Is The Rambus HFT Fat-Finger A Precursor Of Things To Come?

Tyler Durden's picture

An intersting take on the recent violent move in Rambus stock, which may be explainabe by quirks in the HFT matrix, from Dennis Dick of Bright Trading.


HFT Market Making May Lead to a Crash

Rambus (RMBS) fell 30% today in a
matter of five minutes.  It immediately
bounced back.  The cause for this move
was speculated as a trader with a “fat finger”. 
A trader simply messed up and sold too much stock accidentally, causing
a swift and violent sell-off. 

The trades were later deemed erroneous and busted by the

But what if the real cause wasn’t just a trader with a “fat
finger”, accidentally selling too much stock? What if it was something more
serious?  I believe it is. I believe the
real cause for this move is a major concern for our markets. The real cause may
have been high frequency market making gone bad.  Let me explain.

Market making is the practice of quoting both bids and
offers on the same security, in hopes of capturing the spread. Market making
has existed in our markets since the beginning. 
Traditionally it was done by floor brokers, floor traders and
specialists.  With the rise of the
internet in the last 1990s, new players emerged in the market making
practice.  Proprietary traders,
and E-traders began to play the game. 
This led to increased competition and tighter spreads.  But in the past five years a new player has
emerged, and this player has become dominant, knocking many of the competitors
out of the game.  This new player is the
high frequency algorithmic trader, and it’s not a person, it’s a computer.  70% of our daily volume is now done by
algorithmic computer systems.  Much of
this volume is market making.  Why has
the HFT computer become such a dominant player? 
It has to do with their edge.

High frequency algorithmic systems have been programmed to
step inside the NBBO (National Best Bid and Offer), and be the best bid and
best offer.  This puts the computer
system at the front of the line to be first for execution, and gives the
computer the best chance to capture the spread. 
Unfortunately, this practice is dominated by a few large firms, and they
have driven traditional market makers out of the market.  If a traditional market maker places a bid,
the computer automatically steps in front. 
In some cases, it steps in front by as little as 1/100th of a
penny (a practice called sub-pennying, which is
discussed on my website  

These programs are very predatory and step in front of the
NBBO on a constant basis.  This has
driven liquidity providers out of the market. 
Our proprietary trading firm, Bright Trading LLC, in the early 2000s,
used to account for 2% of the volume on the NYSE.  Now we account for just a fraction of
that.  Our 400 traders used to provide a
substantial amount of liquidity to the market. 
But due to predatory HFT market making practices, we now provide very
little liquidity.  We are now liquidity
takers.  The rational is simple, if we
place a passive limit order (providing liquidity), the
HFT algorithmic programs simply step in front of us.  If we do get filled on a passive order, it is
almost always because we are wrong.  You
are sub-pennied when you’re right, filled when you’re
wrong.  Hence, there is no point to us
providing liquidity.  Other proprietary
trading firms, floor traders, and specialists are in the same boat.  There is no way for them to compete with the
algorithmic programs, so they don’t place passive orders.

Without traditional market makers, willing to step up and be
the buyer of last resort, we risk having more incidents, like the Rambus incident.

Computerized algorithmic market making works in any type of
oscillating market, as the computer can keep flipping out of it’s
longs, and covering it’s shorts.  It
works in a trending market, as long as there is some type of choppy trade.  The problem lies, when the computer system
can’t flip out of the position. Most algorithmic systems are programmed with
some type of risk parameter.  If this
risk parameter is breached, the computer will dump it’s
position and cut it’s losses.  This is
what may have happened in RMBS today.  An
algorithmic system making markets on the long side, got too long, and was
unable to wiggle out of the position because of the follow-through in selling
pressure.  Once it was down so much in
the position (the risk parameter was breached), it dumped.  This simply added fuel to the fire.  That is why the sudden plunge to $16 happened.  If you check the chart, you will not see
this, because Nasdaq busted
all trades under $22.  But don’t kid
yourself, these trades happened, and we should be very alarmed, because it will
happen again, and it may happen to the entire stock market.

