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Monsters in the Market

Monsters in the Market

By Timothy Lavin, The Atlantic 

Man being confronted by his shadow

ON THE THIRD FLOOR of Citigroup’s Manhattan headquarters, at the far end of a trading floor overlooking the Hudson River, Young Kang, Citi’s global head of algorithmic products, leans over a terminal and monitors the progress of a canny and powerful beast named Dagger. Bred and trained in secret by Citi’s financial engineers, Dagger can stalk through more than 20 markets, public and otherwise—hunting for anomalies, buying and selling, prowling through mountains of historical data—all at the behest of Citi’s clients. Amid the trading-floor din, Dagger fulfills its duties in flickering silence, with a speed and acuity no human can match.

“It’s self-learning,” Kang says. “The numbers keep updating, the strategy keeps adjusting itself. It gets smarter.”

And it makes a lot of money. Algorithms like Dagger can exploit the smallest inefficiencies in the market. They can parse trades in millionths of a second. Some species can detect other algos embarking on predictable trading strategies, and ruthlessly adjust their techniques. They’re growing ever more complex, subtle, and sophisticated. And as they become more popular, they’re creating some serious headaches for regulators.

By some estimates, algorithms now trigger 70 percent of all trades in U.S. equities. The speed and volume of everyday trading have propelled the market into a new and esoteric dimension, and rendered traders in the pits largely obsolete. Average daily share volume on the New York Stock Exchange increased by 181 percent between 2005 and 2009, while the time required to execute a trade on its electronic systems dropped to 650 microseconds.

Such changes have a lot of people worried, including the Securities and Exchange Commission…

[...]

At least a few high-frequency traders have learned to make a killing by detecting the more simplistic algo strategies deployed by basic pension funds and mutual funds, buying the next stock the funds plan to buy, and then selling it to them at a higher price. This may not be illegal, but it’s almost certainly unfair to the funds’ investors. “It is increasingly clear that there are quite a number of high-frequency bandits in the high- frequency-trading community who pump up volume statistics, front-run investor orders, increase transaction costs, and hurt real liquidity,” David Weild, an adviser at Grant Thornton and a former vice chairman of NASDAQ, told me. *

Full article here.>>

See also: 

On the Edge with Max Keiser & David DeGraw: Goldman Sachs, AIG, Hank Paulson and Market Manipulation

 


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