A Wall Street RevolteBook - 2014
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From the critics
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Then came the so-called flash crash. At 2:45 on May 6, 2010, for no obvious reason, the market fell six hundred points in a few minutes. A few minutes later, like a drunk trying to pretend he hadn’t just knocked over the fishbowl and killed the pet goldfish, it bounced right back up to where it was before. If you weren’t watching closely you could have missed the entire event—unless, of course, you had placed orders in the market to buy or sell certain stocks. Shares of Procter & Gamble, for instance, traded as low as a penny and as high as $100,000.
Dark pools were another rogue spawn of the new financial marketplace. Private stock exchanges, run by the big brokers, they were not required to reveal to the public what happened inside them. They reported any trade they executed, but they did so with sufficient delay that it was impossible to know exactly what was happening in the broader market at the moment the trade occurred.
You place an order for a stock, say, Microsoft. That order goes to something called the BATS exchange, at which point high-frequency traders pick up on your order and then race to the exchange with an order for Microsoft faster than you can get there. They buy Microsoft and bring it back to you at an inflated price ....
The U.S. stock market now trades inside black boxes, in heavily guarded buildings in New Jersey and Chicago.
Someone out there was using the fact that stock market orders arrived at different times at different exchanges to front-run orders from one market to another.
In March 2012 the BATS exchange had to pull its own initial public offering because of “technical errors.” The next month, the New York Stock Exchange canceled a bunch of trades by mistake because of a “technical glitch.” In May, Nasdaq bungled ...
That was just a sampling from a single year of what were usually described as “technical glitches” in the new, automated U.S. stock markets: Collectively, they had experienced twice as many outages in the two years after the flash crash as in the previous ten.
Before the flash crash, 67 percent of U.S. households owned stocks; by the end of 2013, only 52 percent did: The fantastic post-crisis bull market was noteworthy for how
many Americans elected not to participate in it. It wasn’t hard to see why their confidence in financial markets had collapsed. As the U.S. stock market had grown less comprehensible, it had also become more sensationally erratic....
The price volatility within each trading day in the U.S. stock market between 2010 and 2013 was nearly 40 percent higher than the volatility between 2004 and 2006, for instance. There were days in 2011 in which volatility was higher than in the most volatile days of the dot-com bubble.
Part 1 of 2 on comples order types: The new order types that accompanied the explosion of high-frequency trading were nothing like them, either in detail or spirit. When, in the summer of 2012, the Puzzle Masters gathered with Brad and Don and Ronan and Rob and Schwall in a room to think about them, there were maybe one hundred fifty different order types. What purpose did each serve? How might each be used? The New York Stock Exchange had created an order type that ensured that the trader who used it would trade only if the order on the other side of his was smaller than his own order; the purpose seemed to be to prevent a high-frequency trader from buying a small number of shares from an investor who was about to crush the market with a huge sale.
Part 2 of 2 complex stock order types: Direct Edge created an order type that, for even more complicated reasons, allowed the high-frequency trading firm to withdraw 50 percent of its order the instant someone tried to act on it. All of the exchanges offered something called a Post-Only order. A Post-Only order to buy 100 shares of Procter & Gamble at $80 a share says, “I want to buy a hundred shares of Procter & Gamble at eighty dollars a share, but only if I am on the passive side of the trade, where I can collect a rebate from the exchange.” As if that weren’t squirrely enough, the Post-Only order type now had many even more dubious permutations. The Hide Not Slide order, for instance. With a Hide Not Slide order, a high-frequency trader—for who else could or would use such a thing?—would say, for example, “I want to buy a hundred shares of P&G at a limit of eighty dollars and three cents a share, Post-Only, Hide Not Slide.”
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