High Frequency Trading
Zero Hedge has been warnings about the scourge of High Frequency Trading long before most in the general public had even heard about the concept. Over the past 2 years, and culminating with the Flash Crash it became all too clear that HFT is nothing but a parasitic phenomenon which churns volume in stocks providing the best liquidity rebates, while pretending to be adding liquidity. Recently the best we can do is to provide glaring examples of HFT algos gone wrong in hopes that some regulator somewhere will finally take the long overdue step to establish a minimum bid/ask time delay and thus put virtually the entire HFT frontrunning math Ph.D. crew out of business. The latest development in the ongoing saga against these parasites comes from none other than the Bank of England's Andrew Haldane who prepared a speech to the International Economic Association Sixteenth World Congress in Beijing China, titled "The race to zero" which essentially recaps the hundreds if not thousands of posts we have written on the matter of risks posed by High Frequency Trading, and blasts the concept, as well as the toothless captured regulators who continue to exist in their zombie, porn-addicted state, and refuse to move one finger to finally end this next Flash Crash-in-waiting.
A well-trodden meme of TV and cinema has been the plot in which someone or something uses tantalizing illusions to sap humans of their will to resist while simultaneously pursuing hostile ends. In The Martian Chronicles, the subtle race of Martians distracted the invading Americans with irresistible life-like illusions that spoke to their most intimate yearnings. In one episode of the X-Files, a fungus slowly digested an unlucky couple who lay in a field and were rendered completely passive by the fungus’ hallucinogenic properties. And then, most famously, the machines of the movie The Matrix ruled over a ruined wasteland and seduced people with a beguiling virtual reality in order to maintain their passivity while they tapped humanity’s body heat as an energy source. Now, a lot of investors believe that life is imitating art in an alliance of the Federal Reserve and the big banks to create the illusion of healthy equity markets despite massive retail equity withdrawals in the years following the financial crisis.
While running and hiding is easy for carbon-form based hedge funds, it may be a little more difficult for collocated servers: they tend to be welded to the ground. Yet running and hiding may be precisely what they need to do soon. After Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara is done disassembling SAC, his next target will be ZH's favorite topic: high frequency and prop trading. Which is sad - we may have to branch out into sports and pornography soon, as all the topics we had been covering for years are one by one tabled by the those whose job it is to fix the fraud in the markets. Joking aside, here is what the NYPost had to say: "Computer-driven trading shops and independent proprietary trading firms may be the next to feel the heat from watchdogs aiming to clean up Wall Street, source tell The Post. Federal agents, who have ratcheted up the heat on insider-trading rings linked to hedge funds and investment firms, are also are targeting firms that purport to offer individual investors specialty trading techniques employed by Wall Street powerhouses like Goldman Sachs, these sources said." We, for one, can't wait to listen to the Jon Stewart's Cash Cow upcoming interview from a NYPD holding cell.
Nicholas Colas Laments The Passage Of The Stock Market, Blames High Frequency Trading And The Federal ReserveSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 10/19/2010 22:45 -0500
In the movie Terminator, various faceless machines, and one especially murderous one almost caused the end of the world. In an ironic twist of life imitating art, the very core premise of our capital markets - the effective allocation of capital to worthy assets on the basis of solid fundamental analysis (and yes, "information arbitrage") is on the verge of being eliminated by the same combination of forces: millions of faceless, anonymous algos, and one destructive endoskeletal machine. Remember: Ben Bernanke is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until both the middle class, and the dollar, are dead.
