Investors are blaming an unprecedented lack of liquidity for Wednesday’s gut-wrenching stock market open, which saw the S&P 500 fall as much as 2.2 percent from Tuesday’s close, sent the VIX screaming to 28 and led to outsized moves in major stocks like Disney.
According to Eric Hunsader of Nanex, there were 179 “mini flash crashes” during the first 15 minutes of trading, which is the most since the Knight Capital Group fiasco in August 2012. Additionally, Hunsader reports that there were 68 trades in the S&P e-mini that moved that key futures contract 3 or more ticks. And Treasury futures, too, moved sharply as a result of low liquidity.
The definition that Nanex uses for a mini flash crash is that a stock sees 10 or more down ticks, for a price change exceeding 0.8 percent, within 1.5 seconds
“There was no liquidity at all, so it doesn’t take a whole lot of size to really move the price,” Hunsader told CNBC. But “some people come in, and they’re used to buying or selling X-amount, and they’re not paying attention. And X-amount now causes significant movements in price.”
When this lack of liquidity collided with a great number of traders willing to get out at any price, markets got ugly.