Post-glitch, Knight Capital soars after reports of a financial lifeline
After a grisly two days, Knight Capital got a few breaks.
The battered trading firm, whose software glitch briefly sent stock trading into chaos on Wednesday, got a few pieces of good news on Friday. Relatively speaking, anyway.
First, the company reportedly got a new line of credit, after depleting much of its resources to pay for Wednesday’s error. The stock, which had shed three-quarters of its value over the previous two days, began to turn up, jumping 34 percent in the early afternoon. And many of the company’s clients, rather than heading for the door, closed ranks around the company, saying they expected to start routing trades through Knight again.
Knight Capital Group is a trading firm that takes orders from big brokers like TD Ameritrade and E-Trade. It then routes them to the exchanges where stocks are traded, like the New York Stock Exchange.
The company has been taking a beating since Wednesday, when a problem with a newly installed piece of software mistakenly funneled erroneous orders for some 140 stocks to the market for the first 45 minutes of trading. That caused shares of some stocks to swing wildly: One, Harley-Davidson, shed 12 percent in the opening minutes of trading before stabilizing later.
Those 45 minutes have been devastating for Knight, which has scrambled to reassure its clients and investors that it’s got things under control.
Knight said Thursday that it would have to spend $440 million — four times what it earned last year — to trade out the mistaken orders. The company had said it was considering ways to raise money as well as “strategic” alternatives, business-speak for saying it might sell itself to survive. At mid-morning Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Knight received a credit line from an unnamed party.
The stock, which had plunged from $10.33 to $2.58 over Wednesday and Thursday, shot up. Though it’s still far from making up all its losses, it closed up $1.47, or 57 percent higher, to $4.05.
And some of Knight’s clients, even while temporarily halting their orders with Knight, said they expected to resume working with Knight at some point. A spokesman for Vanguard, whose brokerage arm has temporarily halted trades with Knight, called the company “a longtime and valued partner.” A spokeswoman for TD Ameritrade, which is still routing trades through Knight but doing test runs first, echoed the sentiment, calling Knight “a good and trusted partner so far.”
Joe Fox, CEO of the online brokerage Ditto Trade, said his company had temporarily stopped trading through Knight but planned to resume “once they straighten out their problems.”
“I’m more concerned for them as a company,” Fox said. “There’s no such thing as perfect technology ... It’s all about how you mitigate the situation.”
Knight’s blunder has revived a thorny debate in the financial system about how fast is too fast. Lots of small investors are backing out of stocks, their faith shaken in a trading world where lightning-fast mathematical models move stocks within milliseconds, largely replacing the traders in colorful jackets who work the exchange floors.
The Knight debacle is the latest in a string of technical problems over the past few years that have some investors convinced that they can’t trust the financial markets. The biggest was the “flash crash” in May 2010, when a computer problem caused the Dow Jones industrial average to drop nearly 600 points in five minutes, sparking panic on trading floors and among individual investors.
It’s also a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change on Wall Street. Two and a half months ago, when technical problems flubbed Facebook’s debut as a public company on the Nasdaq stock exchange, Knight CEO Thomas Joyce was quick to criticize.
Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange’s parent company, called Knight’s problem an “unfortunate situation” when speaking to analysts about his own company’s second-quarter earnings on a conference call. He praised Joyce for being upfront and accountable.
Joyce said in a Bloomberg TV interview Thursday that the glitch happened as the company installed a new piece of software related to a new trading system at the NYSE. But Joyce also said then: “This has nothing to do with the stock exchange.”
Similarly, Niederauer on Friday said the faulty trades have “nothing to do” with the NYSE’s trading platform. The Retail Liquidity Program, or RLP, allows some shares to be traded just between firms, with prices not visible to the broader public.
The NYSE is fond of noting that its human traders sometimes spot mistakes that the computers can’t, and Niederauer didn’t miss the opportunity. “We believe that the human interaction on the floor ... actually assisted in mitigating this issue to some degree,” he said.
He acknowledged the broader debate around stock trading, saying that investors are losing confidence. But he also laid some of the blame on regulators.
“This is yet another instance that highlights the need for reforms in market structure in the United States,” he said. “We have talked about this publicly that the growing fragmentation and uneven regulations across what is now hundreds of competing platforms continue to fuel a crisis of confidence among investors.”
“It is just too hard for them to understand how the markets work,” Niederauer said.