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Date:01/06/12

Analysis: Nasdaq plays tough with clients angry over Facebook

It's crisis communications 101 for Corporate America: when a company bungles an event as big as the Facebook IPO, alienates customers, and spawns lawsuits and regulatory inquiries, the CEO apologizes and agrees to provide compensation to make things right. Everyone can then move on.

Not so at Nasdaq OMX Group, where technology glitches and a communications breakdown marred Facebook's $16 billion initial public offering on May 18.

Since then, the exchange has done little to conciliate market making clients - a number of which lost tens of millions of dollars each due to the trading problems. There has been no outright apology. And as angry as some customers may be, experts say they have little alternative but to keep trading on the exchange.

And they have. Nasdaq's trading volume this week is above the monthly average, and its share price is nearly unchanged two weeks after the trading glitch.

Nasdaq, one of only two U.S. exchanges on which companies can list their shares, is home to a raft of heavily traded household technology names such as Apple and Google, and has challenged the New York Stock Exchange for marquee listings. The Facebook IPO was seen as a major coup.

With so few options for traders, Nasdaq's strong position is giving confidence to investors and analysts.
"We expect this to blow over with time," said Chris Allen, an analyst at Evercore Partners, in a note to clients.

Many of Nasdaq's customers sing a different tune, however. During the first day of Facebook trading, technical glitches left the market makers - who facilitate trades for brokers and are crucial to the smooth operation of stock trading - in the dark for hours as to which trades had gone through.The result was up to $115 million in losses for the Nasdaq's top four market makers alone. Two senior executives in the financial industry have said they expect Nasdaq member claims to total $150 million to $200 million.

Nasdaq's response amounted to a members-only call with one of its executive vice presidents, a statement that the exchange would set aside a pool of $13.7 million to accommodate losses, and a brief mention of Facebook during the company's shareholders meeting. Greifeld also hosted Nasdaq's party at a technology conference this week in California. A source close to the exchange said it is reaching out to affected clients. Yet some big clients are still unhappy.

"Communication has been about as good as it was on the day of the IPO - minimal," said Mark Turner, head of trading at New York-based market maker Instinet.

Turner declined to say how much his firm lost but said it paled in comparison with losses suffered by larger counterparts like UBS, Citigroup, Knight Capital, and Citadel Securities, which lost between $20 million and $35 million.




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