Light Reading

Is Technology to Blame for Rigged Trading?

Carol Wilson
3/31/2014
50%
50%

Using telecom technology to cheat Wall Street investors? I'm shocked, shocked, I say. But is the technology at fault, or the way it's being used? And what will this mean for the future of collocation and low-latency services targeting the financial services community?

Having repeatedly written stories of how financial services companies and traders were driving telecom network operators to deploy more high-speed, low-latency fiber-based services to gain an advantage, often calculated in milliseconds, in the trading of stocks, I wasn't entirely surprised to hear the 60 Minutes report Sunday that some of the high-speed high jinx weren't exactly fair… though not illegal. It's not clear to me whether what is unfair is not the speed of the trade or the information being obtained.

In an interview of author Michael Lewis, on the show to promote his upcoming book, Flash Boys, the CBS news program showed how some traders buy high-speed services and collocate their servers in the same data centers as financial exchanges in order to gain faster access to trading than the average investment company or investor.

Those high-speed traders are trying to gain millisecond advantages in the timing of their trades, and are able to detect incoming orders and essentially place their own orders in faster, thus jumping the line and driving up the cost of at least part of an original trade.

As one of those interviewed, Brad Katsuyama, who once headed the Royal Bank of Canada's investment team, explained it, the process would be like ordering tickets online and having someone able to see your request for four tickets, jump in line ahead of you and drive up the cost of two of those tickets before your order is completed.

Interestingly, Katsuyama -- who was the hero of the 60 Minutes piece -- got fed up and left the RBC to create his own exchange, IEX Group Inc., which literally uses long lengths of spooled fiber-optic cable, contained in its trading platform, to inject 350 microseconds of delay into all trades, thus eliminating the high-speed trader advantage.

So, using technology to combat a technological advantage -- quite clever.

As this Bloomberg BusinessWeek article notes, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is looking into whether it's legal to sell products and services which offer faster access to data and richer information on trades than is available to the public.

It's this "richer information" part that has me a little confused. If anyone who wants to buy faster high-speed links and pay for collocation space can do so, bearing that not-inconsiderable cost, that isn’t an unfair advantage. But if, by doing so, companies are able to gain access to information from those exchanges on other incoming orders, and to short-cut their way in front of those orders, that hardly seems right or legal.

The impact of Lewis's book and any resulting investigations on the sale of low-latency and collocation service to the financial trading industry -- a very lucrative target market and anchor tenant for many telecom players -- will be fascinating to follow. Of course, the bigger impact will be on the American equity markets. As Bloomberg notes, the volume of trading on the major US exchanges is three times as great today as it was in the go-go '90s, and that's a lot of money changing hands and a lot of income being generated for traders in the process.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

(14)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/7/2014 | 2:18:11 PM
Michael Lewis says
And now I've heard an NPR Fresh Air interview with Lewis. He argues that these flash traders are parasites. They're not value investors. They're taking profits from value traders, including pension funds that pay for workers' retirement.

An independent stock exchange has been founded that circumvents flash trading. That's an argument that no additional regulation is required -- not only will the market solve this problem, it's already doing so.  
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/7/2014 | 2:15:42 PM
Re: Where's the damage
ethertype - Good metaphor -- particularly since, in your metaphor, the guys hanging around the counter are parasites, providing no value. 

Somewhere up the supply chain, there's a manufacturer making delicious mustard. The shops are bringing the mustard to our fair city and making it available. The buyer is adding the mustard to delicious sandwiches. 

But the guys hanging around the counter don't provide any value, and they simply drive up prices for everyone. 

They're like ticket scalpers. 

And I'm getting hungry -- 45 minutes until lunchtime. 
mendyk
50%
50%
mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/1/2014 | 6:01:51 PM
Re: Where's the damage
Post of the month. And it's only the first day.
ethertype
50%
50%
ethertype,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/1/2014 | 5:07:39 PM
Re: Where's the damage
Here's the analogy:  you look at websites of several gourmet shops (exchanges) to see who has your favorite mustard in stock and at what price (bid/ask quotes).  Three shops have stock at very similar price, but none of them has all 60 jars that you need.  So you send out three bicycle couriers (messages on a "slow" IP network) at the same time to the three shops with instructions for each of them to buy 20 jars of mustard at the advertised price (buy orders).  The closest shop (BATS) is 3 blocks away, the other two shops are 6 and 10 blocks away.  When your first courier arrives at the first shop and asks for 20 jars of mustard, a guy standing near the counter (one of the high-frequency trader's servers) hears your order and sends a text message (low-latency message via direct fiber connection) to his friends (servers) at the other two shops telling them mustard orders may be coming so they can buy all the mustard and offer it back for sale at a slightly higher price, all of which occurs before your orders arrive. By the time the other two couriers get to those shops, the price is slightly higher than when you sent them out.  Your couriers call you to tell you the bad news, but you need the mustard so you tell them to go ahead and buy at the higher price.

