I wouldn’t call this a "black swan" event any more than Jon Stewart would call it a "perfect storm." Felix Salmon – it’s a silly theory – Nassim Taleb Didn’t Cause the Crash makes a better argument below. – Ilene
Shortly after 2:15 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, hedge fund Universa Investments LP placed a big bet in the Chicago options trading pits that stocks would continue their sharp declines.
On any other day, this $7.5 million trade for 50,000 options contracts might have briefly hurt stock prices, though not caused much of a ripple. But coming on a day when all varieties of financial markets were deeply unsettled, the trade may have played a key role in the stock-market collapse just 20 minutes later.
The trade by Universa, a hedge fund advised by Nassim Taleb, author of "Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable," led traders on the other side of the transaction—including Barclays Capital, the brokerage arm of British bank Barclays PLC—to do their own selling to offset some of the risk, according to traders in Chicago.
Then, as the market fell, those declines are likely to have forced even more "hedging" sales, creating a tsunami of pressure that spread to nearly all parts of the market.
The tidal wave of selling fed into a market already on edge about the economy in Europe. As the selling spread, a blast of orders appears to have jarred the flow of data going into brokerage firms, such as Barclays Capital, according to people familiar with the matter…
By Felix Salmon
Of all the silly theories about the cause of Thursday’s stock-market plunge, I’m not entirely sure why the WSJ has decided to give particular credence to the idea that it can all be traced back to a single $7.5 million trade for 50,000 options contracts. Lots of options trades of that size take place every day, and just because this one happened just before the market fell doesn’t mean it was the cause of the crash.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the crash was fundamentally the fault of weak market structures, especially in the smaller electronic exchanges. It wasn’t a fat finger, it wasn’t cyberterrorism, it wasn’t the sale of 16 billion e-mini S&P contracts rather than 16 million — and it wasn’t an options trade by Universa, either…