Wednesday, July 15, 2009

automated front-running on an unfathomable scale

GreenLight | For the past several years Street operators have assumed that the computer jockeys who were being employed by proprietary trading departments on The Street were developing algorithms that would find other algorithms that represented buyside orders so prop desks could trade against those orders.

Another trading prop that has been occurring for years is certain firms feed their electronic trading systems into prop desks so traders can see in real time money flows into and out of stocks and groups.

However recent revelations are forcing the Street to consider the possibility of automated front-running on an unfathomable scale. The two “front-running” issues are: 1) “queuing” [of orders] - finding orders loaded into a system, particularly limit orders, and trading against them; and 2) “latency” - discovering and then front-running electronic orders by a penny or more by exploiting the latency or lag in execution.

HFT (high frequency trading) is being done on every electronically traded item on a global basis. Ergo, firms could be making pennies a few billion times per day … It was imperative for the NYSE and other exchanges to price securities in pennies to disguise “HFT” and to provide ample trading opportunities.