Hijacking the Stock Market with High Frequency Trading

FT

At an industrial estate on the edge of Tseung Kwan O, a new town connected by road tunnel to Kowloon, work has started on a data centre where traders of stocks, futures, options and currencies will place their computers next to Hong Kong Exchanges’ own systems.

The idea is that by having their equipment only metres away from where the operator of the territory’s securities markets handles the trades, those for whom speed is everything can shave milliseconds off the time it takes for a transaction to be completed. It is a far cry from the days when shares were bought and sold by humans on a trading floor.

The concept – known as co-location – is growing fast. Last week, NYSE Euronext completed the move of trading in thousands of New York Stock Exchange-listed companies to a similar data centre in New Jersey. The Hong Kong facility is being built by the local exchange as one of its “strategic business initiatives”. The same is happening in India, where the National Stock Exchange has rented out racks of computer space for traders. In Australia, ASX plans a centre offering co-location by next August.

The speed with which exchanges are building such facilities is a sign of the global spread of a phenomenon gripping the markets: “high-frequency trading” (HFT). The phrase describes a style of electronic dealing that uses algorithms to dip automatically in and out of markets hundreds of times faster than the blink of a human eye.

The practice is controversial. In the US, HFT has chilling associations with the “flash crash” of May 6, when rapid, computer-driven orders were seen as a main culprit in sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down by 1,000 points in 20 minutes – a fall unprecedented in its depth and speed.

Ted Kaufman, a US senator for Delaware, where many of America’s listed companies are incorporated, wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission last month arguing that “excessive messaging traffic, the dissemination of proprietary market data catering to high-frequency traders, and order-routing inducements all may be combining in ways that cast doubts on the depth of liquidity, stability, transparency and fairness of our equity markets”.

Regulators such as the SEC are still puzzling over exactly what caused the flash crash. But what is clear is that it exposed fundamental flaws in the mechanics of today’s markets – and, some maintain, in the rules that govern them. High-frequency traders are by and large privately held, have no clients and trade using their own money. That has led, some believe, to a point where there has been a dangerous breakdown in investor trust in the way markets work.

Christian Thwaites, chief executive of Sentinel Investment Companies, a US asset manager, says: “The mystery and mystique of HFT, the lack of clarity and therefore opacity has meant that retail investors – who have obviously been terribly burned over the last few years – look at this and say: ‘this whole Wall Street thing is just rigged against me’.”

But like an invasive species in the natural world, HFT had grown rapidly before the wider public even noticed. Tabb Group, a consultancy, estimates that HFT now accounts for 56 per cent of all equity trades in the US and 38 per cent by value in Europe. Another sign that Asia is the latest growth spot came this week as traders and technology companies gathered for a Hong Kong conference billed as Asia’s first high-frequency trading event.

At the same time, changing regulations and increasing competition have created a complex matrix in the US of nine exchanges and dozens of other types of venue, including networks run by banks and brokers, and “dark pools” set up to handle large blocks of shares away from public markets. Exchanges now compete not only with each other for their order flow but also with bank and broker networks, including dark pools.

In Europe the same pattern has played out thanks to the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, a European Commission regulation that broke the national monopolies of exchanges. Mifid allowed the emergence of rival platforms such as Chi-X Europe, fragmenting trading across many venues: the London Stock Exchange now accounts for only 55 per cent of trading in the stocks that comprise the FTSE 100 index.

Such fragmentation has been a driving force behind the growth of HFT, since it produces a variety of trading venues each with slightly different trading systems, speeds and fee schedules. This allows traders to exploit these differences by using computer algorithms to trade back and forth from one platform to another.

Concern is therefore growing that the markets may be morphing into little more than a playground for a specialised type of trading that has minimal economic benefit and contributes little if anything to capital formation – the traditional function of stock exchanges.

Established market users – such as the asset managers that take care of pension funds – say HFT, coupled with the fragmentation of trading across venues, makes it harder to rely on one of the most basic functions of the markets: orderly and fair price formation.

“Because of the predatory nature of some participants we have no incentive to post liquidity,” Kevin Cronin, head of equity trading at fund manager Invesco, told a hearing into the flash crash last month. “There are 40 places where stocks are transacted and none of us has clarity of supply and demand on most [equity] issues. These are fundamental issues as to what the value of a securities market is.”

