ASIC: High-frequency trading taskforce—Key findings

Findings of the recent ASIC investigation into dark liquidity and high-frequency trading.

The high-frequency trading taskforce found that:

(a) some of the commonly held negative perceptions about high-frequency trading are not supported by our analysis of Australian markets—for example:

(i) that high-frequency traders exhibit unacceptably high order-to-trade ratios. Increases in order-to-trade ratios in Australia have been moderate compared with overseas markets, and other algorithmic traders operate at similar levels; and
(ii) that high-frequency traders’ holding times are often a matter of seconds and therefore that they make no contribution to deep, liquid markets. Our analysis shows that only 1.2% of high-frequency traders held positions for an average of two minutes or less, 18% for less than 10 minutes and 51% for less than 30 minutes; and

(b) there is some basis in fact for other perceptions (e.g. about high-frequency trading creating excessive noise and exhibiting predatory or ‘gaming’ behaviours), but other traders are also contributing to the problem.

Both [the HFT and Dark Pools] taskforces have found evidence of potential breaches of ASIC Market Integrity Rules and the Corporations Act 2001 (Corporations Act), and some matters have been referred to our Enforcement teams for investigation. We have also seen a change in behaviour as a result of our inquiries. For example:

(a) fundamental investors are asking more questions about where and how their orders are executed;
(b) there have been improvements to automated trading risk management controls; and
(c) at least one high-frequency trader has ceased trading in Australia.

The main problem with HFT is investor perceptions that they are paying more for stocks than they should be. HFT trading profits can only come out of investors pockets. While the ASX receives massive fees from HFT traders, the erosion of investor trust in fair pricing is too serious to ignore. Failure to address this could see investors migrate to other exchanges or platforms, especially if there is a transparent auction process where HFT traders are unable to intercede.

EU: Trades Must Live for Second | Securities Technology Monitor

By Laton McCartney

Members of the European Parliament tightened up the EU’s proposal on high-frequency algorithmic trading, voting that all high-frequency trading orders should be valid for one half second. The rule means orders cannot be cancelled or modified for at least five hundred milliseconds………All firms and trading venues also would have to ensure that trading systems are resilient and prepared to deal with sudden increases in order flows or market stresses. These could include Europe’s own “circuit breakers” to suspend trading………

via EU: Trades Must Live for Second | Securities Technology Monitor.

BBC News – High-frequency trading and the $440m mistake

……There are two rather more predatory strategies. One is called algo-sniffing. Here, a super-fast computer tries to find other computers going about their everyday business of buying or selling shares, and figures out what they’re going to do and when.

The algo-sniffer can then get ahead of the game and exploit the slower computer. And of course you could have algo-sniffer-sniffers and algo-sniffer-sniffer-sniffers in a high-frequency arms race. No wonder speed can be so important.

And finally, a particular sub-category of the algo-sniffer is the spoofer, which deliberately makes fake offers designed to lure other computers to show their hands, then cancels the offers. Spoofing might be illegal, or at least against the rules of stock exchanges, but it’s hard to prove that it’s going on.

Andrew Haldane, executive director for financial stability at the Bank of England:

“What we have out there now is this complex array of multiple mutating interacting machines, algorithms. It’s constantly developing and travelling at ever higher velocities. And it’s just difficult to know what will pop out next. And that’s not an accident waiting to happen, that’s an accident that has been happening with increasing frequency over the last few years.”

via BBC News – High-frequency trading and the $440m mistake.

West Australian: Small investors getting burnt

Computer-based trading has meant that the market is no longer fair, writes David Tasker.

The Australian Securities Exchange is seen by many as one of the most transparent markets in the world, a place where everyone is informed at the same time and where investors big and small can trade shares on equal terms.
The ASX says of itself and its own standards:”By providing systems, processes and services needed for a fair, orderly and transparent market, ASX inspires confidence in the markets.” Unfortunately, the emergence of computer-based trading has meant that the market is no longer fair, orderly or transparent and therefore confidence in the market is at an all-time low. These online trading houses are making vast sums of money and the mum and dad investors, who are the lifeblood of the exchange, are being severely disadvantaged. In Australia, it is believed that computer-based trading accounts for up to 30 per cent of the total volume on the ASX and in the micro-cap/ mid-cap area of the market it may be as much as 50 per cent of trading volume.

