Oct

14

 Are HFTs like insider traders? Insiders have an edge because they know nonpublic information about their businesses. What edge do high frequency traders have? Do their fleeting orders that are pulled within milliseconds give them unique insight into order flow?

Victor Niederhoffer comments:

No. It gives them the insight to earn the bid asked spread which specialists used to earn and prevents others from doing the same. See Niederhoffer and Osborne on this point jasa 1966.

Vince Fulco comments: 

HFT machines and their algorithms, competing fiercely amongst themselves to be the point of the cathode (bid, the electron receiver) and the anode (ask, the supply of electrons) across which a trade sparks, make it possible for a market order in size to be executed within the public bid-asked spread, which, in stocks is a penny. That means if the bid is 42.12 and the ask is 42.13, a buy order will likely be filled at 42.127566.

Compare to not too long ago when the minimum increment was a sixteenth (six and a quarter pennies) and before that an eighth (twelve and a half pennies.) As long as we aren't competing to be market makers, we the trading and investing public have benefitted from the machines duking it out in milliseconds and micropoints to sell at the ask and buy at the bid. It has narrowed the spread, speeded up executions, and facilitated ever larger trades which do not disturb the price.

This increased mechanical competition provides depth, though it is much less visible depth because the machines can flash in and yank bids and offers faster than the message can travel from your retina to your lizard brain. The supposed lack of depth is simply because the depth has gone stealth. It is there.

The franchises available to humans to make the market are gone are will be in the liquid equities markets. The machines have taken over. Our edges in humans, while they last, must span larger time scales.

anonymous writes: 

This just seems like a better adaptation, right?

At least in stocks, the order book is locked until the order executes, and so there is no way to get into the book ahead of anyone else to provide liquidity for an order as it execute. Similarly, there is no front running possible as the order book is closed.

The NYSE Specialists saw the orders first and made the quotes, and so had an 'unfair' edge. Otoh, they had to buy on zero or minus ticks unlike the HFT guys who can take stock.

As an aside, I assume that much of the price spikyness is is HFT (generation something) gunning against each other.

Phil McDonnell adds: 

 The edge they have is that their co-located servers get to see your order 30 milliseconds before it becomes marketable. This allows them to front run orders with a fast acting algorithm. Their orders are acted upon instantly but not yours. In effect they get a 30 ms option on your order.

The opportunity is very similar to the wire scam in The Sting where the results of the track races are delayed so that the scammers can appear to be picking winners.

Jim Lackey writes: 

 I bid for 5,000 shares of a nazzy stock during lunch and watched the HFT gone wild. When ESRX was pre split and over 100 a share I fooled with it at lunch one day last summer of 2010. It's exactly like us back in the day watching instinet bids and offers and we soes the market makers. Problem is or the unknowing if they can see your market order (even if limit to take the offer) 1 millisecond before it goes public the HFT can take the offer and then be the next higher offer and make a cent or as Gibbons says 1/10th of a cent. That was flash orders that are supposedly banned but who the Hades knows.

However, if you know there is nothing in the dark pool throw a market order up for as little as 500 shares and watch them take it up .125 or .25 cents and right back down. It didn't upset me much but it was funny as back in the day the spreads on those stocks were always .25 and the 1/8th for the most liquid. Order handling rules of 1997 changed the game so market makers couldn't make a living they quit became day traders the bubble hit there were no adults in the nazz and well, you saw what happened.

Opposite was the 666 lows and flash crashes. 

That isn't an edge we had that with ISLD exchange 13 years ago. First in line is no big deal, that is playing low or high tick of the day and or trying to take offers just as you know it's about to take off. We all operate on scales and if your no filled at all or enough it's because you were wrong not because your last in line for the penny or the 1/4 on the futures. Co location is the last thing I worry about. Even if you hide your orders or use limits at the offer prices or even above where your scale would be I do fear shortly the order sniffers would make my bid thru the ask the bid by the millisecond it takes my order to go from my machine in Nashville to the CME. Then see my order codes and say wow this lack is on the ball today and I go to buy 5es and they buy 50,000…

Yes that was a joke.

anonymous writes:

Hi Phil,

As I understand it, if I send an order to NYSE, my order posts to the NYSE book, and if it is marketable, the book is frozen (no new orders into the book) until my order becomes unmarketable. Are you saying that participants other than DMM's can see my order before it gets into the NYSE book? If so, I am headed to OWS.

Thanks! Jared

Tradercraft writes: 

They simply see and can react to bids and offers more quickly. If you put in a bid to buy at 15.23, they will bid 15.232. You pull yours out, and they pull theirs. You can't compete with them at the sparking tip of the arc gap. They make their money by making the market, so the competition is to be the just-highest bid, and the just-lowest ask. They pocket the spread. Outside pay the spread. That is life in the markets.

Vince Fulco comments:

Trade flow for all non-HFTs gets screwed up. Inevitably you have to bid much smaller and with wider scales lessening the chance of a full fill. HFTs exist for no other reason than to goad one to pay up.

Jim Lackey adds: 

I am not going to argue with time and sales whether or not HFT adds or takes liquidity for that second. However all day long they are simply market makers or short term scalpers, so at some point they add liquidity back.

Look at it this way, if a HFT decides to front run and buy and that next second the euro drops and the algoes whack all the bids then HFT is now a seller, which is good for us if we are looking to buy 5-50 or 5 hours later at lower prices. It's only bad when I am not long and we rise or I am long and it's a dramatic last hour decline. How you, me, and traders vs. investors scale is a function of the magnitude of ranges, day change/velocity and margin/firepower at the end of start of runs.

If you want my vote to kill off HFT or triple levered ETF's I say start with the ETF's first. What difference is it to me if its GSCO MLCO, Floorbrokers or HFT trying to rip me off? Yet the Triple nippled ETF's that are used to get around margin rules now make the stock it self a derivative of a ETF or an Index.

In a way its as wacky as that ABX intex or other mumbo that at first was a design to help and hedge a market and became a weapon. CDS ETF's all that off the book. Makes being a bookie a tough game…for what good reason? People gave up on the game as its so rigged now we have 5-10% air pockets in the entire US stock market. Kinda silly…

Anton Johnson adds: 

Will the evolutionary terminus be that the pride of once cooperative machines turn on each other once their prey is pressured to extinction, or will there be equilibrium where the apex predators maintain both population and stress levels that permit sufficient sustenance for their prey to coexist?

Gibbons Burke comments:

They are doing that now. There are algorithms that are designed to exploit the patterns of the other algorithms. There are all sorts of games being played at the millisecond level which are predatory in nature, and adaptive.


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