The SEC's "definitive"(ly worthless) report on what happened on May 6th was a dud, and was nothing more than a distraction-based smear campaign against Waddell and Reed (an experiment in which we can only hope W&R participated involuntarily): a firm which did something that was completely in its right to do. But is this unexpected? After all had the SEC confirmed that it is indeed HFT who is responsible for a broken market structure, it would have effectively destroyed itself: if and when the SEC does indeed confirm that the entire market topology over the past 5 years has been hijacked by young and pustular math Ph.D.'s with fast computers, the implications to fair markets would be orders of magnitude worse than the fallout associated with the Madoff scandal, and could serve as grounds for the unwind of the SEC itself, which would have to explain why it has been avoiding calls against HFT impropriety for years. So in a sense Mary Schapiro's conclusion is nothing less than a lass desperate act of self preservation. Which however means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Tomorrow, as the WSJ reported a week ago, the Investment Company Institute, better known to Zero Hedge readers as the guys who track the now permanent weekly outflows from capital markets, is holding a secret meeting in which some of the participants "are determined to push for a plan to restrict high-frequency trading" (furthermore, the ICI was rather pissed about this particular leak, implying that things are really serious). While the SEC may have declared a market structure truce, and is peddling its usual worthless solution of circuit breakers (more on this below), actual market participants have had enough of seeing their profits plunge and seeing HFT extract more capital out of the market than the much maligned ten years ago market makers and specialists ever did.
More Are Waking Up To HFT Terrorism: Iridian Asset Management's Latest Investor Letter Blasts High Frequency TradingSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 08/27/2010 08:23 -0500
In their Q2 letter to clients, Jeff Silver and Ben Hunt of Iridian Asset Management provide an update of the fund's performance and some notable holdings (long: TOO; short: TXT) but the core of the letter is the recap of the firm's "Hollow Market" theme, this time refocusing on what we have long claimed is the biggest threat to market integrity, High Frequency Trading: "On May 6th we saw the hollow market revealed via the so-called “flash crash”, where liquidity throughout US equity markets vanished in the time it takes to turn off a computer server running a high-frequency trading algorithm. As we wrote to our investors that afternoon, we believe that it was the interaction of trading algorithms, ETF’s, and decentralized venues that created the flash crash." The firm proceeds to highlight the two outcomes of what is now known as the Hollow Market paradigm: i) a constant, non-trivial chance of severe market dislocation (which includes a reference to the seminal paper Is High-Frequency Trading Inducing Changes in Market Microstructure and Dynamics, first posted with comments on Zero Hedge, and ii) the need for a Tobin tax, another topic long endorsed by Zero Hedge as a means of fixing the market. Furthermore, all those still confused by Zero Hedge's fascination with VWAP strategies, can finally sleep well after reading this letter. All in all, a must read analysis for everyone (and even the two employees at the SEC with an IQ greater than single digits), curious as to how screwed up our current market truly is (also, thanks for the shout-out).
Scientific Proof That High Frequency Trading Induces Adverse Changes In Market Microstructure And Dynamics, And Puts Market Fairness Under QuestionSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 07/12/2010 23:46 -0500
Up until recently, any debate between proponents and opponents of High Frequency Trading would typically be represented by heated debates of high conviction on either side, with discussions rapidly deteriorating into ad hominem attacks and the producer screaming 'cut to commercial' to prevent fistfights. Luckily, all this is about to change. In a research paper by Reginald Smith of the Bouchet Franklin Institute in Rochester titled "Is high-frequency trading inducing changes in market microstructure and dynamics?" the author finds that he "can clearly demonstrate that HFT is having an increasingly large impact on the microstructure of equity trading dynamics. Traded value, and by extension trading volume, fluctuations are starting to show self-similarity at increasingly shorter timescales. Values which were once only present on the orders of several hours or days are now commonplace in the timescale of seconds or minutes. It is important that the trading algorithms of HFT traders, as well as those who seek to understand, improve, or regulate HFT realize that the overall structure of trading is influenced in a measurable manner by HFT and that Gaussian noise models of short term trading volume fluctuations likely are increasingly inapplicable." In other words, the author finds ample evidence that during the past decade (on the NASDAQ) and especially since the 2005 revision of Reg NMS (on the NYSE), stock trading increasingly demonstrates "self similar" fractal patterns, resulting in volatility surges, recursive feedback loops, and a market structure which is increasingly becoming a product of the actual trading mechanism. In the process, as demonstrated by a Hurst Exponent gravitating increasingly further away from 0.5 (i.e., Brown Noise territory), the Markov Process nature of stock trading is put under question, and thus the whole premise of an efficient market has to be reevaluated. Simply said: HFT has been shown to affect the fairness of trading.
