The federal-induced short-squeeze is now going global, as countries from Australia, Taiwan, and the Netherlands join the U.S. and U.K. in prohibiting some short selling (see WSJ article).
Potential problems with the short-sell ban are already becoming evident as those needing to hedge positions, or those making a market in derivative products, are finding it difficult to comply. During the last order the SEC had already considered some restrictions on market makers who need to short stock when making a market in put options. Now, the SEC is also considering allowing short-selling to be used in some cases as a hedge - it is expected that they will allow such shorting.
Of course, where do you draw the line? What about hedge funds that actually hedge their positions? Will they be excluded?
What about convertible bond and arbitrage positions? What about allowing investors to hedge their investments when companies raise money in a rights offerings?
What if the sale is for risk management purposes? If risk management is considered a viable reason for shorting, couldn't everything be considered risk management to some degree? Isn't shorting an overvalued company a way to take the risk of the overvalued stock out of the marketplace?
Yes, this argument is a little much, but the point is that once again it is difficult to know where to draw the line when making exceptions, which only becomes more difficult as the unintended consequences start becoming worse than what the order was hoping to accomplish in the first place.
While the order did seem to stem the selling tide last week, it ultimately makes the stock market more inefficient. If now less efficient, does this mean that the market is in fact now more risky, given that prices are more artificial than before, and that any snap-backs could be worse in the long-run (if the order is removed)?
These are questions that will no doubt only be clear with 20-20 hindsight. Extraordinary times do often require extraordinary measures, but eventually we are going to come to regret interfering with a market structure and mechanism that was put in place to keep us all honest, and keep prices as efficient as possible.
Finally, I do find it ironic that for the last year or so we have continued to complain about how the prices of all the various credit default swaps and CDOs were difficult to price, making it even more difficult to know their current value and a company's true level of exposure for holding such securities. One can argue that we are now starting to make transparency mistakes with our equities.