From 1998 to 2013, Barclays and Deutsche Bank sold 199 basket options to hedge funds which used them to conduct more than $100 billion in trades. The subcommittee focused on options involving two of the largest basket option users, Renaissance Technology Corp. LLC (“RenTec”) and George Weiss Associates. The hedge funds often exercised the options shortly after the one-year mark and claimed the trading profits were eligible for the lower income tax rate that applies to long-term capital gains on assets held for at least a year. RenTec claimed it could treat the trading profits as long term gains, even though it executed an average of 26 to 39 million trades per year and held many positions for mere seconds. Data provided by the participants indicates that basket options produced about $34 billion in trading profits for RenTec alone, and more than $1 billion in financing and trading fees for the two banks.
Despite a full court press of PR to confirm HFT firms are friends of retail investors and do no wrong; the SEC, it appears, sees it differently. While Mary White has confidently explained the market is not rigged, her agency is now actively seeking tips, complaints, or referrals that show, as The Chicago Tribune reports, evidence of abuse of order types, as well as traditional forms of abusive trading like "layering" or "spoofing" and other issues relating to high-frequency trading that might be violations of the law. Here are the 10 firms (including poster child holy-grail trader Virtu Financial) that the SEC is probing... can you spot the oddly missing one...
Now that the World Cup is over, and following last week's global macro reporting slumber (aside for the Portuguese risk flaring episode of course), things pick up quite a bit in the coming week. Here are the key events.
It is no secret that unlike other banks who, while directly intervening in the bond market only manipulate equity prices in relative secrecy (usually via HFT-transacting intermediaries such as Citadel), the Bank of Japan has historically had no problem with buying equities outright, traditionally in the form of REITs and equity-tracking ETFs. Which explains why overnight it was revealed that in order to boost the stock market, pardon, economy, the Bank of Japan is preparing to purchase exchange-traded funds based on the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 as an "option to boost the impact of unprecedented easing," according to people familiar with BOJ discussions.
VIX was monkey-hammered lower once again today, lifting stocks vertically to Russell 2000 record highs and The Dow within a point of 17,000. The question is who (or what) is doing it. Nanex seems to have found out who... It appears the un-visible hand of VIX manipulation (that we have shown previously) has been forced into the open public markets as Barclays goes dark. Simply put, massive bursts of 1-lot TVIX orders flood and delay the markets enabling HFTs to manipulate the tail that inevitably wags the market (via VXX, SPX options hedges and leverage) and now that the dark pools are disappearing, we see it all in real-time.
Following yesterday's revelations that Barclays was raping its clients, maliciously misrepresenting and lying to them on a daily basis, who could have possibly foreseen the following development:
- BARCLAYS SAID TO LOSE DARK POOL TRADING CUSTOMERS AFTER SUIT
- BARCLAYS SAID TO BE SHUNNED BY BERNSTEIN, VOYA AFTER SUIT
Furthermore, traders are getting notifications that routing to LX is now down, meaning the dark pool is now merely... dark.
First it was gold, now it is HFT - poor Barclays just can't get away with any market rigging crime these days: "In sum, Barclays’ courting of high frequency traders, and its willingness to falsify the extent of high frequency trading activity in its dark pool, was contrary to Barclays’ representations to clients that Barclays operated with “transparency” and provided a safe venue in which to trade. As described by one former senior Barclays Director: “there was a lot going on in the dark pool that was not in the best interests of clients. The practice of almost ensuring that every counterparty would be a high frequency firm, it seems to me that that wouldn’t be in the best interest of their clients . . . It’s almost like they are building a car and saying it has an airbag and there is no airbag or brakes.”
The NY Fed has been kind enough to just release a pic of the NY Fed's "Open Market Operations" team - i.e., its last line of defense tasked with preserving the American way of life - as it was first seen in the heat of World War II, some time in 1944. Because when one thinks of the veterans, one must not forget the men and women who quietly held it all together by BTFD.