One worry is the use in HFT of algorithms to direct trades automatically, often to several market centres at once. Not only do such algorithms generate huge volumes of trades, but they can – like any machinery – go wrong. The past six months have brought three cases where an algorithm has run amok – and those are only the ones that have been revealed publicly. The latest came last month when the Osaka Stock Exchange handed an “admonition” to Deutsche Bank for not having “a sufficient degree of control” over an algorithm trading Nikkei 225 index futures.

Mr Cronin is not alone in suspecting that certain kinds of algorithms are actually predatory. Analysts at Nanex, a Chicago market data company, say high-frequency traders may be using algorithms to send unusually heavy traffic to exchanges and other platforms in a deliberate attempt to slow down their data systems.

Knowing that a certain exchange’s system is about to run more slowly gives a trader an opportunity to set up a buy or sell order in advance. The process is called “quote stuffing” and is used in a strategy known as “latency arbitrage” – latency referring to the speed at which message traffic moves through a system.

In its analysis of the flash crash, Nanex managed to plot how the bursts of traffic looked visually on graphs. Many appeared as distinct geometric patterns, such as jagged shapes that Nanex dubbed “Bandsaw II”, and another pattern called the “Boston Zapper”. “There’s no economic justification for it,” says Eric Scott Hunsader, founder of Nanex. “If this is OK by everybody, the market is not going to function in a very short period of time.”

Some go further and suggest outright wrongdoing. “When orders get pinged out to multiple trading venues, there is at least circumstantial evidence that there’s quite widespread use of that information to front-run trades,” Jim McCaughan, chief executive of Principal Global Investors, a large US asset manager, told CNBC last month.

Yet for regulators it is hard to figure out who is behind any of the activity. That is because high-frequency traders can operate with minimal supervision. In Britain, for example, all it takes to set up a HFT operation is a company registration and the necessary technology.

Trading systems can be bought off the shelf from a number of specialist companies. Registration with the Financial Services Authority, the UK markets watchdog, is not needed under a long-standing exemption for people trading on their own account – as high-frequency traders do – unless they present themselves as marketmakers. Similarly, in the US some are registered as broker-dealers but many are not. “Some of the people who are doing the really big volumes are completely unregulated,” says one lawyer familiar with the business. “Now, they have become a potential systemic risk. That’s the issue.”

Many exchanges say they have ­controls in place that can detect unusual trading patterns before they cause trouble. Rolande Bellegarde, head of European execution at NYSE Euronext, says that a month ago the exchange disconnected the algorithm that a trader was using, after software detected that his dealings deviated significantly from the normal pattern the exchange had observed over time.

F  or their part, the few HFT firms willing to show their face in public are at increasing pains to demonstrate that their business is beneficial to markets in providing liquidity and tighter bid-ask spreads.

Firms such as Getco, based in Chicago and formed by a pair of former pit traders, and peers in Europe including Optiver of the Netherlands, argue that high-frequency trading is a label used too loosely to describe almost any kind of rapid electronic trading, whether beneficial to markets or not. Getco and other US firms – excluding the banks and hedge funds that are equally big in HFT – recently formed an association to make their case more coherently.

Getco rejects allegations that high-frequency traders’ interests are at odds with those of ordinary investors. “While the story line may be a compelling narrative, there is no reliable evidence to suggest that this conflict exists. To the contrary, most retail brokers … intentionally route a majority of their customers’ marketable orders to firms that engage in high-frequency trading.”

Some studies back up their assertions. Woodbine Associates, a Connecticut consultancy, found in a study of US equity markets over 2008-09 that HFT had “improved execution quality”. Matt Samelson, a principal at the company, says that if there are any high-frequency traders “gaming the market”, then “we don’t think that constitutes the majority of HFT”.

But many asset managers remain unconvinced that the liquidity high-frequency traders provide is as valuable as they claim. For one thing, many exited the market during the flash crash. That has led to calls for regulators to impose as yet undefined obligations on marketmakers, including high-frequency traders. According to an online poll on FT Trading Room, a section of the Financial Times’ website focused on market structures, a clear majority (56 per cent) favours the move.

Asset managers worry that their interest in depth of liquidity and making long-term bets on company fundamentals is being crowded out by traders interested only in speed – cheered on by exchanges eager to offer incentives to attract such participants in order to stay ahead of rival platforms in the battle for liquidity. Exchanges have little incentive to discourage HFT since, aside from the fees it generates, they have found a new revenue stream in the rent they charge for rack space in data centres such as the ones emerging across Asia.

