In the aftermath of Michael Lewis' book "Flash Boys" there has been a renewed surge in interest in High Frequency Trading. Alas, much of it is conflicted, biased, overly technical or simply wrong. And since we can't assume that all those interested have been followed our 5 year of coverage of a topic that finally has earned its day in the public spotlight, below is a simple summary for everyone.
- The counter-HFT-attack begins with first target - dark pools: Dark markets may be more harmful than high-frequency trading (Reuters)
- Malaysia Jet Team Hears Pings Consistent With Black Box (BBG)
- At Toyota as Humans Steal Jobs From Robots (BBG)
- ‘Reverse Auctions’ Draw Scrutiny (NYT)
- Death knell sounds for Brazil’s economic strategy (FT)
- Technology Traders Head for the Exit as Put Trades Surge (BBG)
- NSA Uses Corporate News to Spread Propaganda and Silence Dissent (TruthDig)
- Holcim, Lafarge agree to merger to create cement giant (Reuters)
- Any minute now: Investment Jump Seen From Macy’s to Berkshire After 2013 Fizzle (BBG)
- India kicks off world's biggest election in remote northeast (Reuters)
UPDATE: Nasdaq negative year-to-date; Biotechs 3-month lows. AMZN, FB, TWTR, NFLX, P all in Bear market territory
Shortly after 946amET, the stock of The Nasdaq OMX Group suddenly dropped in a mini-flash-crash from from 35.98 to 35.00 in just over 2 seconds on approximately 100,000 shares. As Nanex notes, this is what high-frequency-trading liquidity looks like. But now, an hour or so later, the Nasdaq index and most especialy its Biotech and high-growth names are being crushed. Biotechs are near 3-month lows, Momos are down 16 to 18% since FOMC, and Nasdaq is about to go negative for the year.
One has to wonder why we are dodging this truth about what we've become: a nation that turns a blind eye to skimmers, scammers and legal looting. As in the story of the Emperor's new clothes, the onlooker who declares the obvious - in this case, that the stock market is rigged - shatters the consensus lie.
In what is a true double whammy of market structure stunners from Goldman over the past week, not only has the firm done an about face on HFT (we eagerly await Goldman's pardon of "HFT market manipulator" and former Goldman employee Sergey Aleynikov) and is now actively bashing the high freaks (much to the chagrin of Virtu and its pulled IPO, whose lead underwriter Goldman just happened to be), overnight it was reported that Goldman is also in the process of selling its "designated market-maker" unit to Dutch firm IMC Financial Markets to sell the trading business.
The stock market really was rigged... “It’s 2009,” Katsuyama says. “This had been happening to me for almost two years. There’s no way I’m the first guy to have figured this out. So what happened to everyone else?” The question seemed to answer itself: Anyone who understood the problem was making money off it...
It seems the blatant unveiling of the HFT market's Holy Grail trading - Virtu (1 loss in 1238 days) - has raised some attention as Bloomberg reports, NY AG Eric Schneiderman has opened a broad investigation into whether U.S. stock exchanges and alternative venues provide high-frequency traders with improper advantages. As one European lawmaker noted, "the area of high-frequency trading is lacking suitable regulation," and Schneiderman warned "this new breed of predatory behavior gives a small segment of the industry an enormous advantage over all other competitors." We wonder how this will affect Virtu's IPO given regulation is risk factor #1!
So far in 2013, Bank of America lost money on 9 trading days out of a total 188. Statistically, this result is absolutely ridiculous when one considers that the bulk of bank trading revenues are still in the form of prop positions disguised as "flow" trading to evade Volcker which means the only way a bank could make money with near uniform perfection is if it either i) consistently has inside information that it trades on or ii) it consistently front-runs its clients (the latter incidentally was a topic we covered back in 2009 relating to Goldman Sachs, and which the bank sternly rejected). We now know that when it comes to Bank of America at least one of the two happened.
With December's "fat finger" in US Treasury Futures proved as nothing but an HFT algo gone wild, Nanex has turned its deep-thought to the recent halt in gold futures markets. Their conclusion, this was not the result of a fat finger, but rather the work of a high frequency trading algorithm that would pause, and (probably) test the market before continuing. A fat finger would not have had such distinguishing features.
Wondering what a 'market' looks like up, close, and personal in the seconds before, during, and after this week's "most important FOMC meeting ever." From SPY's 50-second lead on the news release to VIX's gap, and from crossed markets to e-mini futures leading the premature charge, Nanex's charts are a smorgasbord of SEC-inspiration...
Having discussed market microstructure and the parasitic impacts of high-frequency-trading for the last 5 years, it comes as no surprise that the block-trade-sniffing algos have had very significant impacts on the way institutional investors trade now. As WSJ reports, in fact the big boys are conducting more "upstairs trades," in which deals are executed among big institutions, bypassing the broader market, because the proliferation of algorithmic trading and other structural issues, including the fragmentation of the market, are hurting their ability to get the best prices and execute large trades quickly. While the concerns aren't all new, big investors say the cat-and-mouse games are growing more elaborate - and counterproductive - by the day.
If only bellwether stock IBM hadn't indicated that earnings hopes for global tech were in the toilet, the world could be celebrating a new Dow record too. What a day... with stocks flash-crashing (Wal-Mart), bond yields screaming lower (2nd biggest 2-day drop in yields in 17 months to 2-month lows), the USD collapsing to 9 month lows, gold (and silver) soaring by their 2nd most in 16 months, and stocks tractor-beaming up to the Fed's balance sheet year-end target of 1800 for the S&P 500; even the talking heads are lost in explaining the charade. The box that the Fed has put itself in is becoming obvious for all to see - there is no argument that this is 'fundamentals' and so the Fed knows it can never leave as the wedge between perception (prices) and reality (value) has grown too wide... Low volumes in stocks on an all-time high day hardly support anything but doubt as 'safety' is sought in bonds and bullion.
Being bullish on the market in the short term is fine... The expansion of the Fed's balance sheet will continue to push stocks higher as long as no other crisis presents itself. However, the problem is that a crisis, which is 'always' unexpected, inevitably will trigger a reversion back to the fundamentals. The market will eventually correct as it always does - it is part of the market cycle. 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.
It has been almost 2 years since FINRA started to get 'serious' about thinking about looking into an investigation of (get our point) high-frequency trading and dark pools but it seems, as the WSJ reports, this time they are more specific. In Sept 2011 FINRA noted "there's something that's troubling us in the marketplace," and it seems now that FINRA has spent the time since understanding the jargon they have some questions, "who is responsible for the automatic shut off or kill switch," asking firms how they avoid "quote bursts and stuffing" that create confusion for other investors and potentially distort the market, and approving a plan to force dark pools (15% of all stock trading) to disclose and detail trading activity on their platforms. Of course, we've seen this kind of bluster before and they did nothing then but hope springs eternal.