Nanex White Paper: High Frequency Trading Is Insatiable - Its Hidden Costs

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Nanex

HFT is Insatiable - its Hidden Costs

We have spent the last 24 years working with real-time market data on a tick-by-tick basis. We monitor our commercial datafeed in real-time to stay on top of market changes or issues. This past year, we have spent considerable time and effort studying the relentless growth of equity quotes. Based on our findings, virtually all of the additional quotes contribute zero or negative economic value to stock pricing, because they are either way outside the market or end up expiring before any investor or trader could possibly act on them. Furthermore, we can't find any self-limiting mechanism in place that will ever put a stop to this unnecessary and expensive growth of misinformation. The only thing that prevents a sudden explosion in quote traffic is the capacity limitation set by SIAC which runs the Consolidated Quote System (CQS) for the exchanges.

Every 3 months or so, SIAC increases the capacity limitation for CQS. Shortly after each increase, often the next trading day, quote rates will surge to new record levels and completely fill the new capacity. The chart on the right beautifully captures this phenomenon: it shows the 2 ms peak quote rate for CQS on 30 minute intervals over each trading day since July 2010. Recent dates are colored towards the red end of the spectrum: older dates towards the violet. The gaps between groups of lines chronicle the immediate jump in quote traffic after the capacity limit is raised. The gap between the green and orange groups occurred after the limit was raised on July 5th: traditionally one of the quietest trading sessions of the year. The lone green line near the 600,000 level marks the only time when it took more than a day to hit the new limit. See if you can distinguish between the quiet trading days of July and the tumultuous trading days of August among the orange group.

When CQS capacity fills, new stock quotes are placed in a queue to prevent loss. In a trading environment running at the speed of HFT, most of these quotes will end up expiring before exiting the queue. In effect, when quote traffic is high, most of the additional quotes will be canceled long before a trader or investor receives them. And quote traffic is often highest when reliable information is most important.

Extra capacity is vital for times of market stress from surprise news events or shocks to the system. The lack of capacity during these times will quickly lead to a drop in liquidity as traders pull out from lack of clear pricing information. This was a major cause of the flash crash.

We understand that market makers and HFT need to adjust their quotes to fast changing market conditions. But 10,000 times per second per symbol, or more, in an inactive stock? Every quote has a non-zero cost: millions of computers and miles of network cables must process and transport each one, costing both time and energy. Sending quotes and then canceling them before they ever leave the exchange network is absurd.

We think we found a possible solution to the HFT/non-HFT divide that lets the market itself decide the value of an equity quote. The solution is incredibly simple and has virtually zero impact on the millions of systems already in place. It also requires no cancellation fees or transaction taxes, and it lets trading go as fast as the speed of light.

Stay tuned

The chart below shows 2 ms peak quote rates on 1 minute intervals, illustrating just how often capacity limits are hit.

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Robert-Paulson's picture

You ever analyzed a HFT 1 min interval chart.......on weed?

Divided States of America's picture

Honestly cant someone just develop a virus and wreak havoc in the HFT space? I mean everything that goes on in it is already predatory in nature.

wisefool's picture

institute a tax. thats what they did in the old days to people who were smart but not already rich.

RobotTrader's picture

Actually, when you look at a daily chart of most big cap stocks and how they trade, they don't look much different than they did 10 years ago.

Maybe the 5-min. charts are different for the daytraders, but for longer term investors, probably no impact at all.

Yeah, an occasional flash crash now and again, but there will always be swarms of vultures with pre-set programs ready to buy Proctor & Gamble at $2/share again instantaneously.


long-shorty's picture


You truly are as stupid as everyone here says you are.

1. Hurst exponents on many stocks have risen dramatically in the last five years.

2. You can't even buy in a flash crash, because you just get sub-pennied. Market participants are catching on to this; that is why standing gtc order volume is completely drying up.



LawsofPhysics's picture

I don't know.  I am one of those vultures.  On a long enough time line...

SheepDog-One's picture dont have any idea what youre talking about, better stick with the pop-stock fanboy stuff.

homersimpson's picture

Buy and hold died when the average stock hold became 1 day..

There are no more long term investors - just long term speculators who happen to be gamblers.

Fidel Sarcastro's picture

Here's a thought -- Make all quotes non-cancelable for at least 2 seconds.  No fees are needed.  That would put an end to all of this shit.

Thunder Dome's picture

1/2 second would more than suffice.  That would also mean TPTB could no longer steal the golden crumbs, so don't count on it.

