Evidence of market manipulation in the financial crisis

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
By Paul Martin

By Vedant Misra, Marco Lagi, Yaneer Bar-Yam
Cornell University Library

We provide direct evidence of market manipulation at the beginning of the financial crisis in November 2007. The type of manipulation, a “bear raid,” would have been prevented by a regulation that was repealed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in July 2007. The regulation, the uptick rule, was designed to prevent manipulation and promote stability and was in force from 1938 as a key part of the government response to the 1928 market crash and its aftermath. On November 1, 2007, Citigroup experienced an unusual increase in trading volume and decrease in price. Our analysis of financial industry data shows that this decline coincided with an anomalous increase in borrowed shares, the selling of which would be a large fraction of the total trading volume. The selling of borrowed shares cannot be explained by news events as there is no corresponding increase in selling by share owners. A similar number of shares were returned on a single day six days later. The magnitude and coincidence of borrowing and returning of shares is evidence of a concerted effort to drive down Citigroup’s stock price and achieve a profit, i.e., a bear raid. Interpretations and analyses of financial markets should consider the possibility that the intentional actions of individual actors or coordinated groups can impact market behavior. Markets are not sufficiently transparent to reveal even major market manipulation events. Our results point to the need for regulations that prevent intentional actions that cause markets to deviate from equilibrium and contribute to crashes. Enforcement actions cannot reverse severe damage to the economic system. The current “alternative” uptick rule which is only in effect for stocks dropping by over 10% in a single day is insufficient. Prevention may be achieved through improved availability of market data and the original uptick rule or other transaction limitations.

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