Frontrunning: November 26

  • National Guard, police curb Ferguson unrest as protests swell across U.S. (Reuters)
  • Ferguson Reaction Across U.S. Shows Complex Racial Split (BBG)
  • Democratic senator Schumer: Democrats Screwed Up By Passing Obamacare In 2010 (TPM)
  • Veto threat derails Reid tax deal (Hill)
  • Justice Department Investigating Possible HSBC Leak to Hedge Fund (WSJ)
  • Merkel hits diplomatic dead-end with Putin (Reuters), and yet...
  • Merkel Said to Reject Ukraine NATO Bid as Rousing Tension (BBG)
  • HSBC, Goldman Rigged Metals’ Prices for Years, Suit Says (BBG)

Wall Street Journal On The Systemic Threat Posed By Quants

Nearly a year ago, Zero Hedge first brought broad public attention to the nebulous aspects of the dark and dirty underworld of the market, exposing the "second-tier" of privileged market participants, consisting of quant traders, high frequency trading, flash trading, sponsored access, co-location, latency arbitrage, Morgan Stanley's discussed-below PDT operation, and many other topics (check our Glossary for much more). In April, Zero Hedge wrote an open letter to the quant community, pleading for more transparency absent which the eventual result would be "larger, systematic problems at the largest, most sophisticated quant managers." Since April, the impact of market neutral quants has progressively declined, as factors, one after another, have failed, and market neutral indexes are probing multiyear lows (HSKAX). The question of who has stepped in to replace the whales' liquidity provisioning is still unanswered, although the explosion of small, inexperienced 3 man quant shops consisting of a math Ph.D. and two programmers, may be part of the answer. The integration of Goldman within the structure of the NYSE and other exchanges, may be another: at last check, Goldman is still a key component of the NYSE's SLP program, regarding which there is still barely any information, despite promises by NYSE representatives to the contrary (and with Goldman's prop operation potentially terminally crippled, the question of how extensively intertwined prop trading is with liquidity provisioning, will be a major topic going forward). Today, the WSJ's Scott Patterson takes advantage of the recent furor over quants and in extensive article promotes his new book "The Quants" in which "he suggests how this new breed of mathematicians and computer scientists took over much of the financial system—and the damage they inflicted in the 2007 meltdown." We are glad that, after nearly a year of writing about it, the topic of the market systemic threat presented by a small subcommunity of quantitative traders is finally emerging on the mainstream scene.

Goldman Admits To Frontrunning Clients Through Its Prop Desk

The topic of Goldman frontrunning clients using its prop desk, which has long bothered Zero Hedge, and which in the past received Goldman's vehement refutation, seems to have resurfaced, and to have proven our initial speculations correct. Jane Lattin, assistant to Thomas Mazarakis, head of fundamental strategies, sent out an email to clients earlier, notifying them that the firm in the past has traded ahead of them in its Fundamental Strategies Group, aka its Prop Trading desk, which is, by definition, frontrunning: "The Fundamental Strategies Group is a group of cross-capital structure desk analysts employed by our Securities Divisions to assist our traders. They develop Trading Ideas in conjunction with traders. We may trade, and may have existing positions, based on Trading Ideas before we have discussed those Trading Ideas with you. We may continue to act on Trading Ideas, and may trade out of any position, based on Trading Ideas, at any time after we have discussed them with you. We will also discuss Trading Ideas with other clients, both before and after we have discussed them with you." This answers our repeated queries from July as to whether Goldman is legally front-running its clients for its own prop positions.

The Proposal That Has Dark Pools Sweating; The Dark Pool Vs. HFT Scramble Is About To Enter Round Two

Dark pool operators, who have quietly been redirecting shady order flow via dark pools of "liquidity" with minimal supervision and below the radar for many years, are getting spooked by a proposed SEC rule which would have these same dark pools identifying their trades in real time, thus removing the benefits associated with what is effectively an OTC equities market. Their response: blame it all on the HFT guys, who use the information that would leak to front-run the crap out of the "long-onlies." Yet weren't these same HFTs claiming just yesterday that all they do is provide liquidity and tighten spreads? ... Someone is lying.

Goldman Principal-To-Agency Program Trading Ratio Hits Record 22x

It has been a while since we revisited Goldman's domination of NYSE program trading courtesy of the SLP. For the past two months we have been waiting for additional information from the NYSE on what other firms are currently SLP vendors to the exchange. By the lack of any data from the NYSE we can only assume that Goldman is still the defacto monopolist in SLP, and in essence the primary privileged DMM on the NYSE. One wonders with liquidity "back to normal" when the NYSE, SEC and Goldman will agree to disassemble the SLP program so that the market can go back to its efficient old-school ways (this is rhetorical). As the data suggests, Goldman Sachs & Co. now has a staggering 22-to-1 ratio of principal to agency transactions: in the last week Goldman traded 662million shares in principal capacity (instead of blaming all of this on Goldman's prop trading cash machine, we would love to be able to break down how much of this is attributable to SLP, but a reborn NYSE which believes in nothing but transparency will simply not provide that data). Taking into account GSEC adds another measly 10 million agency shares doesn't change the big picture that out of the top 10 NYSE firms, Goldman trades the third lowest amount on an agency basis. Goldman's casino is now not even pretending to trade on behalf of clients, as all of its money is made on FICC spreads and volumes (aka trading monopoly).