As of this moment, US equity futures are perfectly unchanged despite what has been an almost comical reactivation of the 102.000 USDJPY tractor beam. Considering the pair has been trading within a 75 pips of the 102.000 level for the past month, one has to wonder when and what the next BOJ Yen equilibrium level will be reset to. Oddly enough, even as the USDJPY is very much unchanged, the Nikkei continues to rise suggesting that, as Nikkei reported, the GPIF is already investing Japanese pension funds in stocks. Which is great for the Nikkei catching up with the global bond bubble, what is not so great is what happens when the market realizes that the largest holder (excluding the BOJ) of JGBs is dumping, and the world's most illiquid major sovereign bond market rushes for the exits. Just recall the daily halts of Japanese bond trading from the summer of 2013 - we give it 3-6 months before it returns with a vengeance.
Now, for the first time, we have empirical proof that hedge funds are indeed on the verge of extinction. In its hedge fund quarterly note (which it clearly ripped off from Goldman), Bank of America has concluded what we said in the beginning of the decade: "Hedge Funds are less attractive post the financial crisis with lower alpha and less diversification benefits." Or, in other words, hedge funds (for the most part: this excludes those extortionists also known as activists who successfully bully management teams into levering up in order to buyback record amounts of stock, in the process burying their companies and employers when the next downturn arrives) no longer provide a service commensurate to their astronomical fees.
Another conspiracy "theory" becomes conspiracy "fact" as The FT reports "a cluster of central banking investors has become major players on world equity markets." The report, to be published this week by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF), confirms $29.1tn in market investments, held by 400 public sector institutions in 162 countries, which "could potentially contribute to overheated asset prices." China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange has become “the world’s largest public sector holder of equities”, according to officials, and we suspect the Fed is close behind (courtesy of more levered positions at Citadel), as the world's banks try to diversify themselves and "counters the monopoly power of the dollar." Which leaves us wondering where are the central bank 13Fs?
K-Hen murdered the VIX
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) June 6, 2014
If, in the New Normal, newsflow and facts mattered, facts such as the German Zew Investor Expectations index crashing from 43.2 to 33.1, smashing expectations of a 40.0 print to the downside and down to the lowest since January 2013 nearly half the 7 year half reported as recently as December confirming Germany can no longer be Europe's growth dynamo courtesy of a still nosebleed high EURUSD, or facts such as overnight Chinese data missed in every category with industrial output up 8.7% y/y in April vs an estimated 8.9%, retail sales up 11.9% below the estimated 12.2% rise and ; Jan.-April fixed-asset investment growing 17.3% vs est. 17.7%, then futures may just posted a downtick. However, since it is a Tuesday, with a ~$1 billion POMO, one can ignore the fundamentals and proceed straight to buying anything and everything with indiscriminate abandon. The only question is whether the NY Fed orders Citadel to slam the VIX under 11 to start off the morning S&P rampage which should push the broad market index above Goldman's 1900 price target for the end of the 2014.
So much for the Lehman effect: five years after Barclays acquired Lehman's only valuable asset - its North American brokerage personnel - in a liquidation firesale, the benefits have all but disappeared (confirmed further by the most recent departure of such prominent ex-Lehmanites as Paul Parker, Larry Wiesenck and of course, Skip McGee). Case in point: today's announced earnings, in which we found that Lehman's pre-tax profits slid 5% to £1.69 billion. However, looking at the bottom line, which reflected benefits from cost cuts and loan loss reserve releases, not to mention an "accounting gain on Barclays debt" would surely miss the big picture, which was that the bank's Investment Banking revenue was down 28% £2.49 billion. However the punchline was that core driver of New Normal bank revenues: FICC, which was slaughtered by an unprecedented 41% to to £1.23 billion, coming far worse than even the most dire analyst estimates.
Citadel's head of Execution Services (cough HFT cough) Jamil Nazarali, proclaimed Monday that small investors have never been so fortunate and said, with regard to Michael Lewis' now infamous book Flash Boys, "The most important thing that the market can do is stop... pointing fingers at everyone else." Citadel, who allegedly provides the NY Fed's VIX trading capabilities, are among the very largest high-frequency traders in the market (and the most levered), so one would surely expect that Citadel would like us all to stop pointing fingers at them. As Bloomberg reports, Nazarali said yesterday during a panel discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, "things are much better today than they were 10 to 15 years ago." For him, yeah.