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Networking The Almighty Buck Technology

More Warnings About High-Frequency Trading 500

Posted by timothy
from the financial-chicken dept.
bfwebster writes "From The Big Picture (a great finance/econ blog) comes a link to this New York Times article on some of the risks and problems of high-frequency trading on financial markets and a couple of 'gadflies' who are pushing hard to get some changes and reforms in how Wall Street handles HFT. Key question: when is fast trading too fast?"
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More Warnings About High-Frequency Trading

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  • Key question: when is fast trading too fast?

    Trading is too fast when it ceases to mean anything. The rate at which these decisions are being made indicates that it is not going through a human mind. The stock market is about people being able to buy and sell securities that allows businesses to raise additional capital. It was originally a very social thing so much so that it could reflect the mood of the populace's strength and development.

    Many ordinary Americans have grown wary of the stock market ...

    Right you are! It's no longer about humans making decisions. It no longer reflects social aspects of a sector or country or world market. It's more and more about what algorithms your "opponents" are using and what your algorithms are set at. And that's where it ceases to make sense. I'm okay with some guy waking up at 3am and reading every newspaper in the world and beating me at stock trading. I'm not okay when the name of the game today [wired.com] is who can pay tons of money to have their own servers set up across the street from a major exchange with a special dedicated fiber going straight to them as they pay off said exchange. That's starting to become so abstracted from the initial concept of a stock exchange that these big firms have walled everyone else out.

    ... which they see as the playground of Google-esque algorithms, powerful banks and secretive, fast-money trading firms.

    If only they were Google-esque algorithms, they'd at least be innovative. SNAFUs have shown they're far from complex and often so stupid they loose hundreds of millions. But, yeah, who in their right mind would play a game like that?

    What the algorithms are buying and selling no longer make any sense, the turn around is so insanely quick on these trades that there is no point at which a normal human can say "Oh, that algorithm thinks that Microsoft stock is going up and will hold it for some amount of time." No, instead what's going on is someone put out a big pre-order for Microsoft stock and so the HFT guys are buying stocks at a lower price than that only to turn over and dump them almost instantly as the order actually comes through netting fractions of a penny.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's more and more about what algorithms your "opponents" are using and what your algorithms are set at.

      Only if you are in it for day-trading profits. And if you are, well, you deserve to be beaten senseless by some HFT algorithm.

      If you're a long term investor, with a time horizon of many decades, this doesn't matter. For example, I have a stock I bought 15 years ago. It has gone up by around 3X in that time. HFT makes no difference to me when I've held a stock over many years or decades. The exact microsecond it sells doesn't matter to me after a period of decades.

      The fundamentals are driven by stock va

      • by hvm2hvm (1208954) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @09:10AM (#41299275) Homepage
        You are right about that, long term investments don't care about this stuff but the thing is HFTs still act like leeches, sucking energy (i.e. money) out of the system by producing nothing. I never understood why an investor needs a response time faster than 1 second.
      • by Nicolai Haehnle (609575) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @10:34AM (#41300425)

        It's more and more about what algorithms your "opponents" are using and what your algorithms are set at.

        Only if you are in it for day-trading profits. And if you are, well, you deserve to be beaten senseless by some HFT algorithm.

        If you're a long term investor, with a time horizon of many decades, this doesn't matter. For example, I have a stock I bought 15 years ago. It has gone up by around 3X in that time. HFT makes no difference to me when I've held a stock over many years or decades. The exact microsecond it sells doesn't matter to me after a period of decades.

        The fundamentals are driven by stock valuations, which are based in what people guess about the future of the company. You can be as informed about that as anybody. If you believe a company will do well over the long haul, buy some of their stock. Don't worry about HFT. You don't have to microsecond-time your sale and beat some other HFT algorithm when you've made a lot of money over years, rather than little bit over seconds.

        It's more and more about what algorithms your "opponents" are using and what your algorithms are set at.

        Only if you are in it for day-trading profits. And if you are, well, you deserve to be beaten senseless by some HFT algorithm.

        If you're a long term investor, with a time horizon of many decades, this doesn't matter. For example, I have a stock I bought 15 years ago. It has gone up by around 3X in that time. HFT makes no difference to me when I've held a stock over many years or decades. The exact microsecond it sells doesn't matter to me after a period of decades.

        This is a good point. But then the question becomes: what good does HFT provide? A lot of smart people are sucked into that sector because of the money, where they are arguably causing a net loss to society by participating in an arms race that does not produce any real goods or services. Those smart people could in principle be contributing to research and development in areas that actually improve everybody's standard of living, such as medical research and robotics - or perhaps even in economics when it comes to analyzing long-term successes (after all, genuinely improving the capital allocation in the long-term could be beneficially to society, unlike the short-term gambling that is happening these days).

