It’s been nearly five years since the “Flash Crash” and regulators are now blaming it on an little-known 36-year-old who traded futures from his parents’ house in a London suburb.
Navinder “Nav” Sarao, an “insomniac” who said traded S&P futures using the click of a mouse, was arrested in London on Tuesday.
He’s been charged on one count of wire fraud, 10 counts of commodities fraud, 10 counts of commodities manipulation, and one count of “spoofing” — buying or selling large orders with the intent to cancel. Sarao was granted bail and the US is seeking extradition.
Bloomberg News uncovered some emails sent by Sarao that the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) released as part of its court filings. The emails provide insight into Sarao’s trading style.
He ‘changes his mind very very quickly.’
In a May 29, 2014 email sent to Joanna Jasina of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, Sarao described himself as an “old school point and click prop trader” and someone who “changes his mind very very quickly.”
“I am an old school point and click prop trader. To this day I am still using the mouse to trade. That is how I trade, that is how I always have traded, admittedly very very fast because I have always been good with reflexes and doing things quick. My trading is for the most part very short term and for very small profits, a large proportion of my profits are 1 price movements, which in the eminiSP’s case would be a quarter of a tick. I have also take[n] longer term positions in the past and my biggest day was actually made for hte most part whilst I was sleeping!
“I am a trader who changes his mind very very quickly, one second I am prepared to buy the limit of 2,000, the next second I may change my mind and get out. This is what is unique about my trading. I trade very large but change my mind in a second. This is why MF Global had to speed up their systems for me, yes they have other hedge funds etc trading 2,000 lots, but they didn’t have anyone buying 2,000 and getting out seconds later and then going short a thousand. All this traded volume was something that MF global’s system was not prepared for and I remember at the start their system was too slow for me. And all this is done with the hand and a mouse.”
He’s not a high-frequency trader.
He went on to complain to the FCA about high frequency traders (HFT).
“I don’t like the HFT arena and have complained to the exchange numerous times about their manipulative practices, please BAN IT.”
He barely sleeps.
In an email to his broker, RJ O’Brien & Associates, dated October 22, 2012, Sarao detailed the hours he keeps and called himself an “insomniac.”
“I’m an insomniac — I normally can’t get to sleep before 4am, which isn’t a problem because US trading opens at 2.30pm here — so normally I sleep between 4am to about noon.”
He made most of his money in just 20 days of trading.
He continued to explain to RJO that he made most of his money in just a handful of trading days.
“I have made the majority of my net worth in I would say no more than 20 days trading, that’s how I trade — mostly I hardly work but when it’s volatile I have to work 12 hours a day. I prefer it that way. It’s catch 22, I haven’t traded properly since I’ve been with RJO because the only volatile day was Friday, but then again I fear it getting volatile because the system obviously can’t cope, when normally I am begging for it to be volatile.”
He claimed that he could make $US133,000 in an average day.
Back in 2007, he sent an email to Doubledown Media — the now-defunct publisher of Trader Monthly — inquiring about joining the ranks of the now-shuttered magazine’s “30 Under 30” list. On an average trading day, he claimed that he could make $US133,000.
“I am a local who works on a 90/10 split. I trade the e-mini SP 500 on volatile trading days I do an average of 10,000 round turns or about 1% of the SP 500’s total daily volume. If I trade well on a volatile day I normally make circa $US133,000. On quieter days I look to make between $US45,000 and $US70,000.”
According to the complaint, Sarao allegedly used an algorithm to manipulate the market for E-Mini S&P 500 futures contracts, or “E-Minis,” on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME).
“Sarao’s alleged manipulation earned him significant profits and contributed to a major drop in the U.S. stock market on May 6, 2010, that came to be known as the ‘Flash Crash,'” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
A number of futures traders we spoke to called the case against Sarao a total “joke.” The consensus view was that there was no way the “Flash Crash” was caused by one individual.
Traders aren’t the only ones who are sceptical. Securities lawyers also told Reuters that this case is going to be difficult to prosecute because they have to show that Sarao intentionally canceled orders.
Here’s the full email Sarao sent to the FCA: