Merrill Lynch, a Bank of America Corp. (BAC) unit must pay a $12.5M fine to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission allegations accusing the brokerage firm of having weak controls that led to mini-flash crashes. This is the largest penalty ever imposed for alleged market access rule violations.
According to the SEC, at least 15 times from 2012 to 2014, the bank established internal trading limits that were too high and, as a result not effective. These caused disruptions in the market.
Even though there were red flags, said the regulator, Merrill Lynch purportedly did not adequately assess whether it had controls that were reasonably designed and the brokerage firm did not remedy the issues when they arose fast enough. In one example cited by the SEC, Merrill Lynch purportedly applied a 5-million shares/order limit for one stock that traded at only about 69,000 shares/day. Because of this erroneous orders compelled certain stock prices to drop and then recover abruptly within seconds. For example, nearly 3% of Google’s stock dropped in under a second.