        With that in mind, there needs to be a discussion on how best to disincentivize this kind of extremely short-term behavior, where it is via transaction fees or via trading on heartbeats.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:22AM (#41298661)
      Posting AC as I've been working in HFT for 5 years now. You have no idea what you're talking about, errything you just wrote is absolute rubbish. It seems as if you would have the markets swinging wildly based on people's moods. There have been many many fat finger mistakes that were nothing to do with HFT, but you rarely hear about those these days. And when trading systems do go awry most exchanges have built-in and often automated undo not to mention penalties. Some exchanges even changes modes to auction when shifts over a certain percentage occur. This stuff is almost always blown out of proportion and you'd never read about the actual workings of the regulation and clearing processes which protect all players - believe me it is pretty tough building in some of the mandatory short circuits and all the realtime accountability documentation. There hasn't been the likes of Citi's "Dr Evil" algorithm since regulation caught up. Obviously I can't really elaborate on algorithms, but suffice it to say your understanding is naive at best - you're talking 2004 type games.
      • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:50AM (#41299015) Journal

        Obviously I can't really elaborate on algorithms, but suffice it to say your understanding is naive at best - you're talking 2004 type games.

        Great so you can't tell me why my understanding of how HFT works is wrong and I'm talking about "2004 type games" which would explain why I read about automated trading algorithms losing Knight Trading $440 million two months ago [slashdot.org]? Tell me, all those protection measures and penalties, did they protect the company running the automated trading software or the parties who engaged with trading with the automated trading software?

        This stuff is almost always blown out of proportion and you'd never read about the actual workings of the regulation and clearing processes which protect all players

        "Protect all players" you say? So that would mean that everyone gets paid when someone screws up big time? Well, I bet they're learning their lessons. I think what you mean is that it "protects the big firms that are doing the HFT" while the market is just a big massive beast ripe for the skimming?

        And when trading systems do go awry most exchanges have built-in and often automated undo not to mention penalties.

        So, when I buy stock in Wal-Mart and my "algorithm" (my brain) was screwed up, where's my automated undo button?

        This is a game where someone's loss is almost always another party's gain. There is no way to "protect all parties involved" with that sort of game. It's the nature of the goddamn game.

        If you're just some guy taking the highest paying programming job, I'm not mad at you -- that's capitalism. But if you're actually running the show or defending your boss, you and I are basically at polar opposites. HFT doesn't provide anything and receives an insane amount of cash. Betting on arbitrages isn't betting, you're basically taxing everyone else little bits of money and just being a huge fucking leech.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          ...automated trading algorithms losing Knight Trading $440 million two months ago [slashdot.org]? Tell me, all those protection measures and penalties, did they protect the company running the automated trading software

          I know you're asking a rhetorical question; but in this case, no, probably not. Read these excellent analyses by the inimitable Nanex [nanex.net]:

          Knightmare on Wall Street [nanex.net]
          The Knightmare Explained [nanex.net]
          (and see the other links from there).

          In short, it appears that Knight had a high-speed, automated order gene

      • There's only one thing to understand here: Private firms perform HFT and private firms would not do something that did not make them money. Private firms' interest in HFT is not to waste millions of dollars putting in crazy infrastructure just to help day traders strike it Romney Rich; their interest in HFT is to pull more money from everyone else in the stock market into their own coffers.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The stock market is about people being able to buy and sell securities that allows businesses to raise additional capital

      FYI, the raising of capital stops when the IPO is completed. From then on, the securities change hands between investors, not between investors and companies. All the buying and selling that happens in the stock market, on any given day, is purely between independent investors. The company is no longer involved in the process, and the fate of their stock is entirely up to the market part

      • Mods, get a grip (Score:4, Informative)

        by whoever57 (658626) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @09:38AM (#41299647) Journal

        FYI, the raising of capital stops when the IPO is completed. From then on, the securities change hands between investors, not between investors and companies.

        This is so wrong. The reason it is called an Initial Public Offering is that there may be other public offereings, later, when the company decides to sell more of its stock.

    • by Joce640k (829181) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:44AM (#41298921) Homepage

      what's going on is someone put out a big pre-order for Microsoft stock and so the HFT guys are buying stocks at a lower price than that only to turn over and dump them almost instantly as the order actually comes through netting fractions of a penny.

      That would be "insider trading" and it's illegal.

      The solution to this is to put a fixed tax on all stock trades. Make it unprofitable to buy/sell in this way.

    • by TheLink (130905) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:47AM (#41298955) Journal

      The rate at which these decisions are being made indicates that it is not going through a human mind.

      Why's that a problem? Index trackers don't involve human minds either.