InconvenientCounterParty's picture

The corporate "siren song" is that monopolies are good for everyone. In desperate times, it sounds like the truth.

It isn't the truth. It's the opposite of truth. Not good or evil -- it's just plain false. 

NotApplicable's picture

Remember, all corporations, and all monopolies are creations of the state.

falak pema's picture

high frequency trading is the expression of illegal market capture. Its the overt, prim and proper, patriotic, entrepreneurial Oligarchy shed of its fig leaf, with its true, covert, hidden face of Borgia exposed. 

LawsofPhysics's picture

Bullish for gay pride!  My god what has this sham been reduced to.

SheepDog-One's picture

Any market trade should have a CAPTCHA correctly answered to be exercised.

I mean hell I've got to answer a damn CAPTCHA to even post a comment on a damn youtube video, or get into my own email! Why should there be one to carry out a stock market trade!

Deadpool's picture

bring back fractions!

StychoKiller's picture

Truncating quotes to two decimal places would put a halt to a large share of this clusterfsck!  Ever receive a micro-penny in change?

earleflorida's picture

blackrock inc. does all the hft for the frb's bidding via gs, jpmc,... and the bis via luxembourg (7/2011) ?  jmo

RobotTrader's picture

HFT has had no impact on my trading.

If I make a mistake, its my fault from bad timing, not the fault of all the machines which are quote stuffing.

But then again, I don't daytrade, either, so maybe its different for others on this board.

Fluffybunny's picture

I'm sure the impact of HFT's is non-existant when all you trade is Pokémon cards.

rocker's picture

Robo told us last week that Robo buys last week's winners as advertised in IBD.

I acutally thought Robo was a trader until I followed and realized stock post two day's later are usually loosers.

Golden Receiver's picture


Then perhaps you do not understand HFT. It affects every trade, regardless of your trading strategy. That is the entire point of the article.

homersimpson's picture

"If I make a mistake" You never make a mistake. You're the best Monday Morning QB ZH has to offer.

George Parr's picture

Painfully trivial solution to the problem.

Let the exchanges give away for free a fixed number of quotes.
Let us say 1 quote per second for each name.
That would be more than enough for "legitimate" algorithmic trading.
After that, charge $0.01 for each additional quote.

George Parr's picture

Actually, make the cost of additional quotes progressive.

For each name:
$0.00 for the first 23,400 (one per second)
$0.01 for the second 23,400
$0.02 for the third 23,400

Kat's picture

Get used to it.


The SEC has made all other kinds of trading impossible.  HFT is here to stay.

gatorontheloose's picture

teasing the HFTs with limit orders is fun sometimes

Bansters-in-my- feces's picture


Dig the etch-a-sketch,man.

In color too.

AngryGerman's picture

i know sth about backing a statement up with data, and NANEX comes pretty close to perfection. forget all academic studies on HFT, as they said a long time ago, the moment a paper is written up reality has worsened again.

hft is a billion dollar industry, and that's why it will stay where it is. it's a no brainer for the firms involved.

does it affect ma and pa's portfolio: no, bc they have been screwed and are atill being screwed by forces much stronger than split-second algos.

SeventhCereal's picture

as predicted in an earlier comment, whenever the market starts upticking ZH is bound to release an article bashing HFT.

doggings's picture

lame. the only time the talking heads mention HFTs is in the same sentence as "crash" ZH just supply the balance.

plus they have some clue wtf they are talking about, unlike anybody else you hear mention it. 


Chappy's picture

HFT's have made stop loss orders dangerous. It's agravating to see stocks dip down to your stop, bounce off higher, then come down to your second stop and bouce higher again.  I have had this happen several times in thinnly traded stocks.  Yes, I understand that I put the stop in place but generally they are there for protection, not so the price can be manipulatyed down to strip the stock from you.


StychoKiller's picture

Shaking hands with a 'droid is not advised.

TheLooza's picture

all your tight stops are belong to them.

o2sd's picture

If there is anyone here from Nanex, out of curiosity, are you using the Hilbert Huang Transform on tick data?

prophet's picture

Is the G-20 in the aggregate liquid and solvent? 

Price changes in milli-seconds: brilliant! 

Grand Supercycle's picture

SP500 / DOW daily charts remain choppy but bullish.

A reminder that SP500 / DOW weekly indicators now give bullish warning. If confirmed, it suggests significant equity rally this year.

Importantly, monthly charts remain bearish.