Ok, this is getting scary: first, Cramer bashes the entire market yesterday, saying it is a stupid, rapacious, capricious and a bunch of other words we would butcher absent spellcheckurrrr. Then, the CNBC frontman goes out on a full blown tirade against High Frequency Trading, against ongoing flash crashes (melt downs and ups) in names such as the ones we discussed earlier like Diebold and Washington Post, against the whole concept that the market is sane and stable, and lastly, Cramer agrees with us that the only senator worth listening to is Ted Kaufman, who also happens to be a guest on this particular Cramer show. Are we now mainstream or is Cramer too much of a fan? Is it time to switch our motto to "on a long enough timeline we all succeed and prosper courtesy of a neverending Keynesian ponzi pyramid." Is this the market bottom? Being on the same side of the trade as Cramer is...never good.
Today, the SEC is convening a one-sided panel whose job is to provide a fair and balanced view of high frequency trading but in reality is just a industry-lobby group which will fight tooth and nail to prevent any changes in regulation to the cushy two-tiered market gambling structure that has developed courtesy of a bunch of math Ph.D. and astrophysicists determining just what market momentum is (or isn't as May 6 so amply demonstrated). In advance of this "panel", the NY Observer's Max Abelson provides an amusing report on HFT in his piece the "High-Frequency Talker" which portrays precisely the kind of people who churn AMZN billions of times of day while having no clue what it is the firm does, what its EBITDA is (or what EBITDA is period), or what its EPS prospects are. For a more serious perspective from one of the few who has consistently warned about the threats of HFT and broken market structure, we provide the following speech prepared by Senator Ted Kaufman. We can only hope that someone at the SEC has at least one tenth the knowledge required to understand just how critical the Senator's warning is. We can only hope that the events of May 6 have forced the SEC to redirect their attention from online pornography for at least 24 hours.
A year ago, before anyone aside from a hundred or so people had ever heard the words High Frequency Trading, Flash orders, Predatory algorithms, Sigma X, Sonar, Market topology, Liquidity providers, Supplementary Liquidity Providers, and many variations on these, Zero Hedge embarked upon a path to warn and hopefully prevent a full-blown market meltdown. On April 10, 2009, in a piece titled "The Incredibly Shrinking Market Liquidity, Or The Black Swan Of Black Swans" we cautioned "what happens in a world where the very core of the capital markets
system is gradually deleveraging to a point where maintaining a liquid
and orderly market becomes impossible: large swings on low volume,
massive bid-offer spreads, huge trading costs, inability to clear and
numerous failed trades. When the quant deleveraging finally catches up
with the market, the consequences will likely be unprecedented, with
dramatic dislocations leading the market both higher and lower on
record volatility." Today, after over a year of seemingly ceaseless heckling and jeering by numerous self-proclaimed experts and industry lobbyists, we are vindicated. We enjoy being heckled - we got a lot of it when we started discussing Goldman Sachs in early 2009. Look where that ended. Today, we have reached an apex in our quest to prevent the HFT "Black Monday" juggernaut, as absent the last minute intervention of still unknown powers, the market, for all intents and purposes, broke. Liquidity disappeared. What happened today was no fat finger, it was no panic selling by one major account: it was simply the impact of everyone in the HFT community going from port to starboard on the boat, at precisely the same time. And in doing so, these very actors, who in over a year have been complaining they are unfairly targeted because all they do is "provide liquidity", did anything but what they claim is their sworn duty. In fact, as Dennis Dick shows (see below) they were aggressive takers of liquidity at the peak of the meltdown, exacerbating the Dow drop as it slid 1000 points intraday. It is time for the SEC to do its job and not only ban flash trading as it said it would almost a year ago, but get rid of all the predatory aspects of high frequency trading, which are pretty much all of them. In 20 minutes the market showed that it is as broken as it was at the nadir of the market crash. Through its inactivity to investigate the market structure, the SEC has made things a million times worse, as HFT-trading seminars for idiots are now rampant. HFT killed over 12 months of hard fought propaganda by the likes of CNBC which has valiantly tried to restore faith in our broken capital markets. They have now failed in that task too. After today investors will have little if any faith left in the US stocks, assuming they had any to begin with. We need to purge the equity market structure of all liquidity-taking parasitic players. We must start today with High Frequency Trading.
