High Frequency Trading
While the recent Federal Reserve inaction is bullish for stocks in the short term there are plenty of reasons to remain somewhat cautious. Stocks are overvalued, rates are rising, earnings are deteriorating and despite signs of short term economic improvements the data trends remain within negative downtrends. Investors, however, have disregarded fundamentals as irrelevant as long as the Federal Reserve remains committed to its accommodative policies. The problem is that no one really knows how this will turn out and the current assumptions are based upon past performance. Complacency is not an option; it is critically important to understand that market reversions do not occur without a catalyst. Whether it is the onset of an economic recession, a natural disaster or a financial crisis - there is always something that sparks the initial selloff that leads to a full blown market panic. With this idea in mind here are 3 rising risks that investors should be paying attention to.
Judging by the market's reaction to the June FOMC statement and press-conference, Nanex shows the four things that US market participants can expect to happen over the next few hours:
- The HFT Machines Will Take Over (fake quotes will soar)
- Quote Spreads will Widen (but all that liquidity provision?)
- Quote Spreads will Become Unstable
- The Number of Stocks Locked (Bid=Ask) or crossed (Bid>Ask) Will Soar
But apart from that - do as you're told and BTFATH as every commission-taking muppet will tell you the Taper is priced in.
Just three weeks ago, Goldman Sachs cried 'uncle' when their market-making options algo-machine exploded in a fit of guilt causing the firm to face hundreds of millions of dollars losses (should the exchange not have DK'd the deals). Nanex has investigated the rogue algo and here are the findings... "As soon as option quotes in the affected symbols began exceeding theoretic economic values by some threshold, quotes (and therefore liquidity) on other options exchanges for those contracts would immediately disappear - bid/ask prices would go to zero at other exchanges. Within 10 seconds of starting, one algo, in effect, completely destroyed the concept of the National Market System and obliterated liquidity..." As they sadly conclude, what was the fine for shutting down an options exchange, and destroying liquidity in hundreds if not thousands of options contracts? There was no fine. Worse, they were able to get the trades busted. As in, pretend we didn't just do that. Pretty shocking. Until there are financial consequences for firms that turn on market disrupting algos, the markets, will continue to be disrupted.
Nearly four years after Zero Hedge first suggested an HFT tax should punish algos that "churned" quotes and blasted empty bids and offers to stimulate "momentum ignition" strategies, and generally corrupt market structure in a way that lead to both the flash crash, the BATS IPO farce, the FaceBook IPO debacle and the Nasdaq 3 hour crash, the first such tax is now a reality. And while it is not, and likely never will be implemented in a major (if declining) exchange such as the NYSE or Nasdaq, the first country to finally put an end to millions of parasitic empty quotes is Italy.
When you add High Frequency Trading exchange 263 and High Frequency Trading exchange 264 (read all about DirectEdge over the years here), you get a whole lot of happy algos. It also means that MtGox is on its way to becoming the world's most stable exchange. We now expect the market to crash in celebration. We joke, of course, but if anyone trips over the BATS extension cord that sends AAPL under $500 and the NYSE Arca and NASDAQ shutting down again, we take no responsibility. Finally, in continuing the spirit of full transparency and openness of everything HFT-related, the terms of the transaction will not be disclosed.
Kate and William had a boy. Our bet on a name is George, but only because that appears to be the odds-on favorite among the London bookies. Still, all that money flowing around must at least be a little “Smart”, right? But as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, the same dynamic applies, albeit on a larger and hopefully more informed scale, when it comes to how capital markets price securities. We have our baselines – the price-earnings ratio of the market, the interest rate on Treasuries, the average price per square foot for real estate, and so forth – and then we tweak everything else up or down from there. That method has the benefit of simplicity, but comes with problems as well. More than anything, Colas warns, it pushes investors to “Anchor” their notions of valuation to benchmarks which may move when the wind shifts.