High frequency traders make markets on ALL stocks.  As they continue to take dominance, and as
more and more liquidity providers are driven out of the market by these HFT
predatory algorithms, the likelihood of a crash continues to climb.  All it takes is a little bad news, and a
breach in the HFT’s algorithmic system’s risk
parameters, and we’re in a lot of trouble.

This has happened before, it WILL happen again.

Rambus was ONE stock today. Imagine
if it was the entire market.

Dennis Dick, CFA

Bright Trading LLC

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bugs_'s picture

Happened to DNDN earlier - check April 28'th.

Interesting activity in options.

Reductio ad Absurdum's picture

Whether it was a "trader with a fat finger" or a flawed computer program, why were the parties involved given a "do over"?? How can this be legal? Is there some legitimate reason for nullifying the trades or is this a case of insiders helping each other out? Anyone actually know the answer?

Rainman's picture

....machine malfunction voids all plays .

On the front of every slot machine in Vegas too.

i.knoknot's picture

i assume the parallels you imply aren't lost on most ZH readers...

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Rest assured all we will hear about this is the trades were busted in the interest of a fair market, trust us we know what we're doing, go back to work on your terminal or we will audit your ass so thoroughly you won't be able to sit for a month, thank you very much.

aurum's picture

trades can be busted long as they believe the trade was outside the price that was warranted by market conditions.i had 80k go up in smoke with a busted trade on USD/AUD....with that being said i still believe dennis is right

overbet's picture

The DNDN trades were more erroneous according to their criteria on their website but those trades were ruled to stand. My guess the DNDN trades just hurt the retailers and not the HFTs.  

drwells's picture

That's how the "market" works in Amerika now. If we decide the price or number is too low, why we'll just mark it to something else. Works for houses, bank stocks, crappy loans, stock indexes, Trashuries, asset-backed securities, dollars, labor statistics, votes, the list goes on.

Oracle of Kypseli's picture

Once you have low volume in the market, a cash rich trading desk that has a large position in a smaller stock can start selling fast and furious. Once it reaches a point where many stops are taken out, they re-buy their positions. Most of the players with those stops may not have had enough time to react. Bingo! It can tale a few minutes it can take a half day.

It helps if you have someone spread negative rumors once you dumped it. Then you start buying. When the rumors are denied, you back-up the truck.

It happened to me when I had 30 contracts sorting the yen against the dollar 120/1 at the time. Because of travel (22 hours), I placed a stop at 117. Guess what, before the NY close the Yen strengthen to 117 for a few seconds and back to 120. The following day yen to 122.

The big boys did see 30 contracts sitting there with a stop at 117 and they went down and got them. Game over.

Read the book "Gamblers don't gamble"



i.knoknot's picture


been there too. w/SRS last year.

post-mortem, i noted that the graph dove down, literally touched my stops then ran back away while i was at a meeting. low volume, etc.

while i know we all (superstitiously) think they are pickin' on us... (they are, really...) this swoop was *way* out of the norms for that window of time. Real or perceived gaming, i'm now out.

hell, if i were a market-maker and could see all those clusters of stops and limit orders... i'd do the same thing. unless it was illegal, of course.

i read the ZH article last week on S&P gains in the after-hours gaps, and am quite comfortable this market will crash the same way, and most folks' stops won't even be 'seen' by "the machine", let alone executed, until well after their precious funds are greatly reduced. all these non-realtime brokerage accounts with fancy web interfaces... toast.

at least FX is 24hr and can't gap quite in the same after-hours way.

Grandpa Bear Hug's picture

Erroneous nice.

I guess my short positions would not be busted by the exchange when some "fat fingered" bull buys too much.

jedwards's picture

Dammit, I didn't think to download the ticks of RMBS, that would have been pretty interesting to see.