      I'm fine with HFT. My only conditions are:
      1) No rollbacks for HFT trades[1]. You screw up you eat the loss.
      2) If bailouts are needed for whatever reason (your company loses billions of other people's money), the traders involved (if any) and the bosses go to jail for 20 years.
      3) The exchange only allows you to see what everyone else sees. No "peeking at other people's cards".

      If they still do HFT with these conditions we might eventually see an improvement in algorithms, software quality and testing.

      [1] Rollbacks are only allowed if it's not your fault e.g. the casino aka exchange screws up big time (slow downs don't count, going down doesn't count, exchange treating 1=2 counts, exchange treating buy as sell counts.).

    • by v1 (525388) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @09:08AM (#41299249) Homepage Journal

      Trading is too fast when it ceases to mean anything. The rate at which these decisions are being made indicates that it is not going through a human mind. The stock market is about people being able to buy and sell securities that allows businesses to raise additional capital. It was originally a very social thing so much so that it could reflect the mood of the populace's strength and development.

      I see it as more of a high-end gambling. You're trying to make money, with money, hoping to outguess someone else. It's really not all that different than going to vegas and playing the poker table. If you can find a few suckers, and avoid being one yourself, you can make money.

      All these people are doing is trying to speed up the process and make it easier to do. Some opportunities may only exist for a few seconds. Someone decides to sell when they shouldn't and causes price to dip momentarily. If you have automated systems in place you can take advantage of it better.

      The problem of course is the computers can get really twitchy and cause shockwaves of trading to occur. My favorite thing to watch is how people scream about how all this money "just disappeared". Idiots. The money was never there to begin with. There was just an opportunity for money and now there isn't. Big difference. Money doesn't disappear, liquidity disappears. But that can cause problems for companies that are running closer to the edge. When there's a "crash", the money is just taken back out of the system. 100% of it CAME from the investors (the public) and for awhile some of it was in the hands of companies, selling stock is like getting a loan from the public. A crash just means people try to take their money back. They won't get it all back, the company has some of it and the public has some of it. No money disappears, you just don't see as much anymore.

      It's all an illusion created by liquidity. It's like a group of three friends passing a $1 bill around. All three of them see $1 and get the impression that it looks like $3 since all three of them see $1. Until someone pockets the bill and the other two don't see it anymore, and start freaking out wondering where the other $2 went. A loss in liquidity makes people think (their) money has vanished, and someone must be to blame, and tends to cause a panic.

      Same effect with stock. If you buy a stock from a company for $1, where's the money? They have $1 cash and you have $1 in stock. Does that mean that $2 exists in this closed system? NO. There was $1 and there still is only $1. If you turn around and sell your stock back to the company, you have $1 cash and the company, well their own stock isn't worth anything to them unless they can sell it so they really have nothing. So now we went magically from $2 to $1 as a dollar disappeared? NO.

      • I see it as more of a high-end gambling. You're trying to make money, with money, hoping to outguess someone else. It's really not all that different than going to vegas and playing the poker table. If you can find a few suckers, and avoid being one yourself, you can make money.

        You have been suckered. This is not the above. It is a Ponzi sceme - these people are not gambling their own money, they are gambling someone else's and get a percentage of both wins and loses The faster they go, the more times they

    • A bigger issue of one of societal dependence. As a society we have become dependent on the stock market. Entire government policies are built upon it.

      Rather than the stock market being this private business to raise capital for other businesses, it has become something society and government have deemed an essential. Entire policies are based around making sure the stock market goes up or growth occurs or certain people make money.

      Inflation is also pretty much mandated by the government so you NEED to inves

    • The stock market is about people being able to buy and sell securities that allows businesses to raise additional capital. It was originally a very social thing so much so that it could reflect the mood of the populace's strength and development.

      An IPO is a business raising additional capital; everything else after that is psychology, almost the second thing you said. The stock market is about none of that though; it's about person A swindling person B out of their money.

      The stock market shows the opinion of the market's major buying and selling power on a security. The security starts to slow and peak when the minority are the only ones in the buy-buy-buy cycle. They're out there screaming "BUY BUY BUY OMG GOLD IS GOING UP IT'S GOING TO HIT L

    • by HiThere (15173)

      The thing is, there's no proper speed. None.

      OTOH, there are definitely improper speeds. My idea is that there should be a floating tax rate on stock transactions, that increases with the speed of the transaction. I think it should hit 100% at around a microsecond, and 0% at 5-20 years, and scale logrithmicly in between. (OTOH, linearly would be simpler to understand and implement, so maybe that would be better.)

      Perhaps linearly is the correct answer, since if you are doing fast trading, the taxes would

  • My answer to this is very simple: more than once a day is too fast, and it should be forbidden.
    • by gorzek (647352) <gorzekNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:25AM (#41298687) Homepage Journal

      Nothing so extreme is necessary. You can kill the HFT nonsense with a few straightforward tweaks:

      1. Put a random delay on every order, up to 60 seconds. This makes millisecond-level speculation worthless.
      2. Assign a small fee (0.1%, 0.5%, something on that level) to every transaction.
      3. Require sellers to make good on their offered prices. Don't offer a price you aren't willing to actually take.