This all works for the mustard traders because the shops let them hang around by the counter listening to what everyone else is doing and do things like buying all the mustard in the shop and then selling it right back.  If you want to compete with them, or avoid having them trade in front of you, you could hire your own people to stand at the same shop counters and send in your orders to them via text (i.e. joining the low latency tech arms race).  But if you're just ordering mustard now and then, that's really expensive.  Or you can tell all your couriers to synchronize their watches and buy at the exact same time, so the courier at the first shop just sits around and waits until the right time before placing his order, and the other guys place theirs before anyone can learn about the first one and jump in front of them.  (That's what RBC's THOR system did at first.)  Or you can say, "Hey, let's open our own shop and don't let any shady guys with cell phones hang around the counter, because once people realize how these shops are favoring the shady guys at their expense, they'll prefer to shop with us."  And that's exactly what the RBC crew did by leaving and starting IEX.
Carol Wilson
50%
50%
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
4/1/2014 | 2:24:48 PM
Re: Where's the damage
I'm defnitely not saying there's no harm done - it's the "inserting" part that's confusing me. How is that happening and doesn't that go beyond faster transmission speeds and colocation near the exchange?

The tax idea is a good one, until the guys who can afford to spend money finding loopholes find one for that. 
Phil_Britt
50%
50%
Phil_Britt,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/1/2014 | 3:12:28 AM
Re: Where's the damage
I like the tax idea, too. The high-frequency traders are not subject to FICA taxes, unlike employees or self-employed contractors.

The other problem with high-frequency trading is that it can cause issues like the "flash crash" a few years ago. If machines drive the markets down (or up), then not only consumers, but even larger traders iwth established trade triggers -- like automated sells if a stock price drops by 10 percent -- can get caught buying or selling at prices that leave them holding the bag.
smkinoshita
50%
50%
smkinoshita,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/31/2014 | 8:05:21 PM
Re: Where's the damage
@Mitch:  I think the one-cent tax per trade is an excellent idea.  It's the same principal that MMO's use to regulate player abilities by causing diminishing returns.

I think the case of damage is a matter of creating artifical economic barriers however.  I'm not sure which way I feel, because on one hand it seems like it could cause an infinite loop of richer companies preventing others from ever being able to compete, while on the other hand it doesn't seem like it would nessecarily lock others out because I'm not convince its impact is that big.
ethertype
100%
0%
ethertype,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/31/2014 | 7:21:59 PM
Re: Where's the damage
Read Michael Lewis' article or book and then tell me there's no harm done.  The guys with the best colocation and lowest latency are inserting themselves between buyers and sellers.  It's not that they see a trade occur and then decide to trade very quickly based on that information. They actually see a trade BEFORE it happens, interrupt the trade, increase the price that the buyer thought he was paying and profit from the difference.  Your mutual fund, for example, paid more for the stocks they bought and that lowered your return.  It's fractions of pennies for each one of us, but they make billions in this fashion.  Surely in any concept of a fair market this should not be legal.
Carol Wilson
0%
100%
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
3/31/2014 | 6:57:14 PM
Re: Where's the damage
I don't think trying to get your trades done faster is the part that bothers me - hence the headline. I think having access to information about other traders is what is concerning and that goes beyond gigabit fiber and data center colocation, or at least I think it does. 
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/31/2014 | 6:49:15 PM
Where's the damage
That kind of flash trading bears a lot of the blame for the Wall Street crash of 2008. That particular problem could be solved by charging a tax of $0.01 per trade. This would be negligible for conventional investors, but would end the practice of flash trading.

However, the phenomenon Lewis describes in 60 Minutes is a different matter. What's the case to be made that it's a bad thing, and requires regulating against?

On a less serious note: I'm a stone science fiction fan, and I'm tickled by the thought that when some genius invents a way to travel faster than lightspeed, it won't be to travel to the stars, it'll be to get an investment advantage of a few milliseconds.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
More Blogs from Rewired
Alliance with Deloitte creates one-stop shop of cyberattack mitigation by adding governance, risk management and compliance consulting.
Rutberg's Rejeev Chand gets FCC's Clbyburn plus Google Fiber and DISH execs to play the true-false game, with interesting results.
New open source group provides substantial industry insight at MWC -- here's hoping they keep up the effort to keep non-members informed.
In the wake of major breaches, enterprises are working harder to get compliance, but not hard enough to stay that way.
Even the best specialized routers can't keep pace with the 100,000-plus % increase in mobile data traffic, Donovan tells MWC.
Flash Poll
From The Founder
Ericsson's Hyperscale Datacenter System (HDS) 8000, featuring Intel's Rack Scale Architecture, caused a stir when it was announced at MWC 2015. For more on this revolutionary product, join me on Thursday, April 30 at 12:00 p.m. EST for a Super Webinar event, A New Hardware Paradigm for the Telco Data Center.
LRTV Documentaries
CableLabs' Clarke Updates Cable Virtualization

