James Moore: Facebook fiasco leaves UBS with uphill struggle

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Outlook You know how it is. You're on the telephone, or online, trying to order something and it all goes kaput because someone's system doesn't work properly.

You might get double-charged, you might end up buying three or four times the quantity you wanted, you might lose out completely, whether on tickets to something cultural or to a sporting event, perhaps even to the Olympics.

Now don't laugh too hard, but this has happened to a bank.

Poor old UBS. As if it didn't have enough problems, what with the investigation into Libor fixing (it's actively helping the watchdogs with their inquiries) and everything else.

At first it must have seemed that getting involved in the Facebook IPO was a coup. But the problem is that what was once the year's red-hot flotation is now about as attractive as a cup of cold sick. The contents of that cup have been spilled over quite a lot of people.

In the case of UBS, it was Nasdaq's systems that went wrong. This meant that several market-makers – because the Swiss bank isn't the only one to have lost money – were unable to confirm orders they had placed for shares in the social network, which everyone wanted a piece of until they all realised that the valuation placed on the shares was ridiculous, at its flotation. So UBS placed lots and lots of duplicate orders because clients just had to have those shares.

Unfortunately, all the orders went through. And this meant UBS and co were left with enough shares to satisfy their clients several times over. That might have been ok if the shares had done well but, as we all know, they didn't. The UBS investment bank lost Sfr349m (£227m) as a result of holding lots of unwanted Facebook shares, pushing it into the red for the second quarter of the year.

When companies muck things up, it is often very hard to get your money back. You have to spend weeks, sometimes months, writing a string of increasingly furious emails and letters in a sometimes futile attempt to sort out the mess.

It might take UBS even longer. Its only recourse is to sue Nasdaq, which will no doubt fight quite hard in a US legal system not renowned for being terribly sympathetic to foreign companies that take on those serving mom's apple pie in the boardroom. It is also a bank, and they don't tend to generate much in the way of sympathy these days.

UBS may just have to settle for un-friending Nasdaq from its Facebook account and telling the world how cross it is on its status update.