Zro's picture

Is this similar to the ICE redaction of DXY trades that exploded higher a month or so ago? This seems to be a more frequent phenomenon.

For the stock market as a whole, wouldn't the trading curbs be triggered if a large move happened?

Anonymous's picture


merehuman's picture

I am not a trader, in fact not in the market at all. But i read almost everything on zero hedge.

I notice more and more anger  in the posts recently  . When are you smart fellers gonna do something about this?

Asleep the sheep know not what to do about this. How do i fight the government when they make and break the law  as they see fit?

I am on the wrong damn coast. But seriously... Protest in the streets? you must be kidding! Checking the history, a lot of folks died. Write and call and be ignored.

My money is on you guys, you who have the money and the brains/talent/knowledge which most of us dumshits dont have.

If  WE have any power it rests we you. You boys and girls are the only and best chance we have.

There ought to be a way to use the market against them, and there probably is assuming we were willing for once to forego more profit.

I bet you all know the result of this criminal market continioning on this path.

What would happen if all traders quit?  Is there any way to create that? This wont wait till next election.

MsCreant's picture

Sweetie, I'm a dumbshit like you. I keep posing the same question here. Somewhere they know that they are perpetuating the system by participating in it. A lot of them have cashed out and hold Cash and PMs as a form of protest and a way to starve the beast. But just like you are a carpenter and need your tools to earn money, these traders are in the same fix. "If I don't trade, then what will I do?"

And some of them are addicted to the adrenaline rush and could not stop to save their life, or their country.

I am also just tin hatted enough to wonder if there is a whole heap of stuff we don't know, like the governments are engaged in financial warfare. The too big to fails are Armies and the globe their chess board (the game of Risk would be better).

But they are not going to listen to us ask them to stop. They are worried they will lose their wealth if they do so and the next guy doesn't stop and wins the trade.

Obama said to buy stocks, and a few days later they started taking off. Knowing they have a "plan" and trying to game the plan is too tempting. Even with my modest Gold and Silver, that is what I am up to as well.

Meanwhile, I think you are right. This won't wait till another election.

cougar_w's picture

I'd give even odds that the next US election will be a total clusterfuck, on a par with Mexico or Brazil, and will create enough market turmoil to convince some of the playerz to take their winnings.

And then it blows up.

The entire thing is a fiction, would take nay more than a feather to knock it off its wheels.

Your notion that some/all of this is economic warfare is interesting. I think one sign of this being true would be the imposition of massive, rolling punitive and corrective trade tariffs. Naval blockades were once routinely used as siege engines. Tariffs are little different. Messing with trade is the same as rolling out the big guns. Folk get tense. Real shooting is sure to follow. Much would be at stake if it reverted to economic warfare.


SloSquez's picture

Yep, cougar.  You are correct, IMO, the oscillations will be wild.

milbank's picture

I think in terms of this game, not to mention the next election, Obama is the Patsy.

merehuman's picture

I may be mistaken. Seems to me China in the 90s swamped us with their cheaper Earth minerals.

Our mines went out of business, a decade later it turns out they have most of these minerals on their piece of the earth and now wont let us have any! 

I think China has quietly been at war with us a long time. Now we keep pssing them of while we borrow their money and cheat them via inflation, sell them tungsten gold and insult them by lying.

Chinese dont take insults well, set great store by FACE which we have caused them to lose some.

Ms Creant, thank you for the reply. I am truly worried for our country. Having a grandchild just spurs me on to write here, hoping for a positive resolution, knowing there are only worse choices.


Tethys's picture

Interesting - I knew a Chinese fellow who believed that the US was using up the world's oil reserves while they were 'cheap', and sitting on a load of secret national reserves.  He believed that this was why the US government was so against companies looking for oil locally.

I wonder how far up the Chinese chain of command that belief goes.

Anonymous's picture

The secret national reserve:

Gull Island, AK


Anonymous's picture

"WALRUS" : economic wargame against russia.
surprise result: China wins!!

