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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What do you do with the drunken trader?

Posted by John Bates

The news that Steven Perkins, (former) oil futures broker in the London office of PVM Oil Futures, has been fined 72,000 pounds ($108,400) by the FSA and banned from working in the industry is no surprise, see article here:




It could have been worse given that the broker, after a few days of heavy drinking, took on a 7.0 million barrel long position on crude oil in the middle of the night. The fine seems miniscule since it cost PVM somewhere in the vicinity of $10 million - after unwinding the $500+ million position.


The surprising thing about this incident is that it happened at all. Perkins was a broker, not a trader. He acted on behalf of traders, placing orders on the Intercontinental Exchange among other places. That he could go into the trading system and sneak through 7.0 million barrels without a customer on the other side is unbelievable.


Heavy drinking is practically a job requirement in the oil industry, my sources tell me, so this kind of thing could be a real issue going forward. As algorithmic trading takes hold in the energy markets, trading may approach the ultra high speeds seen in equities markets.  This is a recipe for super high speed disaster, unless there are proper controls in place - especially if there were a way for the broker or trader in question to enrich himself in the process.


One powerful way to prevent this kind of accident or fraud is through the use of stringent pre-trade risk controls. The benefits of being able to pro-actively monitor trades include catching "fat fingered" errors, preventing trading limits from being breached, and even warning brokers and regulators of potential fraud - all of which cost brokers, traders and regulators money. PVM is a good example of this.


Ultra-low-latency pre-trade risk management can be achieved by brokers without compromising speed of access.  One solution is a low latency "risk firewall" utilizing complex event processing as its core, which can be benchmarked in the low microseconds.  Errors can be caught in real-time, before they can reach the exchange. Heaving that drunken trader right overboard, and his trades into the bin.



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Banned from working in the industry? How does that work? If he's caught he's thrown in jail, fined, or what? Is it some sort of weird parole?

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