Lawmakers seek info on stock plunge

Possible explanations for the recent stock market plunge haven’t satisfied lawmakers, who pressed federal regulators for more answers during a hearing on Thursday.

“I’m concerned that you’re not quite sure what, exactly, happened,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Banking Securities, Insurance and Investment subcommittee, told exchange regulators.

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Commodity Futures and Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Gary Gensler blamed a “confluence of events” including the European debt crisis that likely contributed to the 1,000-point nosedive, followed by an almost equally quick recovery.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairwoman Mary Schapiro told the panel that there is “an extraordinary amount of data” to sift through. On May 6, the date of the crash, there were 66 million different trades and 19 billion shares of stock traded that are now being examined for anomalies, she said.

“At the end of the day we want the markets to operate fairly, effectively and efficiently for all investors,” Schapiro told the panel.

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) suggested that the SEC and CFTC consider asking Congress for emergency powers to avoid future problems.

In the two weeks since the crash, the SEC and the CFTC created a joint advisory panel of market experts to examine the possible reasons behind the crash. One change the group will consider is the adoption of a new circuit breaker to give the markets a “time out” in cases of chaotic trading.

The circuit breaker would require a pause in the trading of individual stocks in U.S. equity markets if the price changes 10 percent or more in a five-minute period. The circuit breaker will be tested out in a pilot program on the S&P 500 index.

The joint SEC-CFTC panel also will consider recalibrating the current circuit breakers, which weren’t triggered May 6.

The panel will hold its first meeting on Monday.

The speed of the investigation is hindered by aging technology to evaluate the amount of data coming in in different formats from the various exchanges, which may prompt the regulators to hire a third party to help crunch the data, Schapiro said.

“It’s an enormous challenge to regulate across all the markets,” she told the panel.