What Was the Short Sale Rule?

What Was the Short Sale Rule?


From 1938 to 2007, there was a significant trading regulation that restricted short selling of stocks during times of declining market activity. During this period, traders were barred from engaging in short-selling activities when the value of a stock's shares declined.

A pivotal shift occurred in 2007 when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opted to rescind this restriction. Consequently, short selling gained the flexibility to be executed irrespective of the direction of price fluctuations.

Further reform emerged in 2010, as the SEC introduced the alternative uptick rule. Under this revised guideline, short selling is prohibited when a stock's value has experienced a 10% or more plummet. This addition to the regulatory framework aimed to enhance market stability and investor confidence.

What Was the Short-Sale Rule?

Under the guidelines of the short-sale regulation, shorts were constrained to be executed at a value surpassing the latest trade, signifying an increase in the share's price. The law, widely recognized as the uptick rule or "plus tick rule," imposed notable limitations on short trading, disallowing it during a falling share price.

In 1934, the Securities Exchange Act granted the Securities and Exchange Commission the authority to oversee the short selling of securities. In 1938, the commission implemented stringent constraints on short-selling in a declining market. Nevertheless, the year 2007 marked the SEC's decision to nullify this rule, thus enabling short sales under specific conditions to be conducted regardless of price movements, whether upwards or downwards.

Nonetheless, the year 2010 witnessed the introduction of the alternative uptick rule by the SEC. This mechanism is triggered when the price of security experiences a decrease of 10% or more from the previous day's closing value. During its activation, short selling is sanctioned exclusively if the price surpasses the prevailing best bid. The scope of application for the alternative uptick rule encompasses a wide array of securities. It remains applicable for the remainder of the trading day as well as the subsequent trading session.

Evolution of Short-Sale Regulation: Responding to Market Dynamics

The Origins

Amidst the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Securities and Exchange Commission introduced the short-sale rule as a countermeasure against a prevalent practice wherein shareholders combined resources to execute short sales, exploiting potential panic-selling reactions, among others. This strategic maneuver aimed to benefit from reduced security prices while contributing to a temporary decline in share value, consequently diminishing the assets of previous stakeholders.

Reevaluation and Modernization

In the early 2000s, following the transition from fractions to decimalization in major stock exchanges, the SEC contemplated eliminating the short-sale rule. With the diminishing scale of tick changes and increased stability in U.S. stock markets, the necessity for this regulation appeared to wane.

Testing the Waters

Between 2003 and 2004, the SEC undertook a pilot initiative, subjecting stocks to a trial period without the short-sale rule. Upon reviewing the outcomes in 2007, the SEC affirmed that removing constraints on short selling exhibited no detrimental repercussions on market quality or liquidity. This evaluation marked a pivotal point in reshaping short-sale regulations.

Debate Over Termination of Short-Sale Restriction

The decision to revoke the short-sale regulation triggered substantial examination and disagreement, especially due to its proximity to the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis. In response, the Securities and Exchange Commission initiated a process of public input and evaluation, considering the potential revival of the short-sale rule. Furthermore, as previously indicated, the SEC introduced the alternative uptick rule in 2010, limiting short selling during downticks of 10% or higher.


Short-sale regulation evolved from restricting declines in 1938 to flexible practices in 2007, responding to market changes. The SEC's alternative uptick rule, enacted in 2010, enhances stability by curbing 10% drops in security value. The rule's termination amid the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis sparked debates on market efficiency versus protection. The alternative uptick rule offers a balanced response to downward price pressures, adapting to modern market needs. This ongoing interplay of history, regulation, and markets shapes the financial ecosystem.

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