The Inability To Microsteal Or Nanosteal Is Absolute Armageddon For Buysiders

According to Tabb Group’s Bob Iati, over 30% of buy-side shares in the U.S. are now executed by algorithmic trading platforms, and that latency as little as 10 milliseconds could cause a firm to lose up to 10% of its revenues. “It’s a real, hot issue.” If not being able to steal at 10 milliseconds is so damaging, I guess not being able to microsteal or nanosteal is absolute Armageddon.

Hedging Their Bets

"How much of the rebound in real GDP was due to the fiscal stimulus, and where do we stand in terms of the effects of stimulus thus far? Although precise answers are impossible at this juncture, several aspects of the report are consistent with our estimates that the fiscal package enacted in mid-February as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) would have accounted for virtually all of the growth reported for the third quarter." - Goldman Sachs

Material, Non-Public Information? Why JPMorgan Does Not Care; And Why If You Are A Corporate Insider Client, Neither Should You

A recurring theme on Zero Hedge over the past few months has been the inordinate (and seemingly inexplicable if one takes at face value the arguments for an improving economy) amount of insider selling of corporate shares, which has reached a staggering ratio of 30-1 of sales to buys (if not much more). A back of the envelope calculation indicates that insiders may have sold well over $10 billion worth of their own company's shares in the last quarter alone. Aside from what implications this activity has for claims of the recession being over, as those best familiar with their businesses can not wait to offload their holdings, a larger question is one of propriety, and whether insiders are abusing inside information loopholes, particularly if they are aware of material, non-public information when selling their stock. In this environment of unprecedented insider selling, it makes sense to refamiliarize readers with JP Morgan's confidential presentation, "Hedging and Monetization" from February 2007, first presented by Wikileaks, which focuses exclusively on providing company insiders with mechanisms to circumvent not just regulatory curbs on insider selling, but to obfuscate market signals typically associated (but definitely not in this market environment) with an insider dumping boatloads of his or her own stock.

Goldman's "Naked Short Selling" Strawman

Matt Taibbi has put together a very informative piece on Goldman's lobbying attempts, specifically in the context on the upcoming discussion over naked short selling. The contention here by the majority is that naked short selling, or NSS, promotes bear raids on crippled companies which tend to feed upon each other, with CDS traders also joining in the fray. The argument is a dramatic oversimplification and has little substantiation by facts. "Bear raids" occur only and exclusively in financial stocks: why can't you have a bear raid on a firm like Coke or Johnson and Johnson, or even some leveraged behemoth like Hertz.

With Flash Eliminated, The Focus Now Shifts To Dark Pools

Now that Flash trading is practically a thing of the past, everyone's attention is shifting to dark pools. And if the just released letter by the World Federation of Exchanges is any indication, dark pools' days could be comparably numbered.

"The environment of exchange trading has been altered, and in sorne ways has been adversely affected by many of the changes that have occurred in the world's financial system in recent years. Therefore, the continued proper functioning of regulated exchange markets should not be taken for granted." - World Federation of Exchanges Letter to G-20

WSJ Points To "Long-Short" Quants' Deplorable Performance As Sign Of Market Correction Warning

There are indications that the losses have gotten worse in recent days for some quants. Shares with the highest levels of short interest have been among the best performers in the past few weeks, according to Barclays Capital, while those with improving growth prospects are actually doing worse than the market. "Quality" stocks are on one of their worst streaks since 1950, Barclays said, causing problems for many quants.Rather than a sign that their whiz-bang computers should be chucked, quants' problems could be an early warning that the stock gusher is due
a break.

Stiglitz Questions Goldman's Size, Potential For Front Running

It is good that the long discussed on Zero Hedge topic of prop versus flow trading at Goldman is finally starting to gain some attention. Today, it comes courtesy of former CEA Chair and Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz: "The main problem that Goldman raises is a question of size: 'too big to fail.' In some markets, they have a significant fraction of trades. Why is that important? They trade both on their proprietary desk and on behalf of customers. When you do that and you have a significant fraction of all trades, you have a lot of information. That raises the potential of conflicts of interest, problems of front-running, using that inside information for your proprietary desk... If you're going to trade on behalf of others, if you're going to be a commercial bank, you can't engage in certain kinds of risk-taking behavior."

Frontrunning: September 9

  • Dear Chairman Ben: The Chinese send their congratulations (WSJ)
  • The Fed monitoring systemic risk is like asking a thief to police himself (WSJ)
  • Contrary to all claims by Bloomberg of "recession easing", FDIC will likely add six-month extension for debt-guarantee program (Bloomberg) - can't have the government stop backstopping these healthy banks now can we
  • NYSE selling stake in Amex options unit to Citadel and Goldman Sachs among others (AP) - just to make Christine Varney's upcoming case just that little easier
  • Lloyd Blankfein between a rock, an SLP gold mine program, record Fixed Income daily profits, and 300 million pitchforks come bonus season (Bloomberg)