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."
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.
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.”
"We have repeatedly noted that it is dangerous to short stocks that have disconnected from traditional valuation methods. After all, twice a silly price is not twice as silly; it’s still just silly. This understanding limited our enthusiasm for shorting the handful of momentum stocks that dominated the headlines last year. Now there is a clear consensus that we are witnessing our second tech bubble in 15 years. What is uncertain is how much further the bubble can expand, and what might pop it. In our view the current bubble is an echo of the previous tech bubble, but with fewer large capitalization stocks and much less public enthusiasm."
- David Einhorn
The problem is now readily apparent: without any gates to prevent HFT (ab)users from positioning themselves anywhere they wish in the constructiveness/profitabilty spectrum, it goes without saying that everyone will immediately flock to the most profitable, and hence, least constructive and most predatory, HFT strategies.
I contend that Lewis should have done a lot more to identify the parties involved and tell the full story of latency arbitrage in Sigma X.
In the aftermath of Michael Lewis' book "Flash Boys" there has been a renewed surge in interest in High Frequency Trading. Alas, much of it is conflicted, biased, overly technical or simply wrong. And since we can't assume that all those interested have been followed our 5 year of coverage of a topic that finally has earned its day in the public spotlight, below is a simple summary for everyone.
High Frequency Trading (HFT) covers such a broad swathe of 'trading' and financial markets that Mark Cuban (yes, that Mark Cuban), who has been among the leading anti-HFT graft voices in the public realm, decided to put finger-to-keyboard to create an "idiots guide to HFT" as a starting point for broad discussion. With screens full of desperate "stocks aren't rigged" HFT defenders seemingly most confused about what HFT is and does, perhaps instead of 'idiots' a better term would be "practitioners."
The market value of a stock quote continues to plummet. As Nanex shows so graphically below, it's taking more quotes to get the same amount of trading done in today's stock market, meaning that everyone has to process more information than ever before, yet actual trading continues to stagnate... not just taking money out of the pockets of investors, but actually destroying wealth (not merely redistributing it).
We'll give you a hint, says Nanex: fantaseconds. Fantaseconds, everywhere. This is how High Frequency Trading (HFT) practically minted money during the financial crisis. With no regulators in sight, HFT robbed investors and other traders blind. With very little effort, Nanex has created numerous charts to illustrate the absurdity that markets functioned well during the financial meltdown. Many of the short term oscillations shown in these charts were created by HFT algos to induce a lag and create latency arbitrage opportunities. And yet the regulators could not spot a single one. Even after spending millions on MIDAS.
One of the New Normal responses to allegations, first started here in 2009 and subsequently everywhere, that all HFT does is to frontrun traditional market players (among many other evils) now that its conventional and flawed defense that it "provides liquidity" lies dead and buried, is that "everyone does it" so you must acquit because how can you possibly prosecute a technology that accounts for over 60% of all market volume and where if you throw one person in jail you would throw everyone in jail. Today we learn that this indeed may be the case, and not only at the traditional locus of HFT frontrunning such as conventional exchanges for stocks such as the NYSE or even dark pools, but at the heart of the biggest futures exchange in the US, the CME where as the WSJ's Scott Patterson explains frontrunning by HFT algos is not only a way of life, but is perfectly accepted and even smiled upon.
Back in 2009 Zero Hedge was first the only, and shortly thereafter, one of very few non-conformist voices objecting to pervasive high frequency trading and other type of quantitative market manipulation in the form of Flash Trading (which has recently reemerged in yet another form of frontrunning known as "Hide not Slide" practices) quote stuffing, and naturally latency arbitrage: one of the most subversive means to rob the less than sophisticated investor blind, due to an illegal coordination between market markers, exchanges and regulators, which effectively encouraged a two-tier market (one for the ultra fast frontrunning professionals, and one for everyone else). A week ago we were amused to see that the SEC charged the NYSE with a wristslap, one for $5 million dollars and where the NYSE naturally neither admitted nor denied guilt, accusing it of doing precisely what we said it, and all others, had been doing for years: namely getting paid by wealthy traders, those using the prop data feed OpenBook Ultra and other paid systems, to create and perpetuate a two-tiered market, all the while the regulator, i.e., the SEC was paid to look the other way. This action was nothing but a desperate, and futile, attempt to regain some investor confidence in the market. It has failed, and since said "enforcement" action has done nothing to restore confidence, expect to see more exchanges slapped with fines for actively perpetuating latency arbitrage opportunities for "some" clients. Well, since the SEC will be desperate to come up with more means of "restoring credibility" of both the market and its regulator, another exchange it may want to look at is the NASDAQ, which as Nanex demonstrates, may well have been engaging in comparable (most likely not pro-bono) latency arbitrage benefiting some: those paying for its direct feed aka TotalView, and thus not harming others, or those relying on the Consolidated Feed (UQDF) for data dissemination.
"Do It Yourself" Latency Arbitrage: How HFTs Can Manipulate The NBBO At Whim Courtesy Of NYSE Empty Quote GlutsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 08/23/2010 09:29 -0400
Another day, another stunner from the statistical wizards at Nanex. As readers will recall, in our latest piece we discussed the implications of the temporal arbing of the NBBO between the Consolidated Quote System and proprietary pricing tapes, like NYSE's OpenBook, which indicated a major discrepancy in the pricing data in widely held stocks like GE. In summary, at its peak, at 14:45:55 on May 6, the latency between the CQS and OpenBook pricing hit a high of 24 seconds, making a mockery of the NBBO as all those who had premium access to OpenBook were all too aware that 99% of the investing public were seeing pricing data almost half a minute stale, and could trade accordingly on secondary "dark" venues. At the time we were disgusted with the implications this phenomenon had on the NBBO, as this was nothing less than a full-blown NBBO arbitrage opportunity for the haves vs the have nots. Yet today Nanex takes this observation, and our collective blood pressure, to a whole new level, by not only confirming that there is in fact a trigger threshold in terms of quote saturation which immediately causes a latency arbitrage between the CQS and OpenBook, but closes the circle on the ongoing constant presentation of mysterious "crop circle" quote stuffing data. In essence, what Nanex' data implies is that HFTs can create latency arbitrage on demand between the NYSE pricing data dissemination to the CQS, but not to NYSE's own proprietary product, OpenBook, by pushing the consolidated NYSE quote rate beyond a magic number of 20,000/second. This immediately begs the question: just how much of the NYT's as defined "conspiracy theory" for an "on demand" Flash Crash is theory and how much is fact, if the cause and effect of the May 6 events have been inverted, and the NYSE's Liquidity Replenishment Points failed only as a result of HFT quote bombardment.
A new white paper out of Themis Trading analyses the impact of predatory algos comprising various HFT strategies. In Themis' view: predatory HFT generates $1.5-$3 billion in profit. Themis concludes with the following three market integrity questions:
1. Instead of belittling the impact of latency arbitrage, and representing it as a gloriously naive $0.01-$0.02, does the regulators' thinking change if that impact is as high as $3 billion a year?
2. In a quid-pro-quo worlds, are market centers merely charging HFTs a higher fee in exchange for an advance look at the NBBO? Market centers should be protecting all participants equally.
3. The most critical question: "When a market center provides an HFT the ability to out-maneuver institutional orders, is not the exchange putting institutions and their brokers in breach of their fiduciary responsibilities, especially those institutions managing pension funds governed by ERISA?"