Gaffe gifts online traders unexpected booty

Some users of the CommSec share trading site Friday were asked to hand over unexpected profits made earlier in the day, after it was discovered shares for mining giant BHP Billiton were undersold.

How the shares were undersold is still a mystery. The problem has potentially left the broker of the shares, rumoured to be a large international financial firm with a local Sydney office, out of pocket to the tune of approximately 40c per share sold.

Meanwhile CommSec has distanced itself from the hiccup. "The problem did not come from us," said CommSec spokeswoman Dawn Willis.

BHP shares closed on Thursday at $11.65. A certain amount of CommSec's online share traders had buy orders of the stock at several cents below this overnight close. This meant that when the price dropped to these shareholder's buy price, CommSec would automatically bid for its shareholders, and if shares were available, it would buy these shares and debit the money from the shareholders online trading account.

One such shareholder, who wished not to be named, placed a buy order at $11.60, but told Computerworld that the shares were bought at $11.20, gifting him with an unrequested, but welcome, 40c profit per share.

CommSec traders who benefited financially from the error were subsequently contacted by CommSec asking them to return, or hold the sale of these shares. The traders were told that because they did not actually bid at $11.20, they did not have the right to own the shares. According to Michael Blomfield, CommSec's COO, "It is accepted practice [by brokers] in these situations for brokers to attempt to assist to rectify errors.

"However we recognise absolutely that our clients have the final say in these issues. Rather than keep them in the dark, we communicate with them and act upon their desired outcome."

The share trader who contacted Computerworld said he was keeping his money. "No law has been broken," he said.

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Howard Dahdah

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