United Airlines free falls on 6 year old news; alternative title, How I could have funded my expensive graduate school

  • In 2002 United Airlines filed for bankruptcy
  • South Florida Sun Sentinel reported it. (In school my teachers would hound me to print the current date on every page of my notebook. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter wasn’t so lucky. So he didn’t print the date in the report)
  • Sep 8 2008: Someone at a business news alert company searched Google news for 2008 Bankruptcies. The story from 2002 popped up. Google web crawler didn’t find a date in the report so presumed it was current.
  • The news alert dude didn’t read the whole news report (which mentions the 1928 founded company as 76 years old and has other details educating about its publication date) and sent it to Bloomberg.
  • Wall st. panicked and sent the share crashing 75% from $12.30 to $3 a share. Soon the mistake was realized and the share bounced back to $10.92.
  • Now if only I had known about the mistake just before everyone else knew about the mistake, and bought 10,000 UAL shares at $3, I would have funded my expensive graduate school.
  • Wait, that’s too much capital. Can I request someone to goof up on Berkshire Hathaway?

(FBI, you can like totally see I’m kidding about Hathaway right?)

Wired has the details here

Update:

On a more serious note, how could something so silly happen so easily?  Is there a conspiracy here? Can this be done again?

For some answers, check out Mike Nizza’s post in New York Times that digs into the technicalities of why an archived article popped up as one of Sun Sentinel’s top stories (the google crawler picked it up because it was in the top read category). The article also makes a passing comment on the extreme effects algorithm applications can have in stock trading.

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