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Crime The Almighty Buck

Futures Trader Arrested For Causing 2010 'Flash Crash' 310

New submitter dfsmith writes: Apparently the "Flash Crash" of the stock market in May 2010 was perpetrated by a futures trader in the UK. The US Justice Department alleges that he used a "dynamic layering scheme" of large-volume sell orders to confuse other buyers, hence winning big in his futures trades. "By allegedly placing multiple, simultaneous, large-volume sell orders at different price points—a technique known as 'layering'—Sarao created the appearance of substantial supply in the market. As part of the scheme, Sarao allegedly modified these orders frequently so that they remained close to the market price, and typically canceled the orders without executing them. When prices fell as a result of this activity, Sarao allegedly sold futures contracts only to buy them back at a lower price. Conversely, when the market moved back upward as the market activity ceased, Sarao allegedly bought contracts only to sell them at a higher price."
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Futures Trader Arrested For Causing 2010 'Flash Crash'

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  • Allegedly (Score:2, Informative)

    by sexconker ( 1179573 )

    Allegedly allegedly allegedly allegedly.

    • It has yet to be proven in court so it is "allegedly".

      • It has yet to be proven in court so it is "allegedly".

        Yes, but you don't have to repeat it five times in a single paragraph. I would think that whoever is in charge of press releases for the DOJ would be at least be competent at writing.

        • Re:Allegedly (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @10:18PM (#49525209) Homepage Journal

          well allegedly they're not even certain why it would be illegal for him to have done so.

          the real problem isn't his tactic.. it's the way the markets allow for robo traders in the first place. if it was legal for him to do algorithmic trading, why this algo was illegal?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by knightghost ( 861069 )

            Same reason for all DOJ cases - Marketing and Politics.

            Futures and Shorts may stabilize markets in the short term but they are an incredible drain on long term investments.

          • How about you read the complaint [justice.gov]?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Because the complaint is ridiculous, that's why.

              It describes actions that are common practice among Wall Street's biggest banks and trading desks.

              Let's remember that to date, no one has done jail time for rigging LIBOR. A crime that is exponentially more serious than this one.

              When you're committing crimes for a megabank, your chances of seeing a prison cell are essentially zero.

        • Until a trial has been completed all allegations made by the government must be prefaced with "allegedly".

        • Yes, but you don't have to repeat it five times in a single paragraph.

          Yes, you do, if you're the Department of Justice.

          I would think that whoever is in charge of press releases for the DOJ would be at least be competent at writing.

          They are competent, but they also have to be acutely aware of not stating as fact something which they have yet to prove in court.

  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @06:34PM (#49524171)

    This is just smart trading. I know 100 guys that COULD do this, assuming they had the requisite margin. As long as you place trades on the book that you're willing to fill based on the rules of that market there's no reason why you should be called a 'crook' for that.

    • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Paleolibertarian ( 930578 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @06:37PM (#49524195) Journal

      Market manipulation is only legal when the big banks do it.

      • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @06:58PM (#49524333)

        Indeed. This man's only crime was being small enough to prosecute.

        If one man manipulates the market, he gets arrested.

        If a large firm manipulates the market, the're a titan of wall street and get to have dinner with congresscritters.

    • Re:So? (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @06:39PM (#49524205)

      I'm far from a lawyer, but:

      As long as you place trades on the book that you're willing to fill

      The 'willing to fill' part might be key - as he had no intentions of filling the orders that led to the mini-panic, using them solely to affect the price for personal gain.

      Defendant willfully and knowingly, having devised and
      intending to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud, and for
      obtaining money and property by means of false and
      fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises
      , did
      transmit and cause to be transmitted by means of wire
      communication in interstate and foreign commerce,
      writings, signs, signals, pictures, and sounds for the
      purpose of executing such scheme and artifice.

      • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by barc0001 ( 173002 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @09:37PM (#49525041)

        Read Flash Boys. There is an absolute metric fuckton of orders that are generated each day that are not intended to be fulfulled and are purely there to manipulate pricing.

