Shortly after we reported the latest market-rigging scandal, in which ITG was busted for frontrunning sellside clients in its dark pool in what has been since dubbed a "trading experiment" (because it sounds better than criminal conspiracy to defraud clients), and which will cost the company a record for a private Wall Street firm $22 million settlement, we had one question for AQR's Cliff Asness yesterday morning: "Hi @Cimmerian999, is Hitesh Mittal the AQR employee who was formerly at ITG and is part of the SEC settlement?" We got no answer from the AQR head, but luckily Bloomberg noticed, and as it turns out the answer to our question was a resounding yes.
Since the market is once again on the verge of a terminal liquidity seizure with its associated side-effects (see China for details), the authorities needed to remind the "market" just who the scapegoat will be when the next crash finally does come. Which is why earlier today in an unexpected "preliminary second quarter guidance" release, ITG, owner of the Posit dark pool, was just busted with a $22.6 million potential SEC settlement for what appears to have been blatant frontrunning of company clients in its own prop trading pod. But what is particularly amusing in this case is that while everyone knows that when it comes to HFT's, it is never called "rigging" - the proper nomenclature is "glitch", so now we learn a new term to use instead of "criminal frontrunning" - drumroll... trading experiment,
And just like that, Goldman wins again.
"Central bank distortions have forced investors into positions they would not have held otherwise, and forced them to be the ‘same way round’ to a much greater extent than previously... unless fundamentals move so as to justify current valuations, when central banks move towards the exit, investors will too.... The way out may not prove so easy; indeed, we are not sure there is any way out at all."
You know the world has gone mad when one of the world's largest pension funds, mired in its need for the maintenance of the status quo, begins to sound like 'digital dickweeds in their parents' basements'. Norway's massive $890 billion wealth fund has stepped out of the shadows to slam global central bankers for affecting "pricing in today’s market to such an extent that monetary policy itself has been a risk you have to watch;" and market structure, criticizing the proliferation of dark pools, "there’s a rent extraction from all these intermediaries... we’re in favor of trying to reduce the number of block-crossing venues," Schanke said, "one would probably be perfect."
As noted earlier, with equities now a barren wasteland of volume (and liquidity), the last remaining HFT master (of whale order frontrunning) has been forced to go to those asset classes where organic flow is still abundant such as FX, courtesy of central banks engaged in global currency wars. However, HFTs realize it is only a matter of time before FX order flow also dries up as central banks take their trade away from public venues (and dark pools) and as such are always looking for new, untapped markets. One place where they are about to land according to the WSJ, with hilarious consequences sure to follow, will be the one place that HFTs should have felt at home from the very beginning: bitcoin.
As HFT shops begin to turn on each other, it seems appropriate to reflect on the impact that Michael Lewis' Flash Boys book had on exposing the ugly truth that many have been discussing for years in US (and international) equity (and non-equity) markets. As Lewis concludes, after explaining the attacks he has suffered from the HFT industry, "If I didn't do more to distinguish 'good' H.F.T. from 'bad' H.F.T., it was because I saw, early on, that there was no practical way for me or anyone else... to do it. ... The big banks and the exchanges [have] been paid to compromise investors’ interests while pretending to guard those interests. I was surprised more people weren’t angry with them."
"The current market ecosystem is not sustainable, and significant changes are coming one way or another... conflicts of interest among brokers, a two-tier system favoring the speediest and a general sense that today’s rules have been crafted to the benefit of insiders."
Remember the "great rotation"? Neither do we, because the bank that year after year coined the term to prepare investors for a renormalization of the economy as bond yields rise alongside stocks (something that happens in any normal, non-centrally planned banana world), that would be Bank of America for anyone confused, just reported that in the latest week, EPFR data showed inflows to all fixed income funds of $16.04 billion – the highest on record going back to at least 2008. On the "other side of the spectrum were stocks that had $5.52bn of outflows, down from a $1.62bn inflow in the prior week." And just like that, it's a bond-pickers' market, even as central banks trade with each other in various dark pools to keep global equities, and thus confidence, stable even as the capital tsuniami screams deflation for years to come.
for years the big money managers stoically took it on the chin, and whether out of lazyness or some other unexplained motive, allowed their orders to continue being HFT-frontrun on public exchanges and 3rd party dark pools year after year, making VWAP and TWAP orders a cost center, boosting the case that HFTs aren't really bad for stocks. Until now. According to the WSJ, some of America's largest mutual funds and asset managers led by Fidelity Investments "are close to launching a private trading venue designed to let them buy and sell large blocks of stock without the involvement of Wall Street firms and high-speed traders, according to people familiar with the matter." The new venture is the who's who of traditional asset management and includes nine firms, including BlackRock Inc., Bank of New York Mellon Corp. , J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and T. Rowe Price Group Inc., who are saying goodbye to "lit" markets, i.e. public exchanges, "and forming a company that will operate a their own "dark pool”...
- Earnings Pessimism Jumps as Oil Threatens S&P 500 Growth (BBG)
- It’s Amateur Hour in the Booming Chinese Stock Market (BBG)
- France mobilizes 10,000 troops at home after Paris shootings (Reuters)
- European Stocks Gain With S&P 500 Futures While Oil Drops (BBG)
- Nasdaq Looks to Operate Dark Pools for Banks (WSJ)
- This Guy Called Bonds in ’14. You Listening This Time? (BBG)
- Paris attacks boost support for Dutch anti-Islam populist Wilders (Reuters)
- OPEC price war in Asia intensifies as oil falls below $50 (Reuters)
Is the world's biggest hedge fund going all-in on HFT and Dark Pools? We ask because Ray Dalio's Westport, CT-based Bridgewater, which at last check manages around $160 billion between its Pure Alpha and All Weather fund products, and which according to preliminary data had a solid performance in 2014, has just hired Jose Marques, the former global head of the quant and algo-heavy electronic trading at Deutsche Bank, to become Bridgewater's new head of trading.
That markets are rigged, at both the macro level, through central banks, and micro, through HFTs, dark pools and purposeful market fragmentation, should be painfully obvious to everyone by now. But when even the regulators engage in "jury rigging", or in this case blocking prominent HFT-critic Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist (a prize which doesn't count for much on these pages but should - at least on paper - impress such statist cronies as the SEC), has been blocked from a government panel that will advise regulators on issues facing U.S. equity markets, it becomes clear as day that the rigging is not just in the markets: worse, it is openly involves the market's "regulator" and "enforcer."