      Some combination of those would eliminate HFT as a useful vector of profit-taking.

  • by rossdee (243626) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @07:56AM (#41298395)

    If you pay a flat $9.95 per trade, and you do it fast enough (say 1 gigahertz) you'll be spending more money than the national debt in a few hours.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      That seems like a rational solution, but it would need to be a percent of the stock value. For BRK.A $9.95 is nothing, but if you were trading only a few shares of GKNT then this would pretty much prevent you from ever making any money.

    • Since large companies don't care about $9.95, that means it's big dollar amounts. You're on to something here. Either fees should be a percentage-based deal which would slow them way the hell down or just lower the allowed frequency based on how large the dollar amount is. That way anyone can make $10,000 purchases and sales as often as they want but when you start throwing around $10 mil, then you get to wait 5 minutes.
  • it's too fast (Score:5, Insightful)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquar ... m ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @07:57AM (#41298397) Homepage Journal

    when your average investor is having an unseen tax applied to his transactions

    which is what HFT is: an unfair tax by those who can afford the screamiest servers, the closest fibre optic connection, and the scariest code. it renders the idea of a fair marketplace a lie

    the solution is easy: queue all trades on a heart beat

    once every second, once ever three seconds, once a millisecond... whatever is agreed upon, all trades are queued up and then released on this schedule, and no one or nothing can surpass it

    there are many complex unfair problems in life. but this is one with an easy solution. the problem is no finding the willpower to enact the change. as with many problems in american civil and political life, the will to do the right thing is polluted by the plutocrat's money

    • by brxndxn (461473)

      I like your solution.. Mine, in previous posts, was to add a random delay (less than a second) to all trades and apply a tax. The tax would be very minute - it would go unnoticed to everyone except the people making a ton of trades.

      • by gorzek (647352)

        Those are the same ideas I've had.

        There are plenty of ways to approach it, but the reality is, there are too many people making too much money to go along with any of this willingly. It would have to be mandated by law.

        • Those are the same ideas I've had.

          There are plenty of ways to approach it, but the reality is, there are too many people making too much money to go along with any of this willingly. It would have to be mandated by law.

          Tell ya what, while I don't know enough about economics to personally confront my Congressperson about implementing these very good ideas y'all have posited, I'll happily add my name to a Change.org petition anyone creates to that effect, and recommend all I know sign it as well.

    • Re:it's too fast (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sprouticus (1503545) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:06AM (#41298491)

      Wish I had mod points for the parent here.

      The key point HFT people keep harping on is increased liquidity. The issue is that at some point, a point we reached long ago, that increased liquidity became meaningless to investors and the HFT tax became a burden. Even institutional investors pay this tax. Only other HFT traders care now.

      They are skimming money off the top, adding ZERO value to the market, and pissing off just about everyone.

      But they have the money, so they can prevent regulations from limiting this... (plus regulaiton are always bad, right?)

      • by GigsVT (208848)

        If they are skimming money consistently, then by definition they are still adding liquidity. You can't make money off of arbitrage unless there's a market inefficiency to be corrected.

        • Re:it's too fast (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Smidge204 (605297) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:55AM (#41299073) Journal

          Market inefficiency?

          I stand outside a supermarket asking people what they plan to buy. After they walk in, I radio my friend inside who immediately buys every last one of those items off the shelves. As the person leaves the store empty handed, I offer to sell them what they wanted at a slightly increased price.

          Not a perfect analogy but that's pretty much what my understanding of what HFT is; buy it before the other guy can, then sell it to him yourself for a razor-thin profit. Repeat thousands of times per day and you end up with a pile of cash.

          Where is the market inefficiency that's being corrected here?
          =Smidge=

          • by macson_g (1551397)
            Your analogy is incorrect.
            Orders (intents to trade) are visible to everyone only when they enter the exchange, so there is no "guy standing in front of supermarket". What you described is 'flash trading', and it is dodgy and almost no exchange is allowing for that this days.

            HFT is a guy buying bottle of coke and then reselling it shortly after, when the price has been increased by $0.01, rinse, repeat, leave the supermarket at the end of the day richer and with no coke at all.
      • Re:it's too fast (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gorzek (647352) <gorzekNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:37AM (#41298819) Homepage Journal

        "Liquidity" as the argument for allowing HFT doesn't really prove anything, either.

        Okay, so it grants near-perfect liquidity. Great. So what? Is that more important than market stability and sane trading practices?

