Thursday, May 6, 2010

Automatic Orders

Here's a practice question appropriate for today's scary movement in the secondary markets:

A large number of which of the following orders could exaggerate a market drop, sending the DJIA down nearly 1,000 points in a half hour?
A. sell-limit orders
B. sell-stop orders
C. buy-stop orders
D. market not held orders

EXPLANATION: you can eliminate any choice with the word "buy" in it, since buyers don't cause the price of things to drop. The "market not held orders" choice doesn't really tell you enough--that could be a buy or a sell. Somebody's just trying to throw you off. So, you can quickly eliminate two answer choices. But, then, many candidates become confused between the sell-limit and the sell-stop. The key is this--where is the sell order placed in relation to the current market price for the stock? The sell-limit order is placed above/higher than the current market price, so those sales only go off if the price rises. Sell-stop orders, on the other hand, go off when the stock price drops--see the problem? Market price drops a bit, a bunch of sell orders go off at the same time, sending the price down some more, setting off more sell-stop orders. The news media usually refer to these orders as "program trading," but the exam would probably call them sell-stop or "stop loss" orders. They are placed below the current market price, usually to protect a long position in the stock. Trouble is, if too many people use these orders on the same stocks at the same time, a bear market can get even scarier. Oh well. Just one more testable point to keep track of. Eleven thousand seven hundred fifty-three to go.

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