The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday charged Nasdaq with securities laws violations resulting from “poor systems and decision-making” during the IPO and secondary market trading of Facebook shares.
Nasdaq has agreed to settle the SEC’s charges by paying a $10 million penalty—the largest ever against an exchange.
According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, “Despite widespread anticipation that the Facebook IPO on May 18, 2012, would be among the largest in history with huge numbers of investors participating, a design limitation in Nasdaq’s system to match IPO buy and sell orders caused disruptions to the Facebook IPO.”
Nasdaq then made a series of ill-fated decisions that led to the rules violations, the SEC says.
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According to the SEC’s order, several members of Nasdaq’s senior leadership team convened a “Code Blue” conference call and decided not to delay the start of secondary market trading in Facebook, thinking they had fixed the system limitation by removing a few lines of computer code. However, they did not understand the root cause of the problem.
Nasdaq’s decision to initiate trading before fully understanding the problem caused violations of several rules, including Nasdaq’s fundamental rule governing the price/time priority for executing trade orders, the SEC says. The problem caused more than 30,000 Facebook orders to remain stuck in Nasdaq’s system for more than two hours when they should have been promptly executed or canceled.
“This action against Nasdaq tells the tale of how poorly designed systems and hasty decision-making not only disrupted one of the largest IPOs in history, but produced serious and pervasive violations of fundamental rules governing our markets,” said George Canellos, co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a statement.
Daniel Hawke, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit, added in the same statement that “our focus in this investigation was on the design limitation in Nasdaq’s system and the exchange’s decision-making after that limitation came to light. Too often in today’s markets, systems disruptions are written off as mere technical ‘glitches’ when it’s the design of the systems and the response of exchange officials that cause us the most concern.”