        That is the real problem: that traders on Wall Street think the system should be set up exactly how they want it so they can make as much money as possible, but taxpayers will be there to bail them out when the shit hits the fan. Well, fuck that. The economy is too important to just let it run wild in this way. No one is guaranteed a completely free and open market. We have rules for a reason. Ending the HFT shell game won't drive anyone out of the market who was making a genuine contribution in the first place.

        • by Rockoon (1252108)

          Is that more important than market stability and sane trading practices?

          When was there ever market stability and sane trading prices?

          This is exactly why you are wrong. HFT is something for you to rally against only because you feel that you must rally against something but have absolutely no idea what that something is supposed to be.

          I've got a hint for you: Its monies influence on government, not HFT. This is something you wont accept as the root of the problem because the solution is a smaller, less powerful government, and that goes against your core belief system.

    • by Walterk (124748)

      So basically what you're saying is that the stock market should be a game of Civilization [wikipedia.org].

    • Re:it's too fast (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tobe (62758) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:39AM (#41298857)

      "the solution is easy: queue all trades on a heart beat"

      That's exactly the conclusion I came to after a recent tour of a bunch of HFT shops here in London.

      Right now the fastest responder wins. This leads to co-location (putting your hardware physically in the exchange) and something called Flash Trading where, for a fee, you get access to bids fractions of a seconds before they enter the market.

      This clearly isn't a fair, transparent market.

      Put a heartbeat, 1ms or even as high as 5s, on the market. Market state only updates, in it's entirety, on that edge. And get rid of Flash Trading. That stuff is clearly not fair or even ethical.

      The smooths out the unequal access to the best prices that currently exist for those that can afford it and even gives the algo shops time to more sophisticated analytics.

      It's pretty shocking that, contrary to what you might think, the models that are driving the algorithms are pretty-simple minded and stuffed full of magic numbers. A senior guy at UBS admitted to me that there's absolutely no science involved in their construction. Verification is done on a monte-carlo type simulation with historical data and the model must continually be updated as trading conditions change. The quants are generally just looking for a new set of magic numbers that make the simulations profitable. Literally no-one understands how the models work and they bear absolutely no relation to the kind of 'Frost in Florida, Orange Juice futures up' kind of market conditions the man in the street might expect.

      It's kind of frightening really that our pensions are changing in value based on the execution of these algorithms

      • Re:it's too fast (Score:5, Informative)

        by macson_g (1551397) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @10:21AM (#41300247)
        don't mod parent up

        First: no ones pensions are changing in value because HFT.

        Second: applying hearbeat will not mitigate HFT. This is basically how auction works, and some exchanges actually do heartbeating. But there are still HFT strategies running in this conditions, heck - there are event strategies that thrive on such a markets, as you can trade against participants who entered order early in the period and couldn't incorporate informations from the remaining time into they pricing decision.
  • too fast (Score:4, Insightful)

    by O('_')O_Bush (1162487) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @07:59AM (#41298415)
    I would say whenever the system is operating faster than humans can understand or react. The way it is now, HFT is just a layer to siphon off money from people who do not have their own system.

    A 5 minute hold on a purchased stock, either before delivery or before another transaction with it, would fix the HFT problem.

    Though, if you listen to the people making money off HFT, there is no problem, and HFT benefits everyone through "increased liquidity". The problem is, the HFT system is flipping stocks on the ms scale, causing stocks to be less volatile (stagnant), and not really filling large time gaps of supply or demand that would cause liquidity issues.
  • HFT could be curbed simply by raising the execution price for each consecutive trade a firm makes in an hour (or even in a minute). Won't affect most traders, but HFTs would become more expensive. There's really no incentive for the exchanges to do this, since they're raking in millions in co-location fees and they're able to claim lower execution times for most trades.

  • by Rambo Tribble (1273454) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:02AM (#41298451) Homepage
    ... pretty well before they introduced that pesky telegraph.
    • by grumling (94709)

      There's the answer. Tech happens, get used to it. The key is getting the price down so everyone can play in the sandbox.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        So how can everyone afford server rack near the exchange?
        Should the exchange provide those private fiber links for free?

      • by gorzek (647352) <gorzekNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:42AM (#41298897) Homepage Journal

        Nonsense. No one is against technology here. What is being decried is the unregulated use of technology to enable profit-taking by an elite class of investors who contribute nothing through their market manipulation, and instead have caused multiple "flash crashes" through their incompetence.

        Just because we have the technology to do something, doesn't mean we should just do it, or allow it because it is possible. That our laws haven't caught up to this sort of thing doesn't mean it's perfectly fine.

    • .. and paper and pencil. Cuneiform chiseled into stone should be required for all exchanges. Seriously, what is the problem with allowing people (or their algorithms) to trade very quickly? If their algorithms make money, good luck to them. If they lose money, tough titties. (Not arguing with Rambo, who I think was making the same point)
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        They don't lose money. Look at the last time they screwed up in a major way, the exchange reversed the trades.