Miles Kendig's picture

The action is now so out of hand that those who do find themselves playing a multi-day game of risk need ever greater amounts of tweak to keep the flail alive.  Meanwhile, I am sure that there are folks still playing a good game of Go.  I'm just not sure that it's the Chinese that are since they appear to be as enamoured with hitting the glass bubble as everyone else....  Fact is that as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to hide what cannot be hidden to those that know.   If they only knew how they looked to the rest of us.....

MsCreant's picture

Works for the addiction aspect too. Your economy is on crack! Could be that easy.

Hephasteus's picture

It's simple. We are in an environmet that wants to kill. I mean so many companies are on the chopping block right now. They will DIE. You will see more corporate death this year and early next year than you can ever imagine. The probem is the powers that be in deciding to to keep what the world wants dead, alive will kill themselves in the process. It's all about losing faith. No matter how much you cherish and wish to believe you can make huge intertwined co-dependant social structures, you're going to lose your faith in that. Enlightened self interest will go on a killing spree very soon. It's ok to pretend it will turn around for a while. Once it get's apparent that it won't.... We haven't seen anything in the way of consumer lock down yet. The really scary stuff will come in a few more months. You think it's safe being big. It's like being radioactive. You can cast off tiny pieces of yourself to save the core. But it just makes you lose money faster. Gets you caught up in monentums you can't fight.

MsCreant's picture

Sounds like all of us get to try out for Team Goldman, or JP Morgan. There will be no other team in town to work for. No nations, no locals, just giant corporations that you must be loyal to. They steal pensions and savings and want you to be grateful for it as they kill free enterprise.

Just venting.

But the business of can't fight em, it seems that even they define the terms of that fight. We need to get outside the box, big time, quick.

Hephasteus's picture

hat's exactly how it works. The lower self prescribes the treatment from the higher self. The treatment is not a cure. It's simply a prescription of how they want to be treated. Smug self satisfaction will get turned to dissatisfaction and action. It's that simple. You don't hog all the satisfaction and expect to get away with it forever. It's all coralling at this point. It's like physics. Every atom is able to give up it's higher shell electrons. You eventually get to a point where you stop being able to ionize the atoms. They just won't give up any more free electrons no matter how much you bombard them with energetic particles.

That's the exact analogy of what we are looking at. And you would think ok no problem. They are never going to change. They get to stay stable like this. Then you get to a situation where forces acting on things get too much for the situation and it sets up events that turn things to plasma that you don't think can be turned into plasma. These "things" are going to get ripped to pieces this year. There's always greater external forces than internal forces. Bring us the next titan. It's dissasembly time.

i.knoknot's picture

MsCreant: "I am also just tin hatted enough to wonder if there is a whole heap of stuff we don't know, like the governments are engaged in financial warfare. The too big to fails are Armies and the globe their chess board (the game of Risk would be better)."


and *that* is the only way these seemingly rational people (BB, TG, AG, BHO, CONgress, SINate, etc.) might be sleeping at night, if *that* is what's really going on. the real game may be nothing like the the game we think we are watching, and the elites might be correct in their derisive chuckles about us suckers out here in sheeple-land.

i've got about three rolls of reynold's wrap on my noggin' with that very same gut feeling. seeing you, in particular, mumbling that, makes me feel quite a bit more sane. my friends think i'm nutzo, but tolerate me anyway.

Argonaught's picture

No, you are nutzo.  ;)  Your list of those sleeping well is way to large for a conspiracy.  Do you believe that as freshment senators/reps show up in washington, they are told the 'secret' and all these rocket scientists are able to keep that secret?

There may be (probably is?) more than a whole heap that we don't know, but our government, or the great majority of it, is every bit as out-of-the-loop as we are.

i.knoknot's picture

sadly, i fear you are more correct than i want to believe.

ok alex, i'll take "more puppets" for $500


MsCreant's picture

More puppets it is!