Lately, the parasitic, price manipulative "Office Space"-inspired HFT practice known as "spoofing" has been consistently in the news: a week ago, it was the third largest futures broker, Newedge, who made headlines following a "record" FINRA handslap. Then yesterday, a Red Bank, NJ-based HFT shop called Panther Energy Trading, and its sole owner Michael Coscia were fined $4.5 million and got a 1 year ban from the industry for engaging in the same activity. "Panther, based in Red Bank, New Jersey, and Coscia used a computer algorithm that placed and quickly canceled bids and offers in futures contracts for commodities including oil, metals, interest rates and foreign currencies. Panther and Coscia engaged in spoofing from August 8, 2011, to October 18, 2011, related to 18 futures contracts. The firm accumulated $1.4 million in profits by using the algorithm." While none of this is fundamentally new to any of our readers, we are happy to report that in conjunction with Nanex, we can now present documentary evidence of the Panther algo in action.
When we tapered our coverage of HFT manipulation and stock market abuse some time ago, we thought that the message had been heard loud and clear: high frequency trading is a sophisticated market manipulating parasite, whose only real function is to abuse market structure and integrity, by making conventional market manipulation practices more difficult to spot and identify. It turns out some, i.e., Newedge, thought they could still get away with traditional manipulative practices such as spoofing, layering, momentum ignition, wash trading, bypassing, and others, if only they were wrapped in an HFT blanket. It did so for four years from 2008 until 2011. As it turns out it was wrong, and in a stunning example of actually doing its job, FINRA fined Newedge, which is one of the largest futures brokers in the world and ranks third in terms of U.S. customer assets on deposit, a record $9.5 million.
To summarize, the SEC which admits it was clueless in analyzing the modern, fragmented market (yet which found definitively that the culprit for the May 2010 flash crash was Waddell and Reed, and nobody else, using what technology at the time, nobody knows), uses a platform developed by High Frequency Trading firm Tradeworx... to reach a conclusion that High Frequency Trading firms are innocent of every flash crash resulting from an HFT algo gone haywire...
"I am going to hit on some of the landmines that you can encounter within order-matching engines, and then I am going to give a forecast on, at least from my perspective, what’s going to happen over the course of 2013"
Trading has a few simple rules - do the opposite of Goldman's Thomas Stolper; don't fight the Fed; and buy low, sell high. However, as this series of charts from Nanex shows, it is the latter rule that is the easiest to comprehend and yet - thanks to massive and obvious HFT manipulation - is an extremely difficult thing to do. As Nanex's Eric Hunsader notes, high frequency trading algos do not get much clearer than this as the machines buy low (from you) and sell high (to you) each and every millisecond of the trading day.
As more and more "baby boomers" head into retirement the need for high quality, independent, registered investment advisors will continue to grow. The need for firms that do organic research, analysis and make investment decisions free from "conflict," and in the client's best interest, will continue to be in high demand in the years to come as more "boomers" leave the workforce. While the "Wall Street" game is not likely to change anytime soon; the trust of Wall Street is fading and fading fast. The rise of algorithmic, program and high frequency trading, scandals, insider trading and "crony capitalism" with Washington is causing "retail investors" to turn away to seek other alternatives.
So, apparently, according to Jon Hilsenrath, "QE to Infinity" is actually "finite" after all. There is no doubt that the Federal Reserve will do everything in its power to try and "talk" the markets down and "signal" policy changes well in advance of actual action. However, that is unlikely to matter. The problem with the financial markets today is the speed at which things occur. High frequency trading, algorithmic programs, program trading combined with market participant's "herd mentality" is not influenced by actions but rather by perception. As stated above, with margin debt at historically high levels when the "herd" begins to turn it will not be a slow and methodical process but rather a stampede with little regard to valuation or fundamental measures. The reality is that the stock market is extremely vulnerable to a sharp correction. Currently, complacency is near record levels and no one sees a severe market retracement as a possibility. The common belief is that there is "no bubble" in assets and the Federal Reserve has everything under control. Of course, that is what we heard at the peak of the markets in 2000 and 2008 just before the "race for the door." This time will be no different.
Despite the aura of control, Fed officials (and casual observers) may sense things spinning out of control. Of course, hyper-fragility is exactly the effect that all the Fed’s own actions would predictably lead to. When you divorce truth from reality, strange things are bound to happen. There is one thing that we know for sure in this strange period when bankers have tried to manage reality in the absence of truth: that advanced industrial-technological economies designed to run on $20-a-barrel oil can’t run on $100-a-barrel oil, and that is why the US economy was subject to financialization in the first place - to offset declining productive activity by an attempt to get something for nothing. The world is about to find out that you really can’t get something for nothing. It will be a harsh lesson.