* Senators Kaufman, Warner seek amendment on sell-off
* House markets panel sets hearing on sell off for Tuesday
* Technology errors must not spook markets - Rep Kanjorski
* SEC, CFTC looking into 'flash crash' sell-off
(Recasts with Kaufman-Warner letter; adds Engelhard,
Coffee, Miller comments)
By Kevin Drawbaugh and Margaret Chadbourne
WASHINGTON, May 7 Shock waves from the stock
market plunge rippled through Washington on Friday, prompting
lawmakers to call for an amendment to a Wall Street reform bill
that could lead to safeguards against technology glitches.
Senators Ted Kaufman and Mark Warner, both Democrats, want
market regulators to report on Thursday's dizzying decline and
say whether new circuit breakers are needed for computer-driven
trading, according to a copy of a letter obtained by Reuters.
The two asked Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher
Dodd, manager of the bill, to amend it with that request.
The stock slump occurred during rising market concern about
the Greek debt crisis and is believed to have been exacerbated
by at least one large erroneous trade, labeled by some as a
"fat finger," or inaccurate key stroke.
Market participants have speculated high-frequency and
algorithmic trading magnified the wild swing.
"A temporary $1 trillion drop in market value is an
unacceptable consequence of a software glitch," Kaufman and
(For a full story on the letter, double-click on
The baffling episode on Thursday, when the Dow Jones
industrial average fell nearly 1,000 points in just minutes,
was unlikely to change the course of the Senate bill, a top
priority of President Barack Obama, analysts said.
The measure is widely expected to win Senate approval this
month, then to be merged with a House bill approved in
December. Final legislation could be on Obama's desk to be
signed into law by mid-year, the analysts said.
Congress is essentially trying to put in place reforms that
address the debt bubble-driven financial crisis of 2008-2009,
aiming to prevent a repeat of the bailouts that followed. The
bill does not focus closely on trading technology.
The seeds of a possible regulatory response have at least
been planted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,
which issued a white paper on "market structure" in January. It
looks at "high frequency trading, order routing, market data
linkages, and undisplayed, or 'dark,' liquidity."
Analysts were betting new attention would be paid to the
paper at the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
"Both the SEC and the CFTC will now be reviewing very
carefully new rules, particularly some mechanism to slow down
algorithmic trading when you have market disruptions," said
Joseph Engelhard, policy analyst at Capital Alpha Partners.
The SEC and CFTC have already said they are reviewing the
unusual trading activity on Thursday.
GREECE, 'FAT FINGER' EYED
The sell-off -- marked by the largest intraday decline in
the history of the benchmark Dow Jones average -- will be
probed by a congressional subcommittee at a hearing on Tuesday,
said Representative Paul Kanjorski, chairman of the panel.
"We cannot allow a technological error to spook the markets
and cause panic. This is unacceptable," Kanjorski said in a
A spokeswoman for the Senate Banking Committee said it
intends to hold a hearing, as well, after the reform bill
clears the Senate.
The breath-taking decline reminded veteran observers of
Black Monday in 1987, with one exception. While that crash
occurred over several hours, driven largely by computer program
trading, the swoon on Thursday took place in minutes.
"This is 1987 all over gain, exacerbated by computer
programming that works off a small drop in any stock or the
market," said Columbia University Law Professor John Coffee, a
noted expert in securities law and the markets.
"Thus, the party with a hair trigger response sends the
market down in seconds so that it sets off traders with a more
conservative pre-programmed response. One reform would be to
have a very short (15 minutes) trading halt after, say, a 5
percent market drop," Coffee suggested.
Part of the response after Black Monday in 1987 at the New
York Stock Exchange was to adopt "circuit breakers" that impose
pauses in trading during large, sudden market swings.
(Additional reporting by Donna Smith, Rachelle Younglai,
Karey Wutkowski and David Lawder; Editing by Andrew Hay)