As the world becomes increasingly digitized, things become more efficient and integrated, but they also become more vulnerable to hacking, corruption, and glitches. Even the slightest of hiccups can set off a chain of events that cause an upset, as the global stock market discovered on Tuesday this week.
As reported by the Financial Times, a coding error of some kind forced the shares of giant US technology companies – including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google-owning Alphabet – to the same price of $123.47.
Stocks with some of these companies are normally much higher, at around the $900 to $1,000 mark. This sudden change meant that their stock values fell dramatically, with Amazon’s dropping by 87 percent and Alphabet’s bottoming out by 86 percent.
Amusingly, other companies with generally far lower average share values saw their stock prices jump into the stratosphere. Microsoft, for example, saw its shares spike by 80 percent. As pointed out by the Telegraph, this meant the company was briefly valued at $1 trillion – about two-thirds of the gross national product of Canada – as opposed to around $290 billion.
The error, thought to have started when financial information providers wrongly interpreted a data test of some kind as real-time stock prices, caused an intense moment of utter pandemonium on trading floors.
Nasdaq, the American stock exchange responsible for the chaos, is currently looking into precisely what went wrong during the after-trading hours on Independence Day. Perhaps someone started the festivities a little too early and distributed the test data by mistake.
"As part of its normal process, the UTP distributed test data and certain third parties improperly propagated the data," a spokesman said. "Nasdaq is working with third-party vendors to resolve the matter."
Either way, as the markets had closed for July 4 celebrations, and the prices of the stocks were not actually changed, the error will have no effect on international trading or stock markets.
This is by no means the first time a glitch has caused trouble on trading floors. Back in the summer of 2013, a computer freeze stopped all trading with Nasdaq for three hours; in 2015, the New York Stock Exchange went down for four hours just after China’s stock market had a meltdown and Greece was suffering from a major debt crisis.
The most damaging incident since the 2008 recession was arguably the “flash crash” of 2010, when the Dow Jones dropped 1,000 points in a few minutes all because a sell price and time frame was missing from a massive sale. Whoops.