It was a Friday, December 21, 2012 and it was a day that changed the world, which happened to coincide with the last day of the Mayan Calendar, traditionally understood by the ancient Mayans as a transitional period, to what, no one in the present period really knew, just that it was to be profound. And, not to burst anyone’s bubble it certainly was all of that and more for the US Stock Market. Did that make it any easier for anyone who lost their life’s saving that day as nearly 8 trillion dollars evaporated from the market? Certainly not, agreed the guest commentary on CNBC at the Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo.
Well, hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and this day was coming, and nearly 25% of Americans thought that it might be the end of days, apocalypse, or Armageddon. The number of short-sellers had the Dow opening down -303 points, which was bad enough, to make matters worse, most short-term traders were not leaving any money in the market over the Christmas Holidays, things were just too choppy, the volatility index was already at its highest point since the Debt Deal Impasse, S&P Downgrade, and the near collapse of the EU banking system in summer of 2011. With Quadruple-Witching, and end of year tax loss selling, the market was already getting hammered all week.
On what many hoped would be a light trading day due to the holiday weekend, it was rather odd all the short-sellers coming out of the wood-work as they did. After all what’s that old Wall Street quote; “Never Short a Dull Market!” Well, it may have been assumed to be a dull-day, however it was anything but. After all, this was the end of the world, the Mayan Calendar had run out, and to make matters worse, there were four X-Flares of extremely high power the weeks prior; 2 of which hit Earth directly, one in November and one just the week before the catastrophic sell-off.
The November solar flare took out the North Eastern US Power Grid, half of AT&Ts network, and many communication satellites used for credit card transactions at C-Store Gas Stations, Restaurants, and even Wal-Mart on Black Friday, which happened to be the biggest shopping day of the year. Online Retailers were zapped too, data centers, cloud computing, all challenged. About half of all the systems were up by the end of the day, but consumer sales for America’s largest corporations were now a day late and a dollar short.
With these solar disruptions there was damage to the Space Telescope, ISS, and even military satellites, although the US Military, actually militaries from around the world denied anything had been taken down, pure posturing, but that’s to be expected. Folks were on edge, and many had wondered what the Mayans knew, and why now. For all these reasons everyone was shorting the market, and the institutional investors were betting down the market big time, and when the trading started so too did the high-frequency trading or algorithmic computational trading systems.
Europe had banned short selling of their bond markets, currency markets, and just recently; “No High Frequency Computer Trading!” Europe and Asia got hit pretty hard and the US markets hadn’t opened yet, but when they did, holy hell, the volume of trading in the US hit a one-day record amount within the first hour, it was all over the place. The market hit the stops, one after another all day long. Wouldn’t you know it, Mexico City had a 7.5 Earthquake just 35-miles away at 10 AM their time the same day. Was this really the end? Or was it all an excuse for the computer trading systems to make trillions slamming the market december global holidays into oblivion?
There had been talk in the US about regulating or banning high-frequency trading all together in the US, and the Franks-Dodds Bill which had passed actually protected the “too big to fail banks,” all of which were making money on algorithmic trading, rather than loaning money to small businesses. The President got on TV to tell everyone that it was going to be okay, the world wasn’t coming to an end, and to hopefully calm markets, it didn’t work, in fact, it may have done just the opposite. Then the new Treasury Secretary got on CNBC, no changes either the market was falling like a rock still.
The Federal Reserve Chairman was in-route back from G-8 Summit, unable to be interviewed, as soon as he landed he gave a question and answer meeting. All the financial media pundits said he was in full-combat crisis mode. That just made things worse, when regular investors heard that. Gold hit a new all-time high. Yes, it was the day from hell on Wall Street one which will go down in the record books, but the world didn’t end, and the market gained back a third of what it lost that day during the next two-trading days after the holidays. By the last day of the year, the market had recovered all but 800 points on the Dow, and then the January barometer recovered all that and more.
The US Congress came back from holiday recess, vowing to fix this flash-crash, high-frequency challenge once and for all, but the banking lobby had made 100s of billions by then on both the downside and the upside of all that volatility. Was there a solution to prevent this from ever happening again? Apparently so, and there was a think tank which had a concept of viewing every single global transaction in real-ti