Thursday, August 11, 2011
It's been a year of vindication for Mark Cuban. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks quieted a lot of the critics who said he was a loudmouth who didn't know how to run a basketball franchise. Now his team is the best in basketball.
But Cuban is also proving somewhat prophetic in a much more unsettling way. In the spring of last year, only three days after the harrowing May 6 "Flash Crash" that temporarily plunged the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than 1,000 points within minutes, he wrote a blog post that seems chilling today. He titled it, "What Business is Wall Street In?" And toward the end, he wrote in bold, "There will be another crash."
Granted, there are a lot of doomsayers out there. But Cuban is not that. He's a successful businessman -- he sold his Internet start-up in 1999 for $5.9 billion in Yahoo! stock -- and he says he's been involved in the stock market for the better part of a decade. But what makes his post stand out even more is that he named a specific reason for the predicted "crash" -- professional traders.
"The only people who know what business Wall Street is in are the traders," Cuban wrote on May 9, 2010. "They know what business Wall Street is in better than everyone else. To traders, whether day traders or high frequency or somewhere in between, Wall Street has nothing to do with creating capital for businesses, its original goal. Wall Street is a platform. It's a platform to be exploited by every technological and intellectual means possible."
And more than a year later, a lot of Wall Street experts are blaming high frequency trading for this month's extreme stock market volatility. The swings are wild, to the tune of hundreds of Dow points within minutes, and "the machines" profiled last year by 60 Minutes are getting a lot of the blame.
Cuban went on to make another point, about how entire nations are now bought and sold within seconds and even nanoseconds:
"It’s hard to believe," he wrote, "but evaluating countries as an investment is now easier than evaluating companies."
Lo and behold, the current malaise on Wall Street is tied not to the earnings of public companies -- which are largely strong -- but to the debt load of national economies.
But Cuban came back again to the traders, who he called "hackers" because, he said, they look for weaknesses in the system to exploit for short-term gain.
"The Government needs to create incentives for this business," he wrote, "and extract compensation from the traders/hackers for the systemic failure level of risk they introduce."
He concluded again in bold text with a scary forecast that, although not completely unique to him, now looks more and more accurate:
"There will be another crash, because there are too many players looking for the trillion dollar score."
As of this writing, the Dow Jones sits at 10,719, within 200 points of the 10,520 price at the close of trading on May 6, 2010, the day of the Flash Crash. The Dow has dropped almost exactly 2,000 points in the last month.