High Frequency Trading

Computer-based trading is not new — it has existed in the US and other international markets for years — but we have only seen the emergence of this type of trading on the ASX in the past year. In essence, there are two types of computer-based trading platforms, algorithmic trading and high frequency trading. Both are managed by complex computer programs that have no interest in the core drivers of investment decisions, such as a company’s assets, its management or its prospects — only the ability to generate profit from trading. Algorithms create masses of small orders which can be observed being traded in certain patterns throughout the day and are used to acquire, or dispose of, large parcels of shares in a manner so as to not affect the market in those shares.

Here is where it becomes a problem. High-frequency trading participants also use algorithms to firstly detect another algorithm trying to orderly dispose or acquire shares, then preys on the big order it has found that is being executed into the market. The high-frequency trading algorithm will then begin to place orders into the market that are in front of the original algorithm, forcing the original algorithm to buy at higher and higher prices. Meanwhile, the HFT algorithm has been buying shares ahead of the original algorithm and then selling them at a higher price, all the while using the original algorithm to drive the price into its favour. This sets the original buyer at a disadvantage because it has created an unfair and false market.

The same situation can occur while pushing the price of the stock downwards. An HFT algorithm acts fast when it sees these orders. It “flashes” its offers and bids into the market in milliseconds so that they are almost impossible to transact except via other HFT orders. When they come against each other or find each other acting in unison, there is no manual override. Recently this was seen in the US where Knight Capital lost $US440 million and is also what is believed to have caused the 2010 flash crash when the US market dropped 1000 points and then recovered within minutes. Billions of dollars were wiped out, gone, investments destroyed, retirement funds wrecked, lives altered.

But where it really begins to turn nasty is when two or more HFT algorithms begin to work against one another, resulting in the share price being forced in a more extreme manner — either up or down. In unfavourable economic times, when normal market investors are thinner than usual, the direction is more than likely to be in the downwards direction.Which companies are most affected? High-volume, mining companies who make up almost half of those listed on the ASX (950 out of 2200 ASX listed companies) are particularly vulnerable. Some would say this is the market in action and liquidity is being created. The problem is genuine participants are being used as cannon fodder: Institutional brokers are also being affected, having to depend on HFT at micro commissions which offset their ability to run a traditional equities brokerage.

The winner is the professional trading houses and in a zero-sum game like the bad market we are in, retail investors are potentially the big losers — they can’t operate as fast and don’t have the huge computer power available and straight to market execution systems that these guys have. Up to 50 per cent of trading in smaller ASX-listed companies is being done by computers with no interest in the company, its assets, its people or its prospects and at a speed far superior to human trade. If an operator manually entered HFT-type trades, they would be penalised for manipulative trading — why should there be one rule for man and another for machines programmed by man?

David Tasker is the national director of Investor relations at Professional Public Relations

Electronic Trading Glitches Shake Market Confidence

Stock markets are impacted by distortions arising from high-frequency trading algorithms as this article by SUZANNE MCGEE discusses. We really need to consider the benefits versus the costs of HFT. Benefits of HFT liquidity are vastly overstated: what use is an umbrella if withdrawn at the first sign of rain? The costs are far more than the additional +/- $2.5 billion — profits from HFT trading — that institutional and private investors pay for stocks each year. By far the greatest cost is the damage done to market efficiency and to investor trust. An efficient market requires accurate communication of pricing information to market participants. My belief is that HFT distorts this function. And the only reason it is encouraged by exchanges is the huge profits they make from it.

Even if Knight’s [Knight Capital] losses are as large as $300 million, that’s a drop in the bucket when set beside the $862 billion that was temporarily wiped off the value of the U.S. stock market in 2010. High-frequency trading systems and the algorithms they use, these advocates argue, add liquidity to the market, which is a Good Thing.

Well, not really. Not it results in a major crisis of the kind we saw two years ago and a slew of smaller trading anomalies, day after day, week after week, month after month on top of that. Less than two weeks ago for instance, traders reported seeing a bizarre “sawtooth” pattern of trading in a handful of large-cap stocks, including Coca-Cola KO and Apple AAPL. Their prices swung higher and lower with an uncanny degree of synchronicity, zooming higher every hour on the half-hour, and lower once more thirty minutes later. More algorithms, traders muttered gloomily to one another.

via Electronic Trading Glitches Shake Market Confidence.