It’s Been a While

When was the last time the functioning of the equity markets made news?

I don’t mean Markets Media or Traders Magazine news, for which the answer is always the most recent business day. I mean mainstream news, like the evening news (do people still watch that?), or the New York Times home page, or Time magazine. News that’s consumed by the dentist from Des Moines, or the Main Street florist, or your grandmother.

Some may answer August 24, 2015, when markets had some hiccups amid a spike in trading volume and volatility. But that wasn’t really a big deal, and it didn’t have legs as a headline event.

Was it July 8, 2015, when the iconic New York Stock Exchange halted trading for four hours due to a software glitch? That would have been huge news 20 years earlier, but the main takeaway to this disruption was that other trading venues picked up the slack and net-net it was essentially a non-event.

The infamous Flash Boys report on 60 Minutes was in March 2014. This made news, but it was a book that chronicled the allegedly unfair dynamic of high-frequency trading in equity markets, rather than an event in itself. Next.

In this editor’s humble opinion, the last time equity markets really made news was August 2012, when an “algos gone wild” situation cost Knight Capital $440 million in less than an hour via a string of errant trades.

Of course, the “flash crash” of May 2010 was a big deal, and the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 was cataclysmic, so nobody can go prior to that time as his or her answer. But I’d go with the Knight fiasco.

Why do I take this stroll down memory lane?

Well, I’m just finishing up reporting on 10 feature articles for this magazine, and a common, underlying theme is about improving the safety and soundness, and by extension the level of investor confidence, in the stock market.

For example, the Equity Market Structure Advisory Committeehas these exact aims. Reg NMSis being rethought with the idea of reducing market complexity and distortions. The Consolidated Audit Trailis meant to make a safer market via better-informed regulators. Maker-takeris under the microscope for its perceived conflicts of interest.

On the political front, Wall Street types are mobilizing behind Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton , partly because she represents the status quo, and the status quo isn’t so bad.

Look, not everything is perfect, but I think most equity market folks would agree that if their profession stays out of the headlines for four years, that’s a good run. And while bad stuff can happen to anyone at any time, the enhancements, improvements and upgrades- in the works or in development- chronicled in these pages offer some confidence that the quiet times can continue.