When we disclosed the ridiculous trading record of HFT gigafirm (in the parlance of our times) Virtu, which showed one trading day loss in four years, we pointed out one thing: why reveal the magic sause and share the profits with mortals? In other words, why cash out now? The obvious implication is that the party is now ending as confirmed by Vincent Viola's decision to chop of a piece of his money cow and lock in his equity stake profits: one doesn't do that if one sees unlimited growth potential.
In order to determine if there is indeed truth behind the speculation that growth may have topped out, we decided to break down Virtu's 2013 net trading income by product line. We were not surprised to find that of the $45 million in total growth, the largest income category, US stocks growth was a tiny 5% of all, rising by $2.3 million in 2013, half the $4.5 million growth a year earlier. In fact, between EMEA, APAC and US Equities, there was very limited growth in 2013, while commodities posted an outright trading income decline. So indeed, it appears to be the case that growth in conventional products has indeed plateaued, as more and more HFT competitors rush in.
And yet, one product stood out. It is highlighted on the chart below: FX.
Sadly, with increasingly more homo sapiens-type banker FX traders being laid off left and right for pervasive and ubiquitous manipulation of currencies (who can forget the infamous "Cartel" chat room, JPM's head of spot trading presiding), what this means is that more and more algos will rush into this product to fill the voids left by carbon-based traders.
And for those trading FX, our condolences: because the typical bizarro, idiot moves that previously were reserved for stocks are now sure to take over the final bastion of capital markets. In other words, the next time you feel like the USDJPY is trading as if it is in need of a software update, you will be right.
Then again, in a world in which FX is the one battleground where central bankers now joust every minute, we can't wait for the reaction when some fat finger algo decides to take USDJPY higher by 1000 pips, or crashes the EURUSD by 2000, "just because." Surely the look of sheer panic on the faces of "central planners" everywhere in that particular "Jerome Kerviel Kodak moment" would be even more priceless than the stock of VRTU upon IPO. Speaking of, we wonder: will VRTU algos ramp VRTU stock to infinity, or is there some conflict of interest here?