New York (HedgeCo.Net) – In the SEC’s first enforcement action under the market access rule, which was adopted in 2010 as Rule 15c3-5. The SEC has alleged that hedge fund trader Knight Capital Americas LLC has agreed to pay $12 million to settle charges that it violated the agency’s market access rule in connection with the firm’s Aug. 1, 2012 trading incident that disrupted the markets.
An SEC investigation found that Knight Capital did not have adequate safeguards in place to limit the risks posed by its access to the markets, and failed as a result to prevent the entry of millions of erroneous orders. Knight Capital also failed to conduct adequate reviews of the effectiveness of its controls.
“The market access rule is essential for protecting the markets, and Knight Capital’s violations put both the firm and the markets at risk,” said Andrew Ceresney, co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “Given the rapid pace of trading in today’s markets and the potential massive impact of control breakdowns, broker-dealers must be held to the high standards of compliance necessary for the safe and orderly operation of the markets.”
According to the SEC’s order, Knight Capital made two critical technology missteps that led to the trading incident on Aug. 1, 2012. Knight Capital moved a section of computer code in 2005 to an earlier point in the code sequence in an automated equity router, rendering a function of the router defective. Although this function was not meant to be used, Knight left it in the router. In late July 2012 when preparing for participation in the NYSE’s new Retail Liquidity Program, Knight Capital incorrectly deployed new code in the same router. As a result, certain orders eligible for the NYSE’s program triggered the defective function in Knight Capital’s router, which was then unable to recognize when orders had been filled. During the first 45 minutes after the market opened on August 1, Knight Capital’s router rapidly sent more than 4 million orders into the market when attempting to fill just 212 customer orders. Knight Capital traded more than 397 million shares, acquired several billion dollars in unwanted positions, and eventually suffered a loss of more than $460 million.
The SEC’s order also finds that an internal Knight Capital system generated 97 automated emails that went to a group of personnel. The emails referenced the router and identified an error before the markets opened on August 1. These messages were caused by the code deployment failure, but Knight Capital did not act upon them on August 1. Although Knight Capital did not design these messages to be system alerts, they provided an opportunity to identify and fix the problem before the markets opened.