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Knight Capital Group in crisis after $440m trading loss

US global financial services firm sees capital wiped out by software glitch as shares plunge 80% in two days.

Knight Capital Group Inc is fighting for its survival after a $440m (£283m) trading loss caused by a software glitch which has wiped out much of its capital, forcing Knight to seek new funding as its shares plunged as much as 80% in two days.

Many of the company's biggest customers, including TD Ameritrade, the No 1 US retail brokerage by trading volume, and fund giants Vanguard and Fidelity Investments, stopped routing orders through Knight. One of the biggest fears is that the company will collapse, landing trading partners with losses.

"They have about 48 hours to shore up confidence," said James Koutoulas, head of an advocacy group for former customers of failed brokerages MF Global and Peregrine Financial.

Knight said it was "actively pursuing its strategic and financing alternatives", raising the likelihood the firm will be sold or face bankruptcy because of the loss and subsequent damage to business.

As one of the leading market makers in US stocks, Knight is among the firms vital to smooth, orderly trading. Market makers match orders from buyers and sellers and often provide liquidity by stepping into the market themselves.

The speed at which Knight has unravelled has been particularly unnerving for investors and markets. It resulted from problems with the firm's trading software that sent bogus, rapid-fire trades into the market for 45 minutes on Wednesday and left Knight with big losses on numerous stocks it bought at inflated prices.

"This is like a nuclear reactor or aircraft," said Roy Niederhoffer, whose RG Niederhoffer Capital Management uses Knight. "There has to be some way of seeing the state of the whole system." He said that there was no excuse for Knight failing to act sooner.

Knight is in talks with Silver Lake Partners-backed trading firm Virtu Financial LLC about a possible deal, according to the Wall Street Journal. Knight has approached JP Morgan Chase & Co for financing, according to a report on Fox Business Network.

A spokesman for JPMorgan declined to comment. Spokeswomen for both Knight and Silver Lake also declined comment.

Late on Thursday, the firm planned to set up a data room for potential bidders to comb through its books, according to a source familiar with the situation. Some private equity firms were weighing whether to look at the company, the source added, saying that the situation was fluid.

A Bloomberg report said the firm had hired Sandler O'Neill and Goldman Sachs to advise it on its next steps. Goldman and Sandler O'Neill officials declined to comment.

"You have to find someone who is willing to move pretty quickly," the source said. "It is a confidence issue."

Knight's $440m trading loss has reignited debate over whether technology has elevated risk in trading to unacceptable levels.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday said it would consider whether new measures might be necessary to safeguard markets.

"We continue to closely review the events surrounding yesterday's trading and discuss those events with other regulators as well as Knight Capital Group," said SEC spokesman John Nester.

"We also are considering what, if any, additional steps may be necessary, beyond the post-Flash Crash measures that limited the impact of yesterday's trading," Nester said.

Advocates of trading systems that can pump thousands of shares across Wall Street in milliseconds say the fault lies not in the systems but in the lack of controls at individual firms.

Knight blamed its technology breakdown on new software that routed a flood of erroneous orders to the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, but offered no explanation as to why traders didn't immediately intervene to arrest the obvious errors.