Dear Investors, The last few weeks have exposed that our equity markets are not as liquid as we have long claimed mainly due to market fragmentation and the lack of diverse liquidity pools...
One of the fallacies being propagated about yesterday's flash crash, is that somehow HFTs came riding in as noble white knights and rescued the market from a collapse instead of actually causing it. This particular lie is worth a few quick observations and explanations of what really happened.
The following map lays out the embedded, and regulator blessed, latencies between the three big New Jersey exchange centers: Mahwah (NYSE), Secaucus (BATS), and Carteret (Nasdaq) for everyone but the top tier exchange clients, the HFTs, who are greenlighted to frontrun everyone else, and generate quarter after quarter of perfect trading records.
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,
"When an HFT that is not a member of an association executes an off-exchange trade, the HFT’s identity is usually not reported to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA, which is the only association currently in existence. This frustrates FINRA’s surveillance efforts as it cannot quickly link trades to the HFTs responsible for them. This is a serious problem because, according to FINRA’s current Chairman, certain market participants disperse their trading activity across multiple markets in an attempt to hide various forms of market abuse, including layering, spoofing, algorithm gaming, and wash sales."
- SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar.
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."
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."
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."
When obnoxiously wealthy pricks with the ability to bribe stock exchanges to place their trading computers on the floor of the exchange and financially induce the Wall Street banks to funnel trades through their dark pools in order to know what is happening a nanosecond before everyone else, and use this information to front run unknowing investors to generate risk free profits, it’s wrong. It really is black and white. I don’t care that it is supposedly “legal”. By complying with Regulation NMS the smart order routers of institutional investor firms like Vanguard, Fidelity and Schwab simply funneled naïve investors into various snares laid for them by the unscrupulous high frequency traders. The bad guys always win and the good guys always lose on Wall Street. And no one does anything because they are all on the take. Lewis puts it in terms the average person can understand.
“Flash Boys” is a book written for Hollywood instead of the history books or policy makers. Stay tuned for the movie.
The topic of High-Frequency-Trading quickly dissolves into a smorgasbord of mnemonics and 'inside-baseball' technical terms - just complicated enough to lose everyone that matters or should care about its implications. Despite the fair-and-balanced defense from the mainstream media business channels (sponsored by the belief in the status quo fair markets that 'America the free' is known for), the fact is that HFT does front-run (perfectly legal under the umbrella protection of Reg NMS) order flow, but there may be one more wrinkle - one which would cement the Michael Lewis (accurate) allegation that the market is rigged.
Now that both the FBI and the DOJ have woken up from a half-decade slumber realizing there was riggedness, RIGGEDNESS going on in these here stock markets courtesy of Michael Lewis' book, it wasn't long before those most impacted by the frontrunning startegies of HFTs spoke up - anyone who has lost money in the stock market since Reg NMS was conceived. Sure enough, in a lawsuit that was just filed by lead plaintiff William Charles Braman, seeking class-action status, and filed on behalf of all users of real-time futures market data and futures contracts listed on the CBOT and CME from 2007 to now, the CME is allegd to have sold order information to high-frequency traders ahead of other market participants.
Ever since Goldman's anti-HFT Op-Ed less than a month ago, and since the even more recent full-hearted support by Goldman of Michael Lewis' most recent entry into the anti-HFT crusade (one promoting the Goldman-supported IEX exchange), one thing has been clear: the days of market structure in its current format are numbered. This was further confirmed after Goldman exited both its legacy Spear Leeds & Kellogg designated market making post at the NYSE, and is said to be winding down its market-dominating dark pool, Sigma X. Sure enough, Post reports that just three weeks after the Gary Cohn Op-Ed, the SEC is "preparing to remove some high-frequency trading firms."
The Father Of High Speed Trading Speaks: "The Market We Created Is A Casino; A Complete Mess; A Rigged Game"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 04/07/2014 18:42 -0400
"I must confess to you that I was an ardent proponent of bringing technology to trading and brokerage. Unfortunately, I only saw the good sides. I saw how electronic trading and record-keeping could be used to force people to be more honest, to make the process more efficient, to lower transaction costs and to bring liquidity to the markets. I did not see the forces of fragmentation and the opportunity for people to use technology to keep to the letter but avoid the spirit of the rules -- creating the current crisis.... Technology, market structure, and new products have evolved more quickly than our capacity to understand or control them. ... To the public the financial markets may increasingly seem like a casino, except that the casino is more transparent and simpler to understand.... The result has been a series of crises over the past few years that have caused many investors to lose confidence or to think that the whole system is a rigged game."
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.