2015/04/20: A Web-reading bot made millions on the options market. It also ate this guy’s lunch.
On the afternoon of Friday, March 27, as several news outlets reported at the time, somebody apparently made $2.4 million from a tweet. That tweet was a bit of breaking news from Wall Street Journal writer Dana Mattioli:
Intel is in talks to buy Altera. Deal would be largest in Intel's history. Scoop w/ @danacimilluca coming to http://t.co/Q7kOQBB8Zh
— Dana Mattioli (@DanaMattioli) March 27, 2015
Quicker than any human seemingly could have done it, someone—or rather something—bought $110,530 worth of cheap options on Altera, a company that makes digital circuits.* Over the next several minutes and until the end of the day, as humans digested Mattioli’s takeover rumor at human speed, Altera’s stock price rose. When all was said and done, those cheap options had resulted in a $2.4 million profit. Speculation immediately centered on the idea that an automated program (a “bot”) had scanned the tweet, interpreted its meaning, and instantly bought those options based on an algorithm. The robot had read the tweet and made a killing on it before anyone knew what was going on.
On April 6, a Reuters report disproved the initial hypothesis. In fact, Reuters reported, the trade occurred 19 seconds before the tweet, and one second after a headline appeared on the Dow Jones Newswire.
I know a guy—a human guy—who was on the other side of that trade. And he says this wasn’t the first time it happened to him. He’s convinced someone’s figured out an algorithm that’s faster than anything he’s ever seen before. So fast, he fears, that it might eventually put him out of a job.