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Bats withdraws IPO after errors pummel its stock, halt Apple

By Nina Mehta, Nick Baker and Nikolaj Gammeltoft,

Bats Global Markets, the six-year-old equity exchange, canceled its initial public offering Friday, stunning Wall Street after errors on its own computer systems derailed trading in the stock and forced a halt in Apple.

“We believe withdrawing the IPO is the appropriate action to take for our company and our shareholders,” chief executive Joe Ratterman said in a statement. Asked whether that meant Bats is no longer going public, Randy Williams, a company spokesman, replied by e-mail, “Yes, that’s correct.”

Pulling the IPO capped a day of embarrassments for the electronic exchange, beginning just as the shares were making their debut. Data received by Bloomberg around 11 a.m. in New York showed the stock, the first listed on its Lenexa, Kan.-based market, quoted at less than a penny after being priced Thursday at $16. Around the same time, a 100-share transaction in Apple was executed on Bats so far away from the market price that it triggered a halt.

“This is a tragedy,” James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s business school in Washington, said in a phone interview. “I’m reeling from the shock. It’s like seeing an airplane crash on takeoff. To see defeat snatched from the jaws of victory is always a sad thing.”

The malfunctions might re-focus scrutiny on modern U.S. market structure, where two decades of government regulation have broken the grip of the biggest exchanges and left trading fragmented over as many as 50 venues. Bats, whose name stands for Better Alternative Trading System, rose to prominence in tandem with the proliferation of electronic companies that dominate the buying and selling of equities in the United States.

Bats, now the third-largest U.S. stock exchange operator, priced 6.3 million shares through underwriters Thursday and appeared set to begin trading about 90 minutes into the day when chaos erupted. While the company quoted its shares at $15.25 at 10:45 a.m. on its Web site, feeds — including those sent to Bloomberg — told a different story. At 11:14 a.m., Bloomberg received data showing 1.26 million shares had traded, with the most recent execution at 3.84 cents and the lowest transaction at 0.02 cent.

Compounding the confusion, a single trade for 100 shares executed on a Bats venue at 10:57 a.m. briefly sent Apple down more than 9 percent to $542.80, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Two more transactions, which sent the stock back above $598, were made before the halt. The stock stayed around that level once trading resumed five minutes later.

Bats sent a notice about 10 minutes before the Apple trade saying it was investigating “system issues” affecting companies with ticker symbols between A and BF. Apple’s is AAPL. Bats’s ticker is BATS. At 11:07 a.m., Bats’s BYX Exchange took a procedural step known as “declaring self help” against its BZX exchange, indicating that it had stopped routing orders to the market because BZX wasn’t responding to messages quickly enough.

The canceled stock offering was intended to raise money for Bats’s owners, which include underwriters Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Citigroup. Others that expected to see proceeds from the deal were high-frequency firm Tradebot Systems, whose chief executive founded Bats, Chicago-based Getco and Wedbush in Los Angeles. The estate of Lehman Brothers Holdings is also among the biggest owners.

Founded by a high-frequency trader in 2005, Bats was steered to prominence by brokers trying to hold down fees as the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market bought their biggest electronic rivals. The company executed 10.9 percent of U.S. equities volume last month, compared with 10.7 percent a year earlier, it said.

— Bloomberg News

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