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BATS out of hell

Chairman of troubled stock exchange stripped of title, but stays on as CEO.

Following on from its disastrous flash-crash on Friday, the chairman of the BATS stock exchange, Joe Ratterman, has been stripped of his title. The exchange saw the value of its own listing plummeting from from $16 to $0.04 in just 900 milliseconds on the day of its initial public offering (IPO), due to a "serious technical failure" which also affected every other stock beginning with A or B on the exchange (including Apple, stock code AAPL).

As well as strip him of the chairman role, however, the BATS board released a statement defending Ratterman and allowing him to keep the title of CEO, saying:

Joe continues to do a tremendous job as CEO of BATS, leading an organization which now operates the third-largest stock exchange in the U.S., Europe’s largest stock market and a growing U.S. options exchange. We fully support his leadership, vision and strategic direction as BATS continues to enhance competition and foster innovation in markets worldwide.

Some board members lost a great deal from the failure of the exchange; Lehman Brothers was once BATS' largest shareholder, and their creditors were hoping to make $48m from the IPO. If they'd sold a second too late, that would have fallen to just $120,000.

Meanwhile, the investigation into what exactly happened continues, both in official channels and online. Zerohedge makes a pretty strong allegation:

What happened is that malicious, 100% intentional Nasdaq algorithm purposefully brought BATS stock to a price of 0.00 within 900 millisecond of the company's break for trading! This is open SkyNet warfare.

Zerohedge claim that, although the fallout that affected all of the other stocks on the exchange was indeed accidental, the actual crash in value of BATS stock was done on purpose by an algorithm trading from within the Nasdaq network. It all gets a bit conspiracy-theorist from there, but it is true that for the algorithm to have done what it did by accident would be a remarkeable coincidence indeed.

Whether it was a software error or a malicious automatic trader, though, the wider outcome remains the same; the image of machine trading is at an all-time low, and any time something like this happens, it pushes it lower still.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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