The Securities and Exchange Commission has approved the request of four U.S. stock exchanges to extend the pilot program for market-wide circuit breakers launched after the May 6th Flash Crash to April 11.

The exchange operators are NYSE Euronext, Nasdaq OMX Group, Direct Edge and BATS Global Markets. The pilot was set to end on December 10.

In its filing for a rule change on December 7,  NYSE Euronext asked for the extension to “allow the pilot to continue to operate without interruption while the exchange, other national securities exchanges and the commission further assess the effect of the pilot on the marketplace or whether other initiatives should be adopted in lieu of the current pilot.'' 

The program, which currently covers 1,000 stocks and 344 exchange-traded funds, requires that trading on a single stock be halted for five minutes in the event of it falling or rising 10 percent or more in the previous five-minute period.

The market-wide circuit breakers began in June across all trading venues for S&P 500 stocks but were extended in September to incorporate constituents of the Russell 1000 index and exchange-traded funds.

The circuit breakers were installed to prevent another market disruption like the May 6 Flash Crash, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 600 points in five minutes.

The SEC is under pressure to find ways to bolster market integrity after the Flash Crash, where the Dow fell 1,000 points, all told, inside one trading session.

The SEC is also considering measures known as “limit up/limit down” procedures, which prevent trades taking place outside specified price parameters, but allow trading to continue within those parameters.

Such a scenario is similar to what is used to reduce price volatility in the commodities futures markets. SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has said that the restriction could “prevent anomalous trades from ever occurring, as well as limiting the disruptive effects of those that do occur.”

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