Having been the first to warn the world about the perils of high frequency trading nearly 5 years ago, when momentum ignition, layering and quote stuffing were still incomprehensible buzzwords to all but a select few algo traders from Citadel, GETCO and DE Shaw, and warning about such top-down systemic lock ups like flash-crash over a year in advance; as well as the bottom-up impacts of 20 year old math PhDs being in charge of market topology, our crusade from the micro has since shifted to the macro and the primary nemesis of all that is free and fair, the Federal Reserve. In the intervening years, traders such as Haim Bodek opened the HFT kimono even more publicly a few years ago. The following is a must-watch documentary for every investor and trader to comprehend just what it is (and who it is) that drives stock prices day in and day out.
“I’ll show you how it works.”
The rep told Bodek about the kind of orders he should use - orders that wouldn’t get abused like the plain vanilla limit orders; orders that seemed to Bodek specifically designed to abuse the limit orders by exploiting complex loopholes in the market’s plumbing. The orders Bodek had been using were child’s play, simple declarative sentences sent to exchanges such as “Buy up to $20.” These new order types were compound sentences, with multiple clauses, virtually Faulknerian in their rambling complexity.
The end result, however, was simple: Everyday investors and even sophisticated firms like Trading Machines were buying stocks for a slightly higher price than they should, and selling for a slightly lower price and paying billions in “take” fees along the way.
Bodek felt sick to his stomach. “How can you do that?” he said.
The rep laughed. “If we changed things, the high-frequency traders wouldn’t send us their orders,” he said.
The game had changed. Bodek became increasingly convinced that the stock market—the United States stock market—was rigged. Exchanges appeared to be providing mechanisms to favored clients that allowed them to circumvent Reg NMS rules in ways that abused regular investors. It was complicated, a fact that helped hide the abuses, just as giant banks used complex mortgage trades to bilk clients out of billions, in the process triggering a global financial panic in 2008. Bodek wasn’t sure if it was an outright conspiracy or simply an ecosystem that had evolved to protect a single type of organism that had become critical to the survival of the pools themselves.
Whatever it was, he thought, it was wrong.
The Wall Street Code