The conspiracy isn't conspiracy per se. It is embedded in corporate structures, intinsic to the way it is profit driven only. It cares not for individuals and those caught up in them act to keep their jobs, but experience spiritual crises, maybe daily. The ones who are higher up don't experience this problem with conscience any more. They choose each other, who gets promoted, they make sure of it.

Now each (say US and China) is arriving at their structural shape, a kind of corporate socialism, by taking on the strategies of the other one. Saw a presentation on China recently that rocked my socks off. It was a study of their tobacco production and sales.  They are working to try and build more individualized feedback into their corporate structures from the fields on up to the top. They have processes in place which make it okay for workers to speak to management. It seems this is new and a big deal organizationally and culturally. At the macro level, they are allowing a strange kind of competition where, on one hand, the country is "the team" but on the other hand they compete to see which "company" can earn the most money. The winner's strategies/feedback is incorporated into other "companies" and they let it run awhile and evaluate it again. They are trying to get more "individualism" into their corporate structure, and we are eliminating it by eliminating the little guy.

I ramble here. The point is that our TBTF see what others are doing and admire the goodies they get out of having central control. China sees our adaptability and they are going after cultivating that trait without giving up too much control. This will look like conspiracy. Culturally, their practices are creepy to us. And ours to them. Bet some folks on their side of the fence see some of them as sold out when really they are acting more like us.

And these corporations/countries (it's like we are trying to form our China) go up against each other and it looks like politics and war to us. And it is, and it isn't. It is something else.

Maybe I described the blueprint for "God's work?"

WaterWings's picture


This read somewhat like a CogDis post. F'n great!

I always felt like the Chinese were enjoying Capitalism as much as they wanted - and then stopped when it didn't fit their tastes. Dipping their toes in the hot-tub.

I read sometime ago, maybe six months, that GS was buying up a lot of farmland in China. I thought at the time, "Those fuckers." And after reading recently that Soros is buying up productive farmland in Argentina I think, "Those fuckers."

Watching this horrorshow makes one realize that it is all unsustainable. Am I insane for imagining that there will be people starving to death in 1st world countries in the near future because of unsustainable policies? I mean, history (at least the version we generally agree is the "least manipulated") demonstrates that placing controls on individual choice always results in artificial famine, no? Isn't that how it always ends up!! Damn it all to hell! And the funny goddamn thing about the word "sustainable" is that it can be used in any glory-seeking context the destroyers want these days. Most people don't even now what sustainable means, it seems! They think it means, "You'll get a bag of free shit someday!"

Not that I want life-as-we-know-it to come to a screeching halt. What I want is for my future children to lose their virginity to their lovely virgin husbands/wives, and harvest golden wheat each year, watch their children grow old and have families of their own, sit around warm fires with warm drinks and tell stories of surviving hard weather and unforeseen hardship other than war, genocide, chemical weapons, torture, rape, and et fucking al.

MsCreant's picture

+1 back at cha'. Lot of good nuggets in this post. Looking for bags of free shit is the problem (and it is shit to boot). Those farmland buys should terrify us, but more importantly, the locals. Someone is going to have to defend their claim to that land and it will get ugly.

I keep wondering, unsustainable (I agree) or inevitable? We have inflated population coupled with inflated standards of living. We could have wonderful lives with so much less. Inflated living standards keep us too busy chasing the means to the standard to stop and connect to one another. Which in turn makes us feel more alienated and alone, which in turn makes us crave more stuff to feel okay. Gotta go kiss ass, chase more paycheck, hate inauthentic trapped self, feel void, go BUY something, and have it all feel better for a minute. Intermittent reinforcement is the worst kind of conditioning to break.

