Citigroup trader made error behind flash crash in Europe stocks

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Citigroup Inc.’s London trading desk was a behind a flash crash that sent shares across Europe tumbling on Monday, dealing a fresh setback to the bank’s years-long efforts to improve controls.

A trader at the US firm made a mistake “inputting a transaction,” Citigroup said late last night, after a knee-jerk selloff in Swedish stocks in five minutes wreaked havoc in bourses from Paris to Warsaw, wiping out 300 billion euros ($315 billion) at one point.

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The bank said it identified the error “within minutes and corrected it.”

The incident is a reminder of the work to be done as Chief Executive Officer Jane Fraser campaigns to repair the bank’s reputation.

Citigroup’s dysfunction was on display two years ago, when employees mistakenly sent almost $1 billion to Revlon Inc. creditors, an error that resulted in a lengthy and embarrassing public court battle to recover the funds.

Citigroup is in talks with regulators and exchanges about Monday’s incident, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named discussing non-public information.

A spokesman for Nasdaq Stockholm had said the short-lived slump was not a technical glitch on its part.

“Our first priority was to exclude technical issues in our systems, and our second priority was to exclude an external attack on our systems,” said David Augustsson, a spokesman for Nasdaq Stockholm. “It is very clear to us that the cause of this move in the market is a very substantial transaction made by a market participant.”

The OMX Stockholm 30 Index closed 1.9 percent lower, roughly in line with a drop in European markets. It had slumped as much as 8 percent in just five minutes before recovering most of the losses shortly after.

The error could potentially cause monetary and reputational damage to Citigroup as Nasdaq said it will not cancel any trades made on the Nordic markets. Joakim Bornold, savings economist at Soderberg & Partners, said that equity markets can be very sensitive to erroneous trades despite safeguards.

The incident came days after the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency lifted a 10-year-old consent order with Citigroup in a victory for Fraser, who has dedicated thousands of employees to improving risk and controls systems. The bank is still working to address two other consent orders with the OCC and the Federal Reserve stemming from 2020.

“It’s dramatic, but then the modern market structure also means that markets can correct quickly,” said Anish Puaar, European market structure analyst at Rosenblatt Securities.

Read more: Citigroup names veteran Jane Fraser as CEO; first woman to head a Wall Street bank

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