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11/18/2011

The myths of high speed trading

The current fear of high speed trading in the stock market is a repeat of the May 6 crash of 2010 that wiped out US$1 trillion in 30 minutes in New York. And there is genuine fear that there will be many repeats of the flash crash simply because high speed trading is primarily a machine based system. It is garbage in and garbage out. Human error or programme error will just trip the system and go quickly out of control.

The false sense of relief is that these were accidental errors, not by design or intention. Then there are also deliberate errors by rogue traders or funds trying to take advantage of the system. And there are the hackers who would want a share of the fun and the money by entering the system either for monetary benefits or to cause turmoil and a collapse of the system.

These are big issues that can ruin the stock market and cause big losses to investors and rightfully should warrant more serious attention. There are other worries that the administrators and regulators conveniently try to ignore, the interests of the genuine investors, the men in main street, who are investing their savings, the pension funds etc. Their interests need to be protected as well, not just the big funds and high frequency traders(HFT).

The supporters of high speed trading, the system developers, the big funds, HFTs and the regulators, have all been singing the same chorus so far. High speed trading has many benefits, or the benefits outweigh the cons. High speed trading increases liquidity, reduces trading cost, high volatility and high efficiency which are good. Bids can be very small and stocks becoming very liquid, which will facilitate entry and exit from the market.

Not much was really said of the cons and the ills of high speed trading. Not that there were none. They were either not spoken or swept under the carpet, just like all the derivatives and toxic notes and bonds. Everyone benefitting from high speed trading is crying ‘Hallelujah!’ It is a flawless system, it is godsend, something made in heaven for the stock market industry. It is unavoidable, like the tide coming in. Really? Is the spread of drugs unavoidable and states should give in to the drug lords?

Can it really be that wonderful, all goodness and no evil? All the goodness is actually a myth. The small teeny weeny bids, the high speed, high volatility, and lower cost, and high efficiency, only benefits the HFTs. The small investors, the men in main streets, are all losers for they cannot take advantage of any of these great stuffs. High speed trading is their Waterloo. All the great stuffs are actually working against them.

They have higher trading costs versus the funds and HFTs who trade practically at no cost, except for minimal clearing fees, and could make profits from one or two bids against the average traders that need 5 or 10 bids just to get even. The smaller bids are actually designed in this way to favour the funds and HFTs, yes, and against the small investors. They would not say so. Just do the arithmetic of a small trade and the disadvantage is glaring.

The act of allowing high speed computers to plug into the stock market system is itself a violation of stock market regulations. For it allows the HFTs to have access to real time information of buy and sell, and for their algos to work and decide what, when and how much to buy/sell with a clear win advantage. How can that be allowed? They could arbitrage with such information, not much different from insider trading, they could be front running, all because of electronic access to the system which other small traders did not have. And those are only the things that the public knows. Could they be in a privileged position to take advantage of what they know to do more harm to the innocent investors? Could they be cornering a stock, or even the whole stock market if it is small enough relative to their trading limits, or operating in concert with a few big boys?

The stock market regulators have a duty to provide a level playing field for all. It is a key condition embedded in their constitution and rules and regulations. And they are violating this very fundamental rule, giving the HFTs an unfair and absolute advantage over small investors.

Who is to regulate the regulators to stop them from breaking their own rules and regulations? It is fairly acceptable for big funds to hire the best talents and use the best computers and algos to analyse their positions and trading. But they must not be allowed to plug into the stockmarket system to take advantage of their superior technology that is not available to the small investors. Let them play with their own high speed and sophisticated hardware and software, in the privacy of their own establishments, but NOT plugged into the stock market system.

Allowing this to happen is nothing but FOUL. It is a grave violation of stock market practices and rules and regulations, against fair play, inequitable, and even criminal.

High speed trading, high speed traders and algos are not angels playing with their golden harps. They are more like devils and demons with their wicked contraptions cheating the innocents. The small investors have been suffering huge losses, hundreds of times more than the Lehman crisis. Does anyone even bother to ask or to want to protect the small investors? Would anyone be pricked by their conscience to try to protect the small guys? No, it is a stupid thing to do. Be on the winning side. Look after the big business and big boys and make sure they can make more money from the losers.

There are agencies existing with the primary objective of protecting small investors? Are they doing anything about it? The brokerages and remisiers too have a responsibility to protect the small investors, to ensure that the playing is level and fair to all parties. The small investors are their customers. With no customers there would not be any business to do anyway.

The failure of the American and European regulators to provide a fair playing field, to allow corporate greed to cannibalise from the average workers, is the main reason for Occupy Wall Street Movement. The Movement will continue to spread until irresponsible greed and corporate corruption are arrested, and good governance be restored in the right places. Moral righteousness has gone to sleep.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

They are all waiting for the market to collapse before doing anything. Don't they want to know what is happening?

Technology Consultant said...

Small investors are facing the wrath of of these high risk Trading.

Matilah_Singapura said...

You can gripe all you want. As computers and algorithms get faster and better trading speeds will increase.

The top learners have advanced degrees in math, engineering, and physics. These 'quants' are responsible for the models, programs and software that run the equity markets.

Consider it The Revenge of The Needs :-)

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi Technology Consultant, welcome to the blog.

The only hope is for the Americans to put a few of the top execs in the NY stock exchange behind bars for running an unfair system that cheated the small investors of their money. And let the small investors sue the NY exchange for all the money they have lost investing in a unfair trading system.

The Americans are good at this too.