However, according to Mr McCaughan, investors are being put off by the volatility that phenomena such as HFT can cause. NYSE volumes were the lowest last week since 2006 – a fact that he attributes in part to a loss of trust in US equity market structures. “Our business is Main Street, not Wall Street,” he says, noting that Principal looks after “millions of people’s” pension schemes.

“We want to be able to look them in the eye and say the market is fair. And unfortunately, at the moment it’s quite difficult to do that.”

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Rockefeller Study: Future Dictatorship Controlled by Elite

Paul Joseph Watson

Global pandemics that kill millions, mandatory quarantines, checkpoints, biometric ID cards, and a world of top-down government control. These things are not lifted from the latest sci-fi blockbuster movie, they’re part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s vision for what the globe might be like in 15-20 years’ time under a new world order tightly controlled by the elite.

This is one of four scenarios for the future of the planet outlined in the Rockefeller Foundation’s “Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development,” a study produced in association with the Global Business Network.

Entitled “Lock Step,” the scenario depicts,”A world of tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian leadership, with limited innovation and growing citizen pushback.”

After global H1N1 pandemic originating from geese infects 20 per cent of the global population and kills 8 million people, the economy grinds to a halt and governments impose authoritarian measures to respond to the crisis.

“During the pandemic, national leaders around the world flexed their authority and imposed airtight rules and

restrictions, from the mandatory wearing of face masks to body-temperature checks at the entries to communal spaces like train stations and supermarkets,” states the study.

Tellingly, even after the pandemic fades, these draconian measures remain in place and even intensify, as leaders take a “firmer grip on power” and citizens willingly sacrifice their sovereignty and privacy, leading to “a more controlled world” bossed by “paternalistic states” who impose biometric ID cards for all citizens. “Enforced cooperation” with global regulatory agreements forges the path towards global governance even as a backlash ensues following public displays of “virulent nationalism”.

Eco-fascism is also brought to the fore in the “lock step” scenario, which discusses how “high-emission” cars will be banned and every home will be forced to install solar panels by law.

The implementation of top-down authoritarianism causes entrepreneurial activity to wither and the economy stutters, but by 2025 people start to grow weary of “so much top-down control and letting leaders and authorities make choices for them” and an organized “pushback” against this tyranny begins to gather momentum.

“Even those who liked the greater stability and predictability of this world began to grow uncomfortable and constrained by so many tight rules and by the strictness of national boundaries. The feeling lingered that sooner or later, something would inevitably upset the neat order that the world’s governments had worked so hard to establish,” the study concludes.

The important thing to understand from the scenario outlined by the Rockefeller study is that China is praised as the model for how governments globally should respond to crises. The most draconian and dictatorial policies, including mandatory quarantines, are praised in the scenario as having “saved millions of lives, stopping the spread of the virus far earlier than in other countries and enabling a swifter post pandemic recovery,” while allowing people freedom of mobility is scorned as having worsened the crisis.

Ironic therefore it is that just this week, the Associated Press reported on how the Chinese government has already virtually imposed checkpoint quarantines on its poorer citizens, by “gating and locking some of its lower-income neighborhoods overnight, with police or security checking identification papers around the clock, in a throwback to an older style of control.”

The Rockefeller study is not a warning against preventing the kind of tyranny contained in this scenario from unfolding, it’s a blueprint for how globalists want to exploit global crises like bio-terror attacks and pandemics in order to completely destroy society and rebuild it under a new world order in their image.

The Rockefeller scenario bears more than a passing resemblance to a 2007 UK Ministry of Defence study which forecast that by 2035, people would have brain chips implanted, that the middle class would become revolutionary, and that society would be gripped by chaos and civil unrest as a result of increased globalization, immigration and a more authoritarian state.

It is crystal clear from reading the “Lock Step” scenario that the oppressive society portrayed in the study is not presented as an admonishment of how governments would cynically seize upon a pandemic to set up a police state and empower themselves as dictators, it’s a ringing endorsement that this approach would be the correct thing to do.

This is the post-industrial society demanded by Bilderberg luminaries like European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.

This is what the globalists want – pandemics, warfare, chaos and crises that they can engineer and then exploit to lock in place a dictatorial society ruled by the elite from their ivory towers, while the citizens are reduced to impoverished, squabbling, dependent peasants tightly controlled with sophisticated big brother technology, far too concerned about where their next meal is coming from to have time to overthrow their new rulers.

