Behind the Money

How Facebook’s Stock Selloff Nearly Turned Into a Run

There are plenty of reasonsFacebook's initial public offeringhada disappointing debut on Friday, but new information is emerging on why the stock selloff nearly turned into a run on Monday.

Mark Zuckerberg ringing the Nasqaq bell.

It started with an alert sent out Monday morning by Nasdaq OMX Group, the exchange whose technical glitches caused adelayed opening of Facebook on Friday and left many orders unfilled.

The alert said that any investor who lost money because of the delay could be eligible for compensation. Claims had to be submitted by noon on Monday.

Facebook’s stock dropped like a stone at the open Monday, as that alert caused investors to sell shares so they could file a claim with the Nasdaq. Some even sold the stock on the advice of their brokers.

One investor — a hedge-fund manager — told CNBC he put in a market order Monday morning for the same amount of shares that he unsuccessfully tried to sell on Friday at the open.

The market order was filled at $35, giving this investor a $7 loss from the $42 open price Nasdaq failed to execute for him on Friday. He filed his claim to the Nasdaq through his broker.

“Who knows how much selling pressure was added to the stock on Monday by people in my same situation?” said the hedge-fund manager, who wished to remain anonymous because his claim is still outstanding. “My broker told me, ‘You’re absolutely not alone. We’re doing a ton of this.’ ”

It is unclear how many brokers advised their clients to sell so they could file the claim to Nasdaq on time. Some investors may have just taken the Nasdaq alert as a directive to do so. After all, if one still owns the shares, what loss could one attach to the claim?

This is apparent in Monday’s stock chart showing a plunge of as much of 14 percent to $33 in the morning and then a recovery after the Nasdaq deadline passed. Facebook had finished its Friday debut little changed, but closed down Monday 11 percent.

Nasdaq declined to comment on this story, but it is clear that the exchange — or any exchange for that matter — would never advise someone to directly sell a stock traded on its platform. The issue is that by sending that deadline out, the Nasdaq may have inadvertently caused a domino effect beyond its control.

“My best guess — and it’s just a guess at this point — is that losses similar to those claimed by that investor may total between $50 (million) and $100 million,” said Rich Repetto, the well-known expert on trading and exchanges at Sandler O’Neill.

Repetto, along with many other traders with first-hand or second-hand experience, are among those who believe this alert could have inadvertently caused Monday’s run on the stock. The share price is still below Monday’s low.

The irony is that “the likelihood of (the investor) getting full restitution is very unlikely,” Repetto says.

The reason: Nasdaq’s liability for technical issues is limited to a mere $3 million per month. The exchange itself is pushing regulators to allow it to pay out $10 million more in this particular high-profile case.

That’s still a drop in the bucket of the potential losses on what was supposed to be the hottest IPO since Google .

Then there are those out there who put in orders to sell Facebook stock at the open Friday which never got filled, but unlike the example above, they still own that stock. Repetto said it’s unclear how FINRA or the third party that ultimately settles these claims will calculate what these investors will get in restitution if they still own the stock and therefore just have a paper loss.

Smaller investors who can’t get a broker on the phone are even more in the dark. This was the message on Fidelity’s website today:

Fidelity continues to deal with the aftermath of Friday's market issues in delayed processing of orders for Facebook (FB) stock. As they did then, Fidelity's systems continue to operate normally. Although some executions were reported back from market makers over the weekend, we are still waiting for final responses on other orders. This is an industry-wide issue and we are working aggressively to address it. We appreciate your continued patience.

“The whole FB story is a fiasco,” said Jon Najarian, co-founder of broker “The Nasdaq has blood on its hands from the locked markets they disseminated for over 2 hours.”

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