      • Actually, to put a finer point on it, I was pointing to the fact that current technology applied to the market is an Atlas rocket strapped to a horse cart. But, hey, what could go wrong?
  • by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:05AM (#41298481)
    The speed of trading is irrelevant to the serious investor. Speculators will always make trades as quickly as possible to make a quick buck regardless of the fundamentals; investors will buy and hold based on the fundamentals, buying and selling after months, not fractions of a second. Prices will always revert to a more "intrinsic" value, regardless of any skewing by speculators.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      If we were not dealing with HFT you would be correct. Instead HFT adds a tax to all the transactions you are talking about.

    • by grumling (94709) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:14AM (#41298573) Homepage

      Except that if you have sell triggers set based on normal movements of a stock and it happens to get caught up in a flash crash, it could easily execute at the low price then bounce and you'd never have time to react.

      • by GigsVT (208848)

        You can use options to avoid limit sell crash losses. Instead of placing a limit sell you can buy a put.

        Damn those "evil derivatives" and their benefits to the common investor.

      • by swalve (1980968)
        So the reason not to use computer algorithms for trading is so that other people's computer algorithms don't get messed up?
  • Don't worry about frequency - just make them pay for it.

    Price per stock traded per day. Trade in one stock, your daily fee is $X. Trade in two stocks that day? That'll be $X^2. Your third trade will cost $X^3 and so on. (Or some such similar mathematical relationship).

    Then if you make the one good, careful decision, you aren't penalised. If you make multiple trades that are sure to make you money, you aren't penalised. If the market for that stock is collapsing and you NEED to get out, you'll pay it.

  • key (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:07AM (#41298499) Homepage Journal

    Key question: when is fast trading too fast?

    When it ceases to be trading and becomes gambling instead.

    Basically, if you are looking at numbers and not meaning, you aren't trading anymore. Here's a suggestion for a totally impractical test: If you call up the trader in question and ask him what the company behind the shares does (i.e. which business it is in) and he has no clue, then he's not a trader, he's a gambler.

    • People have been looking at numbers and not meaning since the beginning, e.g. "technical" analysis. I suspect the majority gamble, and I don't think that's going to ever change. Security analysis takes work, isn't glamorous and doesn't deliver a fix or high. The problem is not when people gamble, but when people gamble and think they're doing something else; however, that has nothing to do with HFT, which only presents yet another gambling avenue. It also gives opportunities to actual investors, that ca
    • Key question: when is fast trading too fast?

      When it ceases to be trading and becomes gambling instead.

      Basically, if you are looking at numbers and not meaning, you aren't trading anymore. Here's a suggestion for a totally impractical test: If you call up the trader in question and ask him what the company behind the shares does (i.e. which business it is in) and he has no clue, then he's not a trader, he's a gambler.

      It seems to me that there's always been a significant element of gambling in the stock market. In excess it's a problem, but it doesn't have to be.

      No, the problem is when it ceases to even be gambling, and becomes a sure thing. That's when you know that something's gone wrong. As I understand it, the whole point of HFT is to avoid the problem of actually taking any risk in the stock market, and making sure that the people running them can just make sure money at a certain rate.

      That's waaaaay more of a probl

  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:13AM (#41298559) Homepage

    At such short timescales, trading is a provably zero-sum game. So where do all the fantastic profits that HFT operations claim come from? Everyone else. If you invest in a stock, during that process, an HFT algorithm (or ten) attempt to manipulate the market to cost you a fraction more, sweating the coins [wikipedia.org] that you might receive. (The rest of the time, the HFT algorithms end up fighting each other, but apart from driving the market unstable, its only the HFT operators who win/lose amongst themselves, the HFT industry gains nothing).

    Yet they don't actually provide the much vaunted "liquidity": if they did, they couldn't extract the revenue by making the liquidity dissipate when its actually needed: if the HFT bots added liquidity, Knight Capital wouldn't have taken a huge loss, as they could have sold the stock they bought back to the market rather than having to lose $400M! selling the shares to Goldman Sachs.

    It really is time for a microscopic but non-zero Tobin tax [wikipedia.org] on stock transactions: $.00001 per buy or sell request issued to the market. That should stop the bots from spamming the market with bogus requests, and level the playing field for everyone else.

    • by BenJury (977929)

      Yet they don't actually provide the much vaunted "liquidity"

      Without them the spread would be wider, this is liquidity.