US lawmakers call for end to Afghan war

PressTV

The Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called on President Barack Obama to provide Congress with a clear plan to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan.

The lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum called Thursday for an end to the Afghan war.

A group of US lawmakers said the war was a drain on US “blood and treasure”.

“Every dollar spent and every life wasted in Vietnam was just that: A waste,” said Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler.

The revolt against Obama comes as Washington is expected to pump another 37 billion dollars into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief, Leon Panetta, recently admitted that the Afghan war has proven to be much harder and longer than anticipated. He also alluded to serious problems in the US-led war, acknowledging that the Taliban are gaining an upper hand in the battle.

This is while Obama has promised to start withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan in July 2011.

The rising foreign casualties have sparked anger among the public in the countries allied with the US in Afghanistan.

In addition to the foreign troops’ casualties, thousands of civilians have also lost their lives either in US-led raids or in the Taliban-led militancy across the violence-wracked country. Rising number of civilian causalities is undermining support for the presence of US-led forces in the country.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan was launched with the official objective of curbing militancy and bringing peace and stability to the country. Nine years on, however, US and Afghan officials admit the country remains unstable as civilians continue to pay the heaviest price.

Brazil is getting hot. Too hot, too fast

If there is one thing proven beyond doubt during this crisis is that government interventionism in the free market is nefarious.  Developing countries are again and again the victims of globalist inspired management.  Argentina was one notorious case, Iceland and Greece have followed; and now Brazil, a fairly prosperous country in the last decade, is on the way to becoming another victim of artificial implosion.

Financial Times

Brazil’s central bank raised its policy interest rate by three quarters of a percentage point on Wednesday evening in another sign thatBrazil getting too hot the country’s breakneck pace of growth is causing concern over rising prices.

Brazil’s economy expanded by 2.7 per cent in the first quarter over the previous quarter and by 9 per cent over the first quarter of 2009, the national statistics office said on Tuesday. That is much faster than what many economists consider to be the potential, or non-inflationary, rate of about 4.5 to 5 per cent.

“This shows there has been no change in the bank’s position since its previous increase in April,” said Silvio Campos Neto of Banco Schahin in São Paulo. “It is clear from all the indicators that the economy is heating up and inflation is still above target. This is worrying and demands further increases in rates.”

The bank raised its target overnight Selic rate to 10.25 per cent a year, the second three-quarter-point increase at the last two six-weekly meetings of its monetary policy committee.

Consumer price inflation ballooned from a low of 4.17 per cent a year last October to 5.22 per cent in the 12 months to May. Many economists expect inflation to reach 6 per cent by the end of this year, well above the government’s target of 4.5 per cent. Economic growth is expected to be about 6.6 per cent this year.

Mr Campos said he expected the bank to raise the Selic rate to 11.75 per cent by the end of this year.

He said successive interest rate increases would help bring growth back to sustainable levels and predicted the economy would grow by about 4.3 per cent in 2011.

Brazil’s domestic market has recovered quickly from a brief recession during the global crisis, spurred on by a rising consumer class that has benefited from more than a decade of economic stability and low inflation, and from low-cost but effective income transfer programmes.

But the fast pace of growth has exposed bottlenecks such as the poor quality of Brazil’s infrastructure and its heavy tax burden. The rate of investment has risen in recent years but is still short of what is needed to deliver fast, sustainable growth.

Background: Fears of overheating

Brazil’s economy was among the fastest growing in the world during the first quarter, according to figures released on Tuesday that add to fears the economy is overheating and to expectations that the central bank will raise rates again on Wednesday.

The economy grew at a faster-than-expected annual rate of 9 per cent in the three months to March and by 2.7 per cent compared with the previous quarter, according to the IBGE, the national statistics office.

Part of the reason for the growth was an increase in investment, with the rate of investment rising to 18 per cent from 16.3 per cent a year earlier, spurred by gross fixed capital formation, which leapt by 26 per cent year on year, the fastest rate since the IBGE’s current series began in 1995.

“This confirms that the economy is very heated,” said Rafael Bacciotti, economist at Tendências, a consultancy in São Paulo. “The stand-out sectors were industry and services. Employment and wages are also growing strongly and we expect this to continue throughout the year.”

