped like a rock.

The pundits were quick to come up with possible explanations. A fat finger error was cited as a possibility (this is when a clerk accidentally puts an extra zero or two or three after the number of shares when entering a sell order). This was pure speculation on the part of the media however. While it is certainly possible that this was the cause of the drop, there is as of yet no evidence supporting this claim.

New problems with the evolving and unending Greek debt crisis were also thought to have led to the floor falling out of the market. Greece's central bank activated the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) program to help its struggling banks stay afloat. ELA is only for emergencies, so its use indicates that Greece is teetering toward default. So what else is new?  At this point, anyone who isn't in a coma should realize a Greek default is inevitable.  

The Bank of England also announced that it was extending a swap line to the ECB. The swap line allows the ECB to borrow British pounds at low interest rates in order to maintain liquidity in the Eurozone's banking system. Investors should ask themselves what exactly is going on that the ECB needs help maintaining liquidity. This is of course is always a problem during a credit crisis.

There were apparently also rumors about Germany banning short selling. Not so farfetched considering that France, Italy, Spain and Belgium extended their short-selling ban on financial stocks, which would have ended this week. Traders dislike restrictions and their initial reaction is to get out of the market when they appear. Authorities also don't make these bans unless there is good reason that traders want to engage in heavy short selling. They are an admission that something is rotten in Denmark or in this case, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy. This news was out around the time the DAX had its precipitous fall.

If today's drop was an isolated incidence it wouldn't necessarily be anything to worry about. However, there has been at least one serious market problem each week for several weeks now. The Nasdaq and Russell 2000 in the U.S. have had three mini-crashes. The DAX has had a few itself. The U.S. Dow is moving up and down in multi-hundred point increments. The situation is not stable yet and the market is making that abundantly clear. 

 Disclosure: None

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security. Investing is risky. If you don't feel that you are capable of doing it yourself, seek professional advice.

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