If HFT Algo’s Were People They’d Be Perp Walked

Suddenly the world is a buzz with the revelations that High Frequency Trading (HFT) may be doing more than actually harming the markets, it might be destroying the illusion they still are markets.

This past Sunday the world at large was introduced that maybe, just maybe, something was amiss in the financial markets. However, anyone with more than a passing interest in business, finance, and a little common sense could feel in their gut that something just wasn’t copacetic.

Between the Federal Reserves massive QE experiment amplified by the arms race of algorithmic technologies (aka HFT) to shave off a piece of that pie for themselves has been nothing more than breathtaking.

Currently I am staggered as I watch or read many in the so-called “smart crowd” taking to the financial media outlets professing their ire at (wait for it….) Michael Lewis’ assertion that: “the markets are rigged.”  This is where they have an issue? Really? I mean…Really?

Let’s put a few things into its proper perspective. HFT is currently a catch-all phrase or moniker. At one time when it was first introduced it could be (and was) argued it had a legitimate use in making markets more efficient. However that was some 10 years ago. Today’s HFT seems to have been on an evolution of exploitation and adulterated well past the point of resembling the good idea it once was hailed to be.

Efficient markets are when: real buyers, and real sellers meet, agree, and exchange with the least amount of friction to transact. Note the emphasis on real, it’s not there for style, real means an actual buyer or seller. Period. (Just so we’re clear and not falling down the black hole of what “is” is.)

This point is one of the underlying problems in the markets today. It’s not the only one HFT has adulterated, but it just might be the most important to this discussion. For what everyone seems to be missing as they defend HFT as the great market liquidity engine, that so-called “liquidity” more often than not is fake. So I ask: Is fake now acceptable in the financial markets? For if that’s true: Bernie Madoff might be looking for his get out of jail card.

We have laws on the books to protect the markets from people trading on inside information, fraud, and more. People get arrested and perp walked in front of the media as to make examples to show, “This can happen too you!” Yet, if machines are doing the same in an equivalent manner, that’s OK. For this is technology we’re talking here, and we all know without technology, the markets are nothing more than the pits. (pun intended)

Sometimes complicated issues have to be reduced to their smallest form to get an indication on whether or not something is good, bad, or indifferent. And once one reduces this all down to just basic common sense, you don’t need a supercomputer spinning algorithms near the speed of light to come up with the obvious answer of – Duh!

When someone within the financial markets comes across information that is deemed “confidential” then uses that information as to front run said information and profit by it, we throw them in jail for insider trading.

If a machine can detect you placing an order then within nanoseconds execute buy and sell orders throughout the exchanges as to skim a piece or to push markets in a beneficial direction to enrich itself. That’s fine. Are you kidding me?

Since when is it “legal” to insert oneself into a transaction they had no business being involved in? That is not “facilitating” that’s fraudulent skimming, for that “inserted freeloader” was not needed to transact. That’s front running pure and simple. And like I said earlier we perp walk people for that. But an HFT? Nope, that’s now looked upon as “improving liquidity” by the so-called “smart crowd.” Simply jaw dropping in my view.

Add to this the insane notion that these HFT outlets are providing, “deep markets.” Again, I’ll ask, what are we talking about here? Real buyers? Or, the illusion of real buyers? For if anyone remembers, the “Flash Crash” showed everyone just how real and deep the markets were.

All those quotes of illusive bids and ask were anything but illusive: they were illusions. The term “quote stuffing” and its consequences were first highlighted there. Now, it’s as if it never happened or better yet, is defended in an “ancient history” type dismissal.

Ancient history or not, if someone were to set up shop selling land deals at bargain prices touting that the demand was high and pointed to the surrounding landscape pointing out the row upon row of newly constructed facades as proof, you might think or find comfort in the notion, “Well if I need to sell there’s a chance I might find a buyer.”

Then you walked over unbeknownst to find all those freshly constructed home facades were just that – facades resembling a Hollywood movie set. Then what would you think? I know what one should be thinking: “How do I contact the authorities? These people need to be put in jail!”

But if it’s a machine rendering a “virtual reality” showing demands of large bids or asks in any given instrument that’s OK, they’re providing a valuable service to the community showing what it could be like if there were real buyers and sellers I guess. Just don’t think of ever trying to sell or buy one of them, for they disappear faster than a snake-oil salesman can close up shop.

The only good thing that has come out lately on this whole issue of HFT is maybe for the first time in years the cover has been thrown off exposing the parasitic beast that’s been living just beneath the surface passing itself off as a symbiotic entity, rather than the pernicious monster its grown to be.

Now the only question left to ask is: Can they invoke the death penalty for this creature…

Without killing the patient?

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr