Under the proposed rules, unintended trades placed by professional
traders will usually have their prices adjusted to levels as close
to their fair market value as possible, while wrong trades by retail
customers will be mainly be undone, five sources with knowledge of
the matter told Reuters.
The rules are meant to protect investors from algorithms gone wild
and other sources of market turmoil. Regulators and exchange
operators across equities, commodities and other markets have been
taking steps to prevent mistaken trades from spiraling into
collapses, a rising concern as trading grows increasingly automated.
When market prices are oscillating wildly, technical glitches can
create turmoil, said Andy Nybo, head of derivatives research at
advisory firm TABB Group.
"A cohesive solution for the industry is critical to get in place
before we have another technology blowup," he said.
In other markets, technical glitches have created big trouble for
traders. Knight Capital Group, a stock trading firm now known as KCG
Holdings Inc, lost $461.1 million in August 2012 from new software
that was improperly installed. The loss forced the company to seek
$400 million of rescue capital and eventually led to its sale to a
But critics say the new stock-option trading rules are hardly
perfect. Participants often don't know whether they are trading with
a professional or a retail investor. If markets start surging or
plunging unexpectedly, traders have no way of knowing if their
positions will disappear, or be adjusted.
That uncertainty could result in many traders exiting a choppy
market just when they are most needed, said Thomas Peterffy, founder
and head of Interactive Brokers <IBKR.O>, a brokerage and options
"All of the liquidity goes out of the marketplace and then it will
never recover," he said. Although listed stock options markets are a
fraction of the size of U.S. equities market, derivatives exchanges
are seen as a crucial tool for dealers and other market participants
to offload risk from the stock market.
The proposed rules come at the behest of U.S. Securities and
Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White, who last September
ordered the heads of the exchanges to take specific steps to make
the cash equities and options markets more sound, including a
unified rule for obvious errors for options trades.
Exchanges have been fine-tuning the plan with the help of the SEC
since June, and expect to file it with the regulator in four to six
weeks, according to one of the people. All of the sources asked to
remain anonymous because the details are not yet public.
Once the plan is filed with the SEC, it will be made available for
public comment, which will later be reviewed by the regulator before
deciding on whether to approve the rule.
Options exchange operators NYSE, which is owned by Intercontinental
Exchange Inc <ICE.N>, Nasdaq OMX Group <NDAQ.O>, BATS Global
Markets, CBOE Holdings <CBOE.O>, International Securities Exchange,
owned by Deutsche Boerse <DB1Gn.DE>, and BOX Options Exchange, owned
by TMX Group <X.TO>, declined to comment for this story, as did the
SEC. Miami International Holdings Inc did not respond to a request
[to top of second column]
ONE PROBLEM, A DOZEN SETS OF RULES
Options trade across a dozen different exchanges, and each exchange
has its own rules for how to deal with mistaken trades.
Those differing rules can create trouble. In August 2013, Goldman's
software snafu resulted in its flooding stock options markets with
bad trades, pushing the prices of some options down sharply.
When Goldman Sachs said the transactions were erroneous, some
exchanges canceled the positions, and some did not. Traders that had
bought an option from Goldman on one exchange and sold the same
position on another could have found themselves holding an option
they thought they had sold. Goldman's losses would have been far
greater had most of the trades not been canceled.
In crafting rules for dealing with mistaken trades, exchanges had
originally planned to adjust most obviously erroneous trades, said
three people familiar with the matter. But retail brokers objected,
and said that their customers tend to make mistakes that
professionals don't, such as buying or selling a completely
different option from what they had intended to trade.
Allowing different treatment for professional traders versus retail
investors seemed like a middle ground, the sources said. Retail
trading accounted for 24.3 percent of options market volume in the
first half, according to TABB Group.
Under the rules, a trade is deemed obviously erroneous if its price
differs dramatically from the market level for that option soon
before and after the transaction was executed. But the rules also
allow market participants to change trades that were harmed by
unexpected market movements that had nothing to do with technical
glitches: a trade can be deemed obviously mistaken even if the price
movement that triggered the trade was just a market gyration after a
After the proposed rules are in place, the exchanges will then
consider a second phase of coordination, including appointing a
single, uniform source for determining the theoretical prices of
options, something that each of the exchanges now does on its own,
three of the sources said. The exchanges will also look at
implementing a system similar to one in the stock markets where
options would be prevented from trading outside a range based on
recent prices, the people said.
The exchanges have given themselves leeway in the rules that would
allow them to cancel all erroneous trades for all participants if
they think that doing so would lead to getting the market back to a
normal state as quickly as possible.
(Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Dan Wilchins and John
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.