As regular readers are well aware, when it comes to "more than arms length" equity market intervention in New Normal markets, the New York Fed's preferred "intermediary" of choice to, how should one say, boost investor sentiment aka "protect from a plunge", is none other than Chicago HFT powerhouse, Citadel. Yet one question had remained unanswered: just how does Citadel manipulated stocks? We now know the answer, and perhaps more importantly, it also links in to the true culprit behind the May 2010 Flash Crash, no not Waddell & Reed, but quote stuffing. Most importantly, the revelation that for Citadel quote stuffing is not just some byproduct of some "innocuous" HFT strategy, is that none other than the Nasdaq has now stated on the record, that the most leveraged hedge fund (at 9x regulatory to net assets), and the third largest after Bridgewater and Millennium, used quote stuffing as a "trading strategy."
The stories make you want to take all of your money out of the stock market and put it in your mattress!
Among this week's most notable moves was the decompression of high-yield credit spreads to near 9 month wides (and continued outflows). What went notably-under-reported by the mainstream media, however, was an even bigger selloff in US mortgage bonds. While JPMorgan is unable to see "any fundamental reason" for the plunge in prices, the worrying indication from the magnitude of the drop relative to volumes is that liquidity has evaporated. As Bloomberg notes, with dealer inventories sold down (due to new regulations that make repo and agency securities unpalatable), they have no way to 'smooth' the selling when investors want to exit positions. Weakness of this magnitude when the 10Y gained only 2bps on the week is a big wake-up call that traders are looking for the exits from housing debt and the door is very narrow.
Let's take a look at the amount of settlements/fines from various banks and financial institutions around the world since the crisis.
A week ago, when we commented on the latest publicly available data for Barclays' fraud-embroiled LX dark pool, whose volume as we reported had tumbled 37% in the week of the lawsuit announcement, we said that the downward volume trend "is about to get a whole lot worse for Barclays as the trickle becomes an avalanche." Sure enough, following today's reported by Finra's ATS database for the week of June 30, we find just that, and one can largely say lights out to Barclays LX operation, whose total shares traded plummeted from 197 million (and 312 million the week before) to a paltry 66.4 million, a two-week drop of 79% from its recent highs, putting it, in 12th total dark pool volume place, below ITG and above BIDS trading. So much for any ambitions of becoming America's top dark pool. Last on the other hand...
Barclays almost succeeded in its quest of becoming the top US dark pool at any cost, even criminal: in the week ending June 16 Barclays was second only to Credit Suisse' Crossfinder ATS with 312.1 million total shares traded on some 1.6 million in total trades. Unfortunately for Barclays it should put its ambitions on permanent halt, because as was revealed today by FINRA's new "ATS Transparency" database, Barclays total dark pool volume has plunged by a whopping 37% to under 200 million shares.
Be careful what you wish for. As the Fed imbibes a sense of confidence in its ability to manage any bumps in the road on its perpetual bubble-blowing mission through the use of macro-prudential policies (big words that truly mean nothing) as stock valuations surge and the repo market is experiencing severe problems; it can always point to VIX as an indicator that all is well in the world and no real risk exists. The problem is - the world is beginning to wake up to the 'odd' micro-structure of the US equity markets and how 'dark pools' are beginning to dominate trading volume. As Barclays faces major legal problems over its alleged dark pool lies, lies, and more lies, the Fed must be growing concerned... as the following chart shows JPMorgan indicates there is evidence of an inverse relationship between equity volatility and the share of off-exchange trading.
In case there is still any confusion on whose behalf the US regulators work when they "fine" banks, the latest announcement from Finra should make it all clear. Recall the spectacle full of pomp and circumstance surrounding NY AG Scheinderman's demolition of Barclays after it was announced that the bank had lied to its customers to drive more traffic to Barclays LX, its dark pool, and allow HFT algos to frontrun buyside traffic. Yes, it was warranted, and the immediate result was the complete collapse in all buyside Barclays dark pool volume, meaning predatory HFT algos would have to find some other dark pool where to frontrun order flow. Such as Goldman's Sigma X. Which brings us to, well, Goldman's Sigma X, which moments ago, in a far less pompous presentation, was fined - not by the AG, not by the SEC, but by lowly Finra - for "Failing to Prevent Trade-Throughs in its Alternative Trading System." The impact: "In connection with the approximately 395,000 trade-throughs, Goldman Sachs returned $1.67 million to disadvantaged customers." The punchline, or rather, the "fine": $800,000.
- Obama to tout manufacturing gains, highlight economic progress (Reuters)
- Iraq Gunmen Attack North of Baghdad as Obama Weighs Plan (BBG)
- Chinese Regulators Block Shipping Alliance Abandoned Deal (WSJ)
- Russian $8.2 Trillion Oil Trove Locked Without U.S. Tech (BBG)
- Ukrainian forces, rebels clash near Russian border (Reuters)
- M&A talk lifts stocks, Iraq tensions ease slightly (Reuters)
- Wealthy Clintons Use Trusts to Limit Estate Tax They Back (BBG)
- Argentina vows to service debt despite new legal blow (Reuters)
- Allergan's Bitter Pill for Morgan Stanley (WSJ)
- Islamists kill 50 in Kenya, some during World Cup screening (Reuters)
- American Express Revs Up Pursuit of the Masses (WSJ)
While the defenders of HFT continue spouting their usual platitudes (with the latest piece of "anti-hyperbolic" fluff coming from "Mr. Quant" (but don't call him an HFTer) Cliff Asness himself who said overnight that "markets are "rigged" in favor of, not against, retail investors"... so - rigged?) the reality is that while one can debate the ethics of HFT frontrunning orderflow until one is blue in the face (or until Goldman tells the DOJ to slam the hammer on the high freaks once and for all), the biggest adverse impact from HFT continues to be the inherent instability that algo trading creates in the market. For empirical evidence of just this, we once again go to the usual source which everyone ignores until months after the fact is seen as having been right about everything, Nanex, which looks at one particular aspect of market instability, namely Limit Up, Limit Down circuit breakers and finds something very disturbing.
When is marginable collateral not marginable collateral? When it is an ETN, or Exchange Trade Note: the cousin of the Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). The very mutated, and unabashedly evil cousin of the ETF that is. At least such is the view of US brokerage Interactive Brokers " Pursuant to a recent decision by FINRA whereby Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs) will no longer be eligible for Portfolio Margining, these securities, including options having an ETN as an underlying, will be phased out of the program by OCC during the week of May 19, 2014."
It now appears the status quo is moving to destroy any last semblance of privacy with regard to your personal brokerage accounts. Yep, in the name of “stopping fraud” and the practices of unscrupulous brokers, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) wants to launch a program called Cards, or the Comprehensive Automated Risk Data System. This electronic system sounds a lot like the so-called metadata the NSA is collecting on everyone’s internet usage. This “robocop” would collect a weekly “record of activity at all of the more than 4,100 brokerage firms nationwide.” For your own good of course. Oh, and yeah, to stop terrorists or something...
Capture, corruption, irreparable harm--and little hope for change.
[J. Bradley Bennett]...compared high frequency trading to buying a first-class ticket on an airline...“Is there anything unfair about that? Doesn’t sound like it to me.”
“Flash Boys” is a book written for Hollywood instead of the history books or policy makers. Stay tuned for the movie.