Snapshot of an Apple flash crash

February 10, 2011, 7:50 PM UTC

What triggered the sell-off that knocked $10 billion off the company’s market cap?

Click to enlarge. Source: Andy Zaky

Something happened to Apple’s (AAPL) share price Thursday afternoon that has investors still scratching their heads.

The stock, which had been sailing along near its all-time high of $360 a share, started to drop at about 1 p.m. Then, at 1:39, it collapsed, falling from $355 to $349 in the space of four minutes.

In all, $10 billion got shaved off Apple’s market capitalization before the stock began to recover.

Except for the surprisingly short iPhone lines at Verizon stores Thursday, there didn’t seem to be any news behind the sell off.

“The selling is not normal just for negative news,” wrote Bullish Cross‘ Andy Zaky in an e-mail. “There was a huge spike where dollars were being skipped in the selling. I saw Apple tick from $351.70 to $349.00 within seconds.  There’s something else.  The selling was not normal.  That’s for sure.  It wasn’t orderly. Take a look for yourself.”

The chart, Zaky suggests, bears a strikingly resemblance to the flash crash of May 6, 2010. But that event shook the entire market. This one belonged to Apple.

UPDATE: Stock Tic Toc is attributing the flash crash to rumors that Steve Jobs is back in the hospital. Funny, he was reportedly sighted on the Apple campus last week with a big smile and a spring in his step. And just yesterday, two different people tweeted that he was eating lunch near them at an Indian restaurant in Mountain View. See here and here.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]