Brokerage Web Sites Hit Hard By Dow Drop

Major stock markets may be recovering from the record plunge that hit global trading yesterday, but recriminations over slow computer responses to the sell-off are still rippling around the trading world.

As the Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted 178 points within one minute Tuesday, many online brokerage firms fared no better serving Internet investors, who were forced to endure painful wait times on market orders.

On top of that, computer responses for major indices were sluggish under the global onslaught of orders.

Soothing comments from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke helped stocks find their footing today, and a strong recovery in Shanghai stocks, where Tuesday’s selling began, also encouraged bargain hunters. The Dow and S&P recovered as much as a third of Tuesday’s 3.5% losses before paring their gains to end the day up about half a percent in heavy, volatile trade.

As reported by yesterday, an 8.8 percent overnight drop in Chinese stocks — the steepest decline on the Shanghai markets in a decade — started the sell-off, which spread to U.S. and European markets on a big drop in U.S. durable orders.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and NYSE couldn’t keep pace with the record 4 billion shares that changed hands on the NYSE Tuesday, and the Dow suddenly plunged nearly 200 points around 3 p.m. when the index caught up. At its low, the Dow was down 546 points, or 4.3 percent.

According to the Gomez Brokerage Benchmark, which monitors the Web performance of 14 of the nation’s largest brokerage firms, more than half of those brokerage firms experienced “catastrophic slowdowns” around 3:00 p.m. yesterday.

Gomez said “old guard” firms such as Vanguard and Wells Fargo experienced 2-8 times degradation in Web performance during the trading day. Investors used to Vanguard’s typical wait time of 11.5 seconds between page loads were forced to wait 208 seconds for market order quotes. was not able to reach the companies for comment by press time.

Gomez reported that some newer brokerage firms fared better. For example,’s response time for a market order quote remained consistent at five seconds.

“Brokerage firms that were built from the ground up with Web
experience management at their core are the ones that were prepared
for — and could withstand — these kinds of unforeseen incidents and
the resulting trading volumes that occur,” Matt Poepsel, Gomez’s vice president for performance strategies, said in a statement today.

Avivah Litan, online banking analyst for IT research firm Gartner, told that both Web sites and call centers for brokerage firms were overburdened. She said brokerage firms are just not equipped to handle that kind of peak volume. “They need to get equipped, quite frankly.”

Bloomberg News reported that the U.S. stock market “lost
a measure of trust with traders and investors after computer malfunctions sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting 178 points in one minute yesterday.”

The financial wire service said NYSE floor brokers “resorted to pen
and paper to complete trades, while others scrambled to keep up with
orders after an overnight sell-off in Chinese stocks spread globally
and sparked the biggest U.S. rout in four years.”

Paul Shread contributed to this story.

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