Hope you are well. I see you as a dork, like me, who is a sponge soaking this economic stuff up. We can't contribute directly so much to that conversation, but we might have some insight into the "what next" that WILL need to happen. Maybe rescue workers waiting for Katrina to run through, hoping for the best, expecting to be overwhelmed regardless of our preps. Math and finite resources says there is no avoiding it. That people think peak oil is a myth, stuns me. Even if we have big hidden reserves, the idea that we should be diversifying so that we are not as fragile/dependent seem obvious to me.

Have a good weekend.

WaterWings's picture

The level of willful ingnorance is astounding. I can only imagine that humans have always been that way, which is why so many always get trampled when heading for the exits. We have so many incredible resources and minds to cross-reference because of the internet - yet the same condition of naivite persists.

It's the "golden handcuffs" dilemma:

As you put it, too much time trying to get ahead, pretending that with all the turmoil around them the pot of gold is still at the end of the rainbow. And I do imagine that I will be overwhelmed despite my preps - chasing my own pot of gold.

Have a good weekend, too.

I am the dork!

Hacker's picture

There are lots of things you may not know because you don't want to believe them. Once you know these things, then outrageous resource grabs by the elite start to make sense.


Peak oil

Population Overshoot

Climate Disruption

Resource Collapse

Fiat / Debt Overshoot


The US government is pwned and is facilitating the fleecing of the sheeple. The elite know that the gig is up soon and don't care about the long term because the only certainty is that long is ugly beyond belief.

jedwards's picture

I notice more and more anger  in the posts recently  .


You must be new around here.

Hephasteus's picture

LOL or he must be getting sensitized to it after a while.

Anonymous's picture

I have noticed that most breaks will happen based on the size of the person who makes the erroneous trade, for example look at the stock UAUA went from 12-4 and then back to 12 on false bankruptcy rumors or DNDN from 25-4-28, how about STRN 5-12-5 orr GGC 7-46-20, there are literally a million examples of this, These trades were never busted. Then look at this move in RMBS 23-16-23 or the move we saw in GOOG last year when it went from 420 to 0 then closed at 390, amazingly these trades were broken and called erroneous, when clearly it was selling that forced mass liquidation amongst programs and large institutional holders both times, but one set of trades was broken and the other was not. If some dipshit prop trader is out there and gets some wacked out fills in a stock the nasdaq/nyse/arca could give two shits less. If goldman or getco or some large hedge fund gets the same dip shit fills all hell breaks loose and they rush to call the trades erroneous. It's literally a scam and if you can't see that then you are retarded.

What_Me_Worry's picture

That's not a problem.  When the market does a 25% dump because HFT leaves the building, the NYSE/NASDAQ will just cancel all of the day's orders and revert everything back to the previous close.

Problem solved.  Trade on!

This guy uses precise reasoning against HFT's.  Too bad those running the SEC apparently can't understand basic logic.  Maybe algos are running the SEC now too?  

Let's start sending our complaints to the SEC in binary.

Bull v. Bear's picture

01 100 0110 10 001 101010 01 01...

SimpleSimon's picture


If you want to send a FU to the SEC in binary

Anonymous's picture

Anonymous's picture

The same thing happened to Dendreon (DNDN) back in April 28. It went from 21.55 on April 27 to 11.80 on April 28 (even lower during the day) and back to 22 on April 29. I remember nobody had a clue why that happened -- just a bunch of idiots going "huh".

Racer's picture

and now... from

"Chart Pattern RecognitionOur new Autochartist tool helps you identify potential dealing opportunities."

so it is all patterns and swirls and forget fundamentals totally.

I do trade charts but I think it, well rather I thought... it essential to combine fundamentals and company earnings etc etc with the chart... but no longer. Welcome to the never ending pay out casino that is backstopped by the US taxpayers who toil like those that built the pyramids in Egypt for the dead pharaohs..

life hasn't changed in millenia has it!!!!




Bull v. Bear's picture

What else do you think the PPT is supposed to do, protect against massive buying...

Anonymous's picture

Well Grandpa bear hug, just remember shorting is evil and propping up stocks is good.