Is High-Frequency Trading the Root of our Problems? It is the Economy, Stupid!

Posted on February 21, 2013. Filed under: Conference, Debt Ceiling, Economy, Financial Crisis, Fiscal Cliff, Flash Crash, Securities and Exchange Commission | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Edgar Perez, Author, 'The Speed Traders' and 'Knightmare in Wall Street'

Edgar Perez, Author, ‘The Speed Traders’ and ‘Knightmare in Wall Street’

Beyond the memories of the recent financial crisis and doubts about the safety and fairness of the equity markets, events such as the Flash Crash of May 2010, the hugely distressing Facebook NASDAQ initial public offering and trading malfunctions at Knight Capital and Nasdaq OMX were wrongly associated with high-frequency trading (HFT) and characterized as shocks to the psyche of average investors. The around $130 billion outflows from domestic equity mutual funds in 2012 led to Joe Saluzzi, co-head of trading at Themis Trading, to say as recently as of December 2012 that “all of those events are confidence-shattering events.”

Furthermore, U.S. congressman Ed Markey tried to persuade the SEC that high-frequency trading was driving investors off the electronic trading highway completely because it was eroding confidence in U.S. markets. Congressman Markey wrote that “sophisticated trading firms can make full use of light speed HFT algorithms, while the ordinary investor day-trading his 401k remains at more terrestrial speeds. There is a real risk that algorithmic trading is making investors hesitant to re-enter the equity markets because they fear that the entire game is rigged.” Ultimately, he proposed that HFT should be curtailed immediately.

Data from Trim Tabs Investment Research appeared to support Mr. Saluzzi and Congressman Markey’s concerns. Their data show outflows from U.S. equity mutual funds in 2008 hit a record $148 billion; in 2009, confidence appeared to be stabilizing as outflows from U.S. equity mutual funds totaled just $28 billion, only to grow again in 2010 to hit $81 billion, $132 billion in 2011 and last year totaled $130 billion. So what would they say now that the Washington-based Investment Company Institute has revealed that equity mutual funds have gathered $29.9 billion in January’s first three weeks, more than for any full month since 2006? Moreover, long-term funds, which exclude money-market vehicles, attracted $64.8 billion in the first three weeks of the month. The previous record was $52.6 billion for all of May 2009.

What was the catalyst of the change in trend? Was HFT suddenly disappearing from the equity markets? As we have suspected in the past, it was the health of the economy. The dysfunctional behavior of the leadership in Washington, leading to a crisis of significant proportions in December 2012, was holding market participants from making investment decisions; when Washington still managed to temporarily solve the fiscal cliff issue, allowing the government to remove its borrowing cap and removing the terrifying prospect of sovereign default, investors rushed into stocks (and bonds too), setting the stage for the biggest month on record for deposits into U.S. mutual funds.

We are looking at forces beyond the niche of algorithmic and high-frequency trading in action here. Signs of improvement in the U.S. economy and a rising stock market (that pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 14,000 on February 1 for the first time since 2007) are now prompting Americans to step up their investments. Hiring climbed in January as well, providing further evidence that the U.S. labor market is making progress. As the economy overall makes progress, inflows will increase as more and more households and companies start to invest in the financial markets, creating a net impact in the real economy, and further reinforcing the performance of the markets. Once again, the phrase “it is the economy, stupid!” remains as valid as ever.

Advertisements
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...