The manufacturing industry grew by 17.2 per cent year on year and the retail sector by 15.2 per cent. Imports also set a record, surging by 39.5 per cent year on year.

The central bank’s most recent weekly survey of market economists showed expectations of overall growth this year rising to 6.6 per cent, the 12th consecutive week of climbing expectations.

But many believe the economy cannot grow at more than 4.5 or 5 per cent a year without provoking an increase in inflation.

The central bank has been forced to act by steadily rising inflation expectations over recent months. Since October, Brazil’s consumer inflation rate has surged from an annual rate of 4.17 per cent to 5.26 per cent in April. However, the central bank’s most recent survey showed a slight drop in forecasts for inflation during 2010, with the average falling to 5.64 per cent from 5.67 per cent a week earlier.

Most economists expect the central bank to announce a second consecutive three-quarter percentage point rise in its policy interest rate, the Selic, at the end of its monetary policy committee’s regular two-day meeting tomorrow.

The committee meets every six weeks to decide whether to change the Selic rate in pursuit of the government’s annual consumer price inflation target, currently 4.5 per cent a year.

If expectations are confirmed, the Selic will rise to 10.25 per cent a year, up from 8.75 per cent when the current tightening cycle began in April.

The New Global Financial Order Begins in Europe

Banksters agree to force reviews on countries financial operations if  ‘suspect flaws’ arise.

Financial Times

Order out of chaos.  The EU takes more power away from nation-states.

Order out of chaos. The EU takes more power away from nation-states.

European Union finance ministers agreed on Tuesday to new intervention powers for EU officials if member states’ economic statistics are suspected to be flawed.

The measure will allow officials from the EU’s statistical agency Eurostat and the European Commission to conduct “methodological visits”, sending in number crunchers to vet countries’ data if this is deemed necessary.

The intervention powers, however, will only come into play in strictly defined circumstances in which concerns have been flagged. Diplomats cite, for example, the situation in which a country revises its figures at short notice and without a clear explanation for this as a possible case for intervention.

Similar powers have been proposed in the past, but failed to secure the backing of EU member states. However, the data flaws that emerged during the Greek crisis and the new emphasis on tougher economic surveillance in the region, coupled with pressure from European parliamentarians, has persuaded countries to accept the potentially intrusive powers.

The new surveillance measure is one of the most concrete actions expected to come out of Tuesday’s meeting of finance ministers from the 27-country bloc in Luxembourg. They will also discuss economic governance – including a new stability programme for Cyprus and additional budgetary consolidation in Spain and Portugal – as well as proposals, driven by the European Commission, to strengthen financial regulation.

Some of these discussions will pave the way for further debate at the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels next week.

“There’s lots of policy debate ahead of the council meeting and those debates are pretty significant, but no meaty items,” said one diplomat.

On Monday night, Herman Van Rompuy, the EU president, who is heading a special “task force” charged with improving economic governance in the bloc, said he believed “rapid progress” could be made on budgetary and macroeconomic surveillance. Proposals in this area would now be the focus of his interim report to EU leaders next week, he said.

Mr Van Rompuy is also thought to be leaning towards the French idea of some form of “economic government” for the eurozone. French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been pushing this idea, which would involve regular summits of eurozone leaders and give the bloc its own secretariat.

On Monday, finance ministers from the 16 eurozone countries also approved details of the “special purpose vehicle” facility, which could raise up to €440bn and make up the key part of their landmark €750bn stabilisation fund for the eurozone’s most vulnerable members.

The facility, based around a “special purpose vehicle”, which will raise money to be lent to countries in financial distress, will be called the European Financial Stability Facility and is expected to become active this month.

It will be backed by pro rata guarantees from individual member states. These will be for 120 per cent of each bond issue, providing a “cushion” should any individual contributor struggle to meet its share.

Countries will only be able to tap the fund when they have agreed programmes to overhaul their economies.

Finance ministers said they would seek “the best possible” credit rating for bonds or debt securities issued by the EFSF. “The message from finance ministers is that they will do whatever it takes to get an AAA rating on the debt issued by the SPV”, said analysts at JPMorgan on Tuesday .

● Estonia will join the euro from the beginning of 2011 after winning the backing of European finance ministers for the move.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister who heads the so-called Eurogroup, said that Estonia had agreed to “ensure the sustainability of convergence by implementing further structural reforms”. Estonia will be the 17th member of the eurozone.