The US government is in the process of learning one of the key lessons of the debtor.
The Creditor calls the tune.
The Chinese who hold trillions of dollars in US are not happy, and they are not afraid to let the US know that they need to shape up and fly right. Let’s hope that this credit downgrade is treated as a wake-up call, and the US uses the opportunity to get their fiscal house in order.
But don’t count on it.
The disfunctional houses of congress are too busy stabbing each other in the back in a pointless and self defeating series of internecine battles.
If the US doesn’t sort this out, expect more dire consequences in the future.
In the meantime, use this dip in the Dow to snap up any high quality blue chips while they are on sale. Just make sure you go for quality, look for income in the form of dividends to tide you over until the markets recover.
On Thursday Canada’s investment industry regulator, IIROC, proposed new safety measures intended to prevent future flash crashes like the one that happened on May 6.
Existing “circuit breakers” halt trading when the entire market rises or falls extremely quickly within a short period of time, but trading in individual stocks must be reviewed manually. This new proposal would allow trading to automatically be halted for a five minute period on any stock that appears to be subject to a “flash trading” scenario.
The plan is to prevent the extreme investor losses we saw in May, when some stocks lost up to 99% of their value in minutes.
IIROC has invited public comments on the proposal during the next 60 days. Read the press release here.
Reuters is reporting that no one knows exactly what caused last week’s crazy market gyrations, although there are plenty of weird theories to go around. Personally I kinda like the space alien theory, although the fat finger theory has a certain lyrical quality too.
Approximately 10,000 trades were cancelled, but many traders were left on the hook for trades that were considered within bounds. The complaints from those left out in the cold will probably continue for some time. It appears a large number of people were caught by automated stop-loss orders that sold their positions out at or near the bottom. According to former SEC Commissioner Roberta Kemel, there may be little recourse for those investors. Lawyers say that claimants would have to show “gross negligence” in order to have any kind of case.
SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro told the House Committee on Financial Services that ETFs were particularly hard hit by the chaos for reasons that “are still unclear”. More than 25 percent of all such funds lost at least half their value. One ETF sponsor told the SEC that 14 of its funds briefly traded for less than 15 cents a share.
This is the type of circumstance which highlights the downside of index tracking passive management. It also exacerbates the issues surrounding leveraged investments and the narrow focus of some industry specific ETFs.
I think ETFs have been mischaracterized as a buy and hold investment, when in fact they were originally designed for active traders who wished to track an individual index or basket of stocks. They were always intended to be sold if the markets trended downward.
And heaven help anyone who was involved in any leveraged products, and didn’t understand what they were getting themselves into. I don’t think the industry has done a very good job of explaining these products to the average retail investor, and yet everywhere you see advisors pushing them as a low cost substitute for mutual funds and recommending ETFs for inclusion in buy and hold RRSP accounts. Not good.
Today’s lesson – a little knowledge can be an expensive thing.
A thousand point drop in the Dow Jones is stomach wrenching enough to make the toughest investor queasy. A thousand point drop in moments is just mind numbingly inconceivable. How many of us just stood in front of our tv screens like we had just been smacked upside the head with a board?
Although it now seems likely that the excruciating market gyrations we watched today were probably as the result of human error and/or a technical glitch, it really begs the question, How could we not have systems in place to guard against this type of thing?
Our stock markets have become so globalized that any news in any part of the world impacts decisions at trading desks everywhere. We have reached the point where turmoil in Greece impacts the price of oil in Alberta, and the rising price of gold affects the softening Euro.
Then some guy wearing his tie too tight hits the wrong button, and the Dow Jones tanks in moments.
I have to admit it made for great visual theatre, but the whole fiasco does call into question the degree to which we now rely on automated computer algorithms, and how unstuck things can become before real humans can step in to reassert manual control over the system.
Perhaps we need a rethink about the glories of technology and it’s ability to run our lives. Or should that be “ruin our lives.”