        • I can't see why the stock market has to be in real time. Is there any advantage to genuine investors in having millisecond transaction times? Why not take orders in real time, but only execute them each hour on the hour? Seems like this would still allow for genuine trades while keeping the ratbags at bay.
      • Re:So? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Wednesday April 22, 2015 @08:21AM (#49526981)

        Yeah, but I work in this field, and I can tell you that MOST bids and offers aren't acted on, and MOST of them are far 'off the money'. HOWEVER, every single bid or offer placed upon the market, and the CME surely counts, is financed. You simply cannot put a bogus order onto the CME, the NYSE, or even the most rinky-dink ECN. So, the question remains "so what?", the man's money was where his mouth was, and its up to other people to decide what to buy or not buy.

        The real point is, there's no clean line here. Normal market activity consists of trying to get other people to buy high and sell low so you can do the opposite. Its a zero-sum game and you cannot point to one bid or offer and say "that's fraudulent" and another essentially identical one and say it isn't. I mean I've literally traded the E-Mini on the CME, just like this guy did. Our algos put in multiple orders at multiple price levels and pegged them a few pips off the BBO. How is it that my order flow is legal, but his almost indistinguishable one isn't? I think there's about a snowball's chance in hell they can show he did anything criminal. I mean its possible, there could have been other activities that crossed certain lines, having insider information of some sort, etc, but just placing orders on a market? I defy any prosecutor to make a case that such a thing is criminal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jklovanc ( 1603149 )

      As long as you place trades on the book that you're willing to fill based on the rules of that market there's no reason why you should be called a 'crook' for that.

      He didn't do that.

      By allegedly placing multiple, simultaneous, large-volume sell orders at different price points—a technique known as “layering”—Sarao created the appearance of substantial supply in the market. As part of the scheme, Sarao allegedly modified these orders frequently so that they remained close to the market price, and typically canceled the orders without executing them.

      He places many sell orders with no intention of filling them. While it is fine to cancel an order it becomes manipulation when one places and cancels many orders.

      • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TsuruchiBrian ( 2731979 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @07:35PM (#49524555)

        It sounds like it's a flaw in the NYSE and similar exchanges as well as greedy HFT algorithms. It seems like fixing these flaws is far more important than just arresting people who exploit them.

        Who was actually harmed by this crash? A bunch of wall street speculators running computer programs to trade faster than regular people. Who gives a shit. If anything, it exposes the vulnerability so it can be fixed.

        It's entirely possible to have an exchange where there is no unfair advantage given to people who have paid for faster access to trade offers. But this is the system Wallstreet wants, and I can't say I feel bad when crooks get cheated.

        • Who was actually harmed by this crash?

          Anyone who owned those stocks, of who owned funds which own those stocks, or who own index stocks, or... really potentially a whole lot of ordinary people, not just "a bunch of wall street [sic] speculators".

        • It sounds like it's a flaw in the NYSE and similar exchanges as well as greedy HFT algorithms. It seems like fixing these flaws is far more important than just arresting people who exploit them.

          How do you detect such a pattern of trading?

        • Re:So? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday April 22, 2015 @02:10AM (#49525859) Homepage Journal

          There's your answer. He did exactly what they do, but did it cleverly enough to remove the speed advantage. As a result, the money flowed the 'wrong' way and so Wall Street's pet investigators must put a stop to it.

      • by forand ( 530402 )
        While I agree with your premiss this is exactly what high frequency traders do constantly. This is how they "test the waters" so to speak. The only difference here seems to be the volume of the trades. Money Ball has a reasonable overview of the HFT practice.
        • The only difference here seems to be the volume of the trades.

          Which crossed the line between normal practices and manipulation.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Sounds like the way practically all institutional high speed traders work. So the crime is apparently that the money flowed the wrong way.

    • by jtara ( 133429 )

      This is just smart trading. I know 100 guys that COULD do this, assuming they had the requisite margin

      It doesn't take ANY margin to place an order - only if the order is executed!

      As well, professional traders work with different (much more liberal) margin rules.

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @06:36PM (#49524185)
    ...make people, not computers, buy and sell.

    It'll never happen, but given that it may be hard to convince a jury that the DoJ's claim is true due to the technical nature of the 'crime', I don't see how it's going to improve when commodities and stock traders can manipulate the markets simply through the act of offering to buy and sell.
  • So was it illegal to do this? They use the word "scheme" hoping people will mentally prefix it with "Ponzi" in their minds to make it sound illegal, but was it? Sounds like he was being clever and making money - ain't that the whole point of trading?
    • Yes it is illegal to place orders you have no intention of ever filling to make people think the market is crashing so they will panic and you can profit from their misery.
    • So was it illegal to do this?