4|23|15   |   05:41   |   (1) comment


Former BT exec now leading CableLabs' NFV and SDN efforts explains key role of open source and updates efforts to virtualize the home network.
LRTV Interviews
Ericsson's CTO Talks Transformation: Pt. II

4|23|15   |   08:19   |   (1) comment


In the second installment of an in-depth two-part interview, Ericsson's CTO Ulf Ewaldsson talks to Light Reading CEO and founder Steve Saunders about cultural change, network slicing and technology advances.
LRTV Interviews
Ericsson's CTO Talks Transformation: Pt. I

4|23|15   |   09:27   |   (3) comments


In the first installment of an in-depth two-part interview, Ericsson's CTO Ulf Ewaldsson talks to Light Reading CEO and founder Steve Saunders about the incredible transformation underway in the communications networking industry.
LRTV Documentaries
LTE Paves the Way for the 5G Revolution

4|20|15   |   4:20   |   (0) comments


Håkan Andersson, head of 5G product strategy of the Radio Business Unit at Ericsson, discusses the role of LTE, the US and other industry verticals in building a true 5G ecosystem.
LRTV Documentaries
The 3GPP's Road to 5G Standardization

4|17|15   |   4:43   |   (0) comments


Satoshi Nagata, chairman of the 3GPP's TSG-RAN group and a manager at NTT Docomo, explains the standardization process for 5G, as well as the biggest challenges and opportunities.
LRTV Documentaries
AlcaLu CTO Makes the Case for a New 5G Air Interface

4|16|15   |   3:54   |   (0) comments


Michael Peeters, CTO of wireless at Alcatel-Lucent, explains why 5G will require a new air interface to meet its diverse performance targets.
LRTV Documentaries
AlcaLu + Nokia: The New Uber-Vendor

4|15|15   |   2:42   |   (4) comments


Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown discusses the technological and competitive opportunities and challenges if a merger between Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia comes to pass.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei's Data Center Power Play

4|15|15   |   6:22   |   (0) comments


Huawei has developed industry-leading energy efficiency capabilities for its indoor and outdoor data center solutions, explains Dr. Fang Liangzhou, vice president of Huawei's Network Energy product Line.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei’s Routers, Switches Get the Green Mark

4|15|15   |   2:02   |   (0) comments


TUV Rheinland's Frank Dudley explains how Huawei's routers and switches have been successfully tested by energy efficiency experts and have gained Green Mark Certification.
LRTV Documentaries
A Finn, a Frenchman & a Guy From New Jersey Walk Into a Merger...

4|15|15   |   3:17   |   (0) comments


Stop us if you've heard this one before... Light Reading CEO Founder & CEO Steve Saunders weighs in on the technical and cultural implications of a Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent merger.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Accounting for Better Solutions

4|10|15   |   02:31   |   (1) comment


Murad Yousuf, CTO at Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Finance (Dept. of Zakat & Income Tax), talks about the benefits of deploying router technology from Huawei.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
What's in Store for Huawei & DataCore?

4|10|15   |   05:44   |   (0) comments


At the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany, George Teixeira, CEO of software-defined storage (SDS) specialist DataCore Software, explains why he has just signed a partnership agreement with Huawei Technologies.
Upcoming Live Events
May 6, 2015, Georgia World Congress, Atlanta, GA
May 12, 2015, Grand Hyatt, Denver, CO
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
October 6, 2015, Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
November 11-12, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
In its latest survey covering network operators' plans and strategies for ICT transformation, Heavy Reading asked telecom operators worldwide to identify the most important goals and objectives for their ICT transformation initiatives. Heavy Reading also asked operators about the importance of a "digital first" strategy, which enables customers to complete an interaction across different digital channels, such as web and mobile self-service and social media.
Hot Topics
What if the Comcast Merger Fails?
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 4/20/2015
Google's WiFi-First Mobile Service 'Fi' Is Here
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 4/22/2015
Comcast Merger May Hinge on Hulu
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 4/22/2015
Comcast Formally Ends Its Bid for TWC
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 4/24/2015
Google Ready to Release Thousands of Loons
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 4/20/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Many leading communications companies can claim to have undergone significant periods of reinvention during their histories, but none have been through more major ...
Data Center Interconnect, or DCI, is one of the hottest sectors in telecom currently. Since coming back to Light Reading last year, prodigal-son style, I've ...
Cats with Phones
Learning Curve Click Here
Pierre could never remember how to use Excel.
Latest Comment