  • When H.F.T. first came out the approach of "buy when its going up and sell as soon as it ticked down" made some people a lot of money, because the H.F.T was just piggybacking on some human that had decided to move the stock for some reason that made sense. Now that so many of the trades are from H.F.T. algorithms what you have are computers piggybacking on computers moving the stock price all by themselves, and thus we have a feedback system with less and less damping as the percent of the trades that don't

  • by Tom (822) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:19AM (#41298621) Homepage Journal

    Here's what most magazines and newspapers discussing the topic are missing:

    A definition of what we want the stock market to be like.

    Everyone is focussing on what they don't want. But that's not how you build a resilient system. Basically, that's using default-allow for your firewall. You'll be spending the rest of your life adding rules of what you don't want.

    Once you switch around your mind, the questions become a lot easier. Decide what you want the stock exchange to be, and you get your answers almost for free.

    If you want the stock exchange to be a place where companies can meet investors and get capital raised, then everything that doesn't serve that purpose directly or indirectly is out. You define how the process should work and allow only that, done. Everyone who wants to play games will have to do it within the parameters you have defined.

    The whole problem here is that too many people still believe the old nonsense about the invisible hand. Yes, to some extent you can build a sandbox and people will come and build their sand castles. You can provide a market place and have the participants sort out how everything works.
    But you will get scammers, fraudsters, thieves, HFTs and all the other scum as well. If your sandbox is an MMO, you will get gold farmers and scammers and spammers. If your sandbox is a stock exchange, you will get HFTs and stock fraud and insider trading.

    Letting chaotic self-organization create the rules of the game through emergence is an interesting experiment, one that I enjoy quite a bit when it comes to games or small settings (book a weekend with friends in a summer cottage and something will happen, no need to set up a schedule beforehand).

    Allowing corrupt idiot politicians to base the world economy on chaos theory was one of the dumbest ideas we as a species ever had. Read some catastrophy theory [gold-eagle.com] first (at least check out the graphic if the article is tl;dr). There's a reason we call it chaotic systems, you know?

  • As there's no limit to human stupidity, there will be none to HFT!
    HFT can only work as long as there are humans directly involved in the trade chain and inclided to make (evaluation) errors.
    Algorithms can be easily adjusted and even made "intelligent" to auto-adjust and auto-tune.
    Then, once all trading will be done by computers with adjustable and tunable algorithms, HFT won't bring any real advantege any more.
    Just infrastructure costs.

  • Content free (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm (69642) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:20AM (#41298645)

    The NYT article sucked. Can't wait for print journalism to die.
    1) Here's some authorities who are authorities because we say so, who are fighting like little middle school drama queens
    2) Everyone loves a good "rich people suck and they're corrupt
    3) Rabble rousing tired old cliche of "kids have no idea what they're doing vs old people are obsolete"

    If you want the real story try Stucchio's blog series beginning at:
    http://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2012/hft_apology.html [chrisstucchio.com]

    My pitiful TLDR summary of Stucchio's work combined with some other observations

    1) Idiotic SEC rule 612 quantizes share price into small enough increments that you can raise the capital to HFT and increments that are large enough that you can make some serious dough doing HFT. HFT is not caused by Bolshevists in your bathroom or too many atheists or gobblin infestations, its caused by a stupid SEC rule that was created in a snap of the fingers and can go away just as quick.

    2) Ask ANY EE or "real" telecom guy HFT is a real world application of dithering to improve resolution. Oh the "real" price of a share is 100.003 but we're only allowed to report price to a resolution such that its either of two quantum states 100.00 or 100.01. Simple system solution? Dump out 10 orders, 3 at 100.01 and 7 at 100.00 to meet some idiotic SEC rule. Now "everyone" knows the real free market price is signalled at 100.003 even if the unfree market is only allowed to trade at one cent increments.

    3) Most of the whiners on both sides have a dog in the fight, if they are in the business and can't HFT for whatever reason they hate HFT and if they can they love it. Or they're just doing witchcraft style persecution where no logical mechanism is necessary... my sheep died therefore we should hang some old woman is no different than my dotcom bombed therefore we should punish a successful HFT trader "just because".

    4) The ratio of HFT trading vs retail trading is absolutely exploding not entirely because HFT is growing (although it is...) but because retail trading is absolutely dying. Retail is dying for two reasons: Headed into next down leg of the second great depression (bubbles usually melt up in price and down in volume) and demographic stuff like looking at labor force participation graphs tens of millions of working age americans are no longer working, therefore there is no need to invest their 401K and IRA money from non-existent jobs. So yes HFT is growing but don't make the mistake of thinking the ratio of HFT to retail is in any way relevant, because retail is terminally ill and almost dead.

    5) Some elderly/lazy people get all confused about frontrunning (which is illegal) because both frontrunners and HFTers are nuts crazy about low latency and fast execution. Therefore they obviously must be the same, at least to an idiot. This is about as intelligent as the anti-vaxers ... "Getting hit in the head by a 2x4 causes stupidity... high levels of lead in the blood cause stupidity... therefore getting hit in the head by a 2x4 results in high blood levels of lead". Morons.

