As luck would have it, we had Joe Saluzzi lined up to record a podcast the day the news broke recently that the suspected culprit for the 2010 flash crash, Navinder Singh Sarao, had been arrested. Saluzzi is co-founder of Themis Trading LLC, long-time cautionary on the dangers of high-frequency algorithmic trading, and co-author of Broken Markets: How High Frequency Trading and Predatory Practices on Wall Street Are Destroying Investor Confidence and Your Portfolio.
In this discussion, Joe shares his suspicions about Sarao (a contributor to the crash, but highly unlikely to be the actual cause) and then provides his expert assessment of what has been done in the intervening years since the flash crash to safeguard the market against a similar failure (precious little). In his opinion, a winner-take-all high-tech arms race, clueless and toothless regulators, and central bank price distortion are conspiring to make us more vulnerable -- not less -- to another systemic breakdown:
What’s happened is the markets have evolved and they've obviously embraced computerization and technology. Some things have been very good for the markets and brought down cost. But regulators don’t seem to have evolved. They don’t seem to have caught up with times and they don’t necessarily have the eyes and ears out there to monitor things on a micro-second or nano-second level.
Just as an example: the FCC has proposed putting together a consolidated audit trail. This came about after the flash crash back in 2010. And we’re five years into this and they’re still out for bid, waiting for someone to bid on the project, and it’s nowhere near completion. And even when it does get completed, it’s still not going to be an all-encompassing view. They won’t be able to see futures, because the CFTC monitors that group. So it will be an incomplete set. It will be better than what they have now -- which is called Midas, basically a bunch of a direct data feeds that are supplied by the exchanges. And Midas, by the way, was built by a high frequency trading firm named Trade Works that still gets paid by the FCC over couple million dollars a year for this thing. So it makes you wonder how they're properly equipped to monitor it. And when you see cases like spoofing pop up and you’re like “How could they have missed it”? As you mentioned Eric Hunt from Nanex, he sees this stuff all the time and he tweets it. I mean if I was a regulator I would just follow Eric and I’d say: "There’s an example right there, I don’t have to do the work, I’ll just follow Eric, he’s doing the work"
What happened to the price discovery mechanism? Is it really being set by fundamental investors who have looked at a company and its long term aspects, or is it now being set by Fed policy or some algorithm that’s tied to one currency pair or another?
And we're getting bubbles in certain areas because no one is really looking at valuations. All they care about is “Okay I made money today and I start fresh tomorrow because every night I go home flat and I start the game all over again”. That’s a scary thought. That’s a scary thought that these multi assets are now playing into each other and the correlation is so tight that when one market sneezes they all catch a cold really, really quickly.
I think we have to blame central bank intervention. How can we not? It’s all around the world. They’re setting interest rates at a ridiculous level. Quantitative easing is distorting all sorts of prices of assets. How do you price things anymore when you have such a giant manipulator out there?
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Joe Saluzzi (40m:53s)