Earlier it was announced that the NYSE has added GETCO as a NYSE Designated Market Maker, and that GETCO has purchased 350 NYSE DMM assignment from Barclays Capital. GETCO is already a supplementary liquidity provider (a program that was conceived as a temporary measure, yet which is now running almost a year past its original expiration date, merely to pay "liquidity providers" Goldman and GETCO), as well as a market maker on the NYSE. Yet the question of just how much principal/prop exposure GETCO takes (as the WSJ disclosed previously this amount is staggering and is often 10-20% of daily volume) in "providing" all this liquidity, deserves additional analysis, as being so intimately linked in various cross-markets means that GETCO, which is struggling in the face of ever increasing HFT competition, will now need to become an ever greater "economy of scale" (think Goldman) in the markets to extract the same unleveraged returns it did in the past. And by doing so, it will likely take on ever greater unbalanced prop exposure, whose eventual (and very sudden) unwind will prove most interesting due to the ever increasing implied correlation between all asset classes. Themis Trading shares some additional insight into just what this development means for both exchanges and investors.
"A handful of high-frequency trading firms accounted for an estimated 70 percent of overall trading volume on U.S. equities markets in 2009. One firm with such a computerized system traded over 2 billion shares in a single day in October 2008, amounting to over 10 percent of U.S. equities trading volume for the day. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this technology-dependent trading environment, and how are its risks controlled?... The high-frequency trading environment has the potential to generate errors and losses at a speed and magnitude far greater than that in a floor or screen-based trading environment." - Chicago Federal Reserve
A new white paper out of Themis Trading analyses the impact of predatory algos comprising various HFT strategies. In Themis' view: predatory HFT generates $1.5-$3 billion in profit. Themis concludes with the following three market integrity questions:
1. Instead of belittling the impact of latency arbitrage, and representing it as a gloriously naive $0.01-$0.02, does the regulators' thinking change if that impact is as high as $3 billion a year?
2. In a quid-pro-quo worlds, are market centers merely charging HFTs a higher fee in exchange for an advance look at the NBBO? Market centers should be protecting all participants equally.
3. The most critical question: "When a market center provides an HFT the ability to out-maneuver institutional orders, is not the exchange putting institutions and their brokers in breach of their fiduciary responsibilities, especially those institutions managing pension funds governed by ERISA?"
As the only way to make money in this market is to mimic the big boys and to churn stock after stock (especially those with massive short interests) then closing 100% in cash at the end of every day, it was only a matter of time before someone started pitching the very same product that Comedy Central's Cash Cow highlighted is a sure way to make gobs of free money, to retail investors. That this someone happened to be Lime Brokerage is probably not very surprising.
"Meanwhile, every 20 milliseconds "HFT-Quants" are taking another "too-dumb-to-stop-trading" little investor trapped in the illusion that Fannie, Freddie and AIG will "be worth something, someday." "HFT-Quants" don't think long term. Their algorithms think in milliseconds, just enough time to skim more money from all the 'dumb money' out there." Paul Farrell, MarketWatch