The world’s most famous electronic stock market can’t compete with the stubbornness of a 90-year-old billionaire.
Buffett’s persistence finally caused a Y2K-like problem this week at Nasdaq.
Here’s the issue: Nasdaq’s 32-bit computer system can’t handle prices above $429,496.7295. And Berkshire’s Class A shares got to within 2% of that level on Monday.
Nasdaq (NDAQ), the world’s first electronic exchange, couldn’t risk sending out erroneous stock quotes. So it decided to pull the plug, at least until it completes a fix that will be able to handle Berkshire’s lofty share price.
After consulting with regulators, Nasdaq temporarily suspended broadcasting prices for Berkshire’s Class A shares on Tuesday. Just two days later, Berkshire’s stock climbed for the first time above the maximum Nasdaq can handle.
While there didn’t appear to be an impact to trading or pricing, the suspension left Nasdaq’s brokerage and media clients relying on the data feed in the dark. They would have had to turn elsewhere to discover the price of the thinly traded shares. Nasdaq reached out to clients on April 16 to alert them of the looming issue and give them time to source the data elsewhere.
“Data integrity is of utmost importance at Nasdaq, we therefore instituted a temporary measure… to ensure that no incorrect data is disseminated prior to the completion of a technical upgrade,” a Nasdaq spokesperson said in a statement.
Nasdaq said the real-time price information of Berkshire’s Class A shares won’t be available until May 17. No other stocks are likely to face similar issues before then because nothing trades for nearly as much as Berkshire’s Class A shares.
Berkshire did not respond to a request for comment.
Although Buffett has repeatedly declined to split Berkshire’s Class A shares, the company has introduced a more affordable Class B share that changes hands at just $289.
Companies often split their share prices to make them more accessible to retail investors. There is arguably less of a need to do that today though because many online brokerages now allow investors to buy fractions of a share.