High-frequency trading isn't illegal. But the way it is practiced today, it should be.
That's because high-frequency trading
, or HFT, doesn't add to market liquidity, stability or efficiency -- but it could cause a catastrophic market crash.
Here's what's wrong with