      Placing sell orders with no intention of fulfilling them is against SEC rules.

      • Why not just disallow this practice (i.e. by forcing transactions on offers that are accepted) rather than making it illegal? Could it be because big companies also exploit these features (although maybe not so blatantly), to profit?
        • forcing transactions on offers that are accepted

          The thing is that he priced the offers just above market price so they would not be accepted. The volume of his offers made it look like there was lots of supply which made the price go down. He kept following the prices down and rarely sold anything.

    • The same way a fast talking salesman can talk old people into buying things they neither want or need? Just because it ain't illegal don't make it right.
  • Market Making (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Neo-Rio-101 ( 700494 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @07:11PM (#49524401)

    This is basically what Market Making is: Creating a bunch of pending orders that are never triggered to push the market away and into the direction they want.
    Only the biggest players on the block can get away with doing this because they have billions in equity.... such as the largest 12 banks on the planet.

    Always good to know that the value of all our commodities and currencies are controlled by them on a whim, isn't it?
    Also good to know that they make money by default and can't really lose the game.

    Go back to sleep everyone. Nothing to see here...

    • This is hardly what market making is. Market makers have *more* legal responsibility than average traders. A market maker must *always* have a bid and ask price showing and they *must* buy or sell at these prices even if it costs them large sums of money. Market making is like a reverse lottery. Usually you make a few dollars on the spread. But you can lose big. Some people use the term "market maker" loosely as you probably are here. But what you are seeing here is a form of market manipulation.
      • A market maker must *always* have a bid and ask price showing and they *must* buy or sell at these prices even if it costs them large sums of money.

        Of course, but that's the point though.... NO-ONE is going to actually trigger these massive orders because they don't have the equity to fill them.
        Yes, it's a risk that they get hit, but... who would?

        Just throw some big stops on in each direction, make it look like there are market participants....

  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Tuesday April 21, 2015 @07:16PM (#49524451) Homepage Journal

    Easily tracked and easily identified US "fugitive" bankers who caused the crash and have Interpol warrants for their arrest are living high and mighty in Switzerland meanwhile.

    (sources: Bloomberg, WSJ, and Marketwatch)

    So can we actually believe this "person responsible" is not just a sacrificial lamb who will end up pardoned anyway, without doing any actual jail time?

    Just saying.

  • Why does the US have jurisdiction here?

  • Sounds like he was doing exactly the same as the big players. Making bogus orders to promote a false value in a 'product', waiting for a large rush of buys, then selling before anyone else had time to respond. Exactly the same as the big players, except he didn't bribe the requisite politicians or have the requisite friends at the SEC.
  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Wednesday April 22, 2015 @01:09AM (#49525709) Homepage Journal

    The real people to throw in jail are the ones who made it possible. The guys who deregulated the markets so much, the ones in oversight of the finance system who didn't see these things approaching and the people who dissolved all the protections of the real economy against the finance market because they were greedy for quick bucks.

    Politicians, mostly, but we should also go after the lobbyists and their employers who influenced them.

    Of course, that will never happen. Society rarely becomes self-conscious enough to get rid of its parasites.

  • by moeinvt ( 851793 ) on Wednesday April 22, 2015 @07:54AM (#49526777)

    This is ABSURD! He's being singled out because the federal government has granted blanket immunity to the big financial firms and their employees. I guess he didn't bribe the right politicians and didn't provide enough job offers to federal bureaucrats.

    Yes, placing orders that you never intend to execute is technically illegal, but the big financial firms that engage in HFT do this crap every f***ing day! Pick a random trading day in the last year and subpoena the order history of a big trading firm. I guarantee that there will be thousands of orders submitted and canceled in milliseconds. Orders which the firm obviously had zero intention of ever executing. Exactly the sort of activity they are calling "criminal" in this one particular case. The U.S. government is a monstrosity. Arbitrary enforcement of the law is a hideous injustice and it's standard procedure in government.

    If I was a senator I'd be grilling the AG nominee about this selective enforcement BS.

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