Back on March 21, before the release of Michael Lewis' Flash Boys and before the infamous 60 Minutes interview, when Goldman COO Gary Cohn wrote his infamous WSJ Op-ed bashing HFT, it was clear that something was afoot. That something became promptly clear when it was revealed that Goldman is among the core backers of the pseudo dark-pool IEX exchange popularized as the protagonist in Flash Boys, and juxtaposed to the frontrunning, and faceless, HFT antagonist that Lewis maanged to demonize so well in the span of a few hundred pages, he promptly provoked a renewed investigation by the FBI, the SEC and DOJ into HFT.
A few days later, the shocker became a double whammy when Goldman announced that in addition to turning its back on HFT which had served it so well for years, the firm would also say goodbye to the NYSE and its designated market maker post, the last remaining legacy of its $6.5 billion Spear Ledds & Kellogg acquisition from 2000. That Goldman was asking mere pennies on the dollar for the residual assets also showed just how "highly" Goldman valued said legacy operation.
This is what we said at the time of the announcement:
... What is unexpected, is the complete transformation Goldman has undergone in in the past several weeks: first Goldman, the bank that everyone else on Wall Street always imitates, waving goodbye to HFT, and now departing the NYSE?
When the world's most intelligent FDIC-backed hedge fund, pardon, bank says the current market structure is no longer necessary to Goldman, people notice, and promptly imitate.
To be sure - if this is not indicative of a major storm coming for traditional "lit" market structure (as opposed to dark pools of which IEX, until recently, was one and where Goldman has nearly complete dominance with Sigma X), we don't know what is.
Moments ago we got the third and final "shocker" in this series of stunning disclosures by Goldman, this time involving Goldman's own "unlit" venue - one involving its own Dark Pool - the infamous, and market dominant Sigma X, which according to the WSJ, is about to be shut down!
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is considering shutting down one of the world's largest private stock-trading venues, according to people familiar with the matter.
In conversations with market participants over the past several months, Goldman executives have broached the subject of closing its so-called dark pool trading operation, known as Sigma X, the people familiar with the matter said.
Goldman executives are weighing whether the revenue the firm generates from operating Sigma X is worth the risks that have been highlighted by a series of trading glitches and growing criticism of dark pools, the people said.
No decision is imminent, and Goldman could keep the business, according to people familiar with the discussions.
That this is a momentous development, if true, needs no explanation. Because while Sigma X may or may not be the top dark pool in the industry - a claim that Credit Suisse can possibly make alongside Goldman- Sigma X, which we have written about extensively over the past five years, certainly provides Goldman with not only extensive daily revenue but also gives the firm an inside look into what happens in the institutional marketplace, since the bulk of hedge funds and most mutual funds transact almost exclusively on dark pools now in an attempt to avoid precisely the parasitic HFT algos that have been the topic of so much discussion in recent days.
And if Goldman is willing to exit not only HFT, not only legacy lit markets entirely, but also its dark pool, then something truly big and transformational is coming to not only the existing market structure, but something that will be so disruptive, that for once we can't wait to find out just what Goldman has up its sleeves, sleeves which also happen to house the key lawmakers in the Beltway.
Why is Goldman doing this now? We don't know. It is worth noting however that on page 234 of Flash Boys, Michael Lewis cites Ron Morgan and Brian Levine, Goldman Partners and co-heads of Goldman's global stock markets, who said that "Unless there are some changes, there's going to be a massive crash, a flash crash times ten."
Goldman exiting virtually all venues except the upstart IEX is certainly a major change.
Another thing that is certain: take a long, hard look at the market as you know it today, because in less than a year it will be history.