    6) Some lazy people enter market orders instead of limit orders. Probably not a wise idea any time in the last 150 or so years, although it is an even worse idea when retail volume is melting down and HFT volume is melting up. You could ban market orders for retail investors, but stupid people are always going to find a way to lose money, so I'm not sure there's any point to it. There's an infinite pool of ways for morons to lose money so removing one isn't going to really change the outcome. Its not the end of the world in that any average long term retail investor trade has just about zero odds of being stuck in a "flash-anything" related HFT event.

  • by organgtool (966989) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @08:46AM (#41298947)

    Key question: when is fast trading too fast?

    That is not necessarily the key question since it's not just the speed of the trades that is the problem. The problem is that companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build data centers to host applications that are responsible for high-frequency trading. These applications are unregulated and have already caused at least one flashcrash. In addition to that, the software is also responsible for a mistake to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars and the investment firm actually got that money back when your average investor would not have gotten anything back. In addition to that, there have been suspicions and allegations that companies are performing highly questionable and possibly illegal actions hidden in these blink-of-an-eye manipulations.

    I'll admit that I don't know exactly what these companies are doing with HFT and that's precisely the problem. All I know is that they wouldn't be collectively spending billions of dollars on it if it wasn't expected to be extremely lucrative. What I do know is that at any given point in time there is a finite amount of money in the stock market. And if HFT gets trading companies more money, then that money has to come from somewhere and if it's not coming from other trading companies, then it must be coming from the investors. That is why I have recently stopped trading and I refuse to start until there is a serious investigation and possible regulations against HFT. Without such oversight, at the very least I feel that the game is being rigged against me and at the worst, they could make a bigger mess of this than the mortgage-backed securities debacle that contributed to the last crash.

  • by ukemike (956477) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @09:31AM (#41299521) Homepage
    Since the annual value of derivatives trading is approximately 7 times the size of the annual world GDP( http://xkcd.com/980/huge/ [xkcd.com] ); and since money is so tight that governments are enacting austerity programs in an attempt to reduce costs and pay debt; and since our infrastructure is falling apart because of lack of funding we should institute a time-based tax on securities and derivatives trades. Tax such that these lightning fast trades are so heavily taxed that they become valueless and tax such that long term holdings are almost not taxed at all. Long term investment is good for the economy and for society. Wall street gambling is bad for the economy and bad for society.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @09:44AM (#41299759)
    Some firms post a million buy-sell orders a day, but only execute a few of them.
  • by kimvette (919543) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @09:48AM (#41299813) Homepage Journal

    Considering it pragmatically over the long term, trading is too fast when it amounts to betting or surfing rather than investing. Day trading and high frequency trading is not what public trading was intended for. It was designed to raise money for product R&D, and in exchange the people who fund the development will (hopefully) reap a return, either in a greatly increased share price down the line, or in the form of profit sharing (dividends). High frequency trading benefits only the brokers and a very select few "investors"[sic], and over the long term is bad for our economy and bad for our nation, because we have long ago forgotten the value of hard work, betterment of our nation, and improving things as a whole for everyone. It seems like everything is now born of a sense of an entitlement: "Gimmegimmegimme!" and nothing more.

    The baby boomers have ruined everything for us, and for future generations. Thanks, guys.

    Pathetic.

  • by alexmin (938677) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @10:00AM (#41299991)

    The submission is actually about ad harvesting by a blogger linking to NYT article written by someone who know nothing about subject matter for the sole purpose to gather eyeballs in first place.
    How this amounts to "news" or anything remotely worth putting on /. is completely beyound me.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @11:40AM (#41301445) Homepage Journal

    and had humans doing what the program do, it would be illegal.

  • by Fishbulb (32296) on Tuesday September 11, 2012 @02:28PM (#41304133)

    Return Wall Street to be investment-oriented from trade-oriented. A 15% capital gains tax is too rewarding for a gain on stock that technically never makes it to the company it was supposedly and "investment" in, and thereby promotes trad-centered behavior.

    How? By adjusting capital gains income (earned investment income) tax according to how long it was held:
    less than 1 sec = 99%
    1-5 sec = 98%
    greater than 5 less than 30 sec = 97%
    less than 1 min = 96%
    less than 5 min = 95%
    less than 1 hour = 93%
    less than 4 hours = 92%
    less than 1 day = 90%
    less than 1 week = 85%
    less than 1 month = 80%
    less than 6 months = 70%
    less than 1 year = 60%
    [...]
    greater than 10 years = 15%

    and finally, and probably MOST important: make it Last In First Out - the most recent stock sold is the most recent stock bought. Pop the stack. Otherwise after 10 years it's right back to where it was.

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