The stock markets of the world have been taking a wild ride the past few weeks. In Europe, the various exchanges have been hit hard with the turmoil of Greece defaulting on its IMF loans. In China the stock market has been in a slow, steady free-fall, losing some 30% of value, about $3 Trillion dollars worth, as the chickens come home to roost after years of currency manipulation. On Wall Street, the NYSE closed down for almost 4 hours on Wednesday due to a reported software upgrade glitch from Tuesday night. But the hacker group known as Anonymous tweeted a message also on Tuesday night warning about a possible problem. While the authorities deny that the New York Stock Exchange was hacked, the timing and content of the tweet seems well beyond a coincidence.
Ah, fragility! Our modern world is so poorly built on the sandy foundation of paper and digital money that we can expect much more of this in the near future. For years now, there has been a race to the bottom as nations like China, the United States, Japan and others have been cheapening their currencies to make exports a better deal. In the European Union, the Euro has has been shaved more than 25% just this year as the European Central Bank pumps a flood of Euros into their economies to help France, Greece, and other nations with sluggish or dismal growth.
The problem with racing o the bottom is that sooner or later, you hit rock bottom! What do you do then? Well, in the case of China, they have suspended sales of stocks for six months after you buy them. No more IPOs, either, as the government wants investors to buy only existing stocks. Most companies are either owned completely, or partially, by the Chinese government. Being an authoritarian Communist country, they can pretty much do what they want to. The use of force is the only way to compel people to behave against their own self-interest. How long will the people put up with it after having a taste of Capitalism?
There is no shortage of idiocy here in America, I′m sad to report. Even on Wall Street with reams of graduates from Ivy League universities. Whose idea was it to do a software upgrade in the middle of a busy week? One would think that you would do such on a weekend so it could be tested before put into use. Of course, not everyone thinks that the upgrade was the problem on Wednesday. When the NYSE opened for business, there were problems right away, mainly with trades being done at a snail′s pace. Traders were warned early in the morning, around 8:17am, that there may be system problems with certain trading gateways, affecting a small ′subset′ of stocks. But by 9:45am, just as trading had started, the system was already showing signs of trouble. The pace of trades slowed gradually from its norm of about 10% to 8%. By 10:45am, the NYSE was down to 7.4% when the the glitch really kicked in. By 11am, trading volume was down to 4.8% and twenty minutes later, slowed to just 2.6%. Twelve minutes later, it was at 2% even and then shutdown completely 57 seconds after that at 11:32:57am.
Less than 12 hours earlier, at 11:45pm EDT on Tuesday, the Anonymous Twitter account, @YourAnonNews tweeted the following message, ″Wonder if tomorrow is going to be bad for Wall Street…. we can only hope.″ So did the NYSE crash on Wednesday because of a technical glitch? Or were they hacked? While not a ′Black Swan′ event, meaning a major problem with long-term implications, yesterday′s NYSE shutdown may have been a ′Black Squirrel′. A small-sized problem with a very short-term lifespan. The reference goes back to twice before, once in 1987 and again in 1994, when real life squirrels had eaten their way through power and communication cables, shutting the NYSE down for a brief period.
Our world is highly dependent on our digital infrastructure. Also yesterday, United Airlines system crashed due to a bad router, forcing flights to be delayed, grounded or canceled. When the NYSE shutdown, the website for the Wall Street Journal was flooded with visitors seeking news, crashing their system as well. Not long ago we have had other victims of digital fragility, such as the alleged North Korean hack of Sony and the massive hack on the U.S. government′s Office of Personnel Management, with personal records of some 40 (CORRECTION: 21 million) million current and former federal workers and military personnel seized by hackers, presumably by China. Many in the Doomsday Prepper community worry about the day when the nation′s water systems, oil and natural gas pipelines or electrical grid get hacked by a hostile nation or group.
So did the NYSE close on Wednesday due to a cyber attack, or was it just a technical glitch? How long can the China stock markets continue to slide before causing a global depression? Are our lives more in peril now than ever before thanks to our dependency on computer systems that are vulnerable to hacks, solar storms or bad IT managers and technicians? What about them squirrels? Are they nuts or what? Will you buy a .22 and start hunting them to protect our digital infrastructure? If Obama had a pet squirrel, would it get to ride Air Force One to join the family on its $12 Million dollar summer vacation on Martha′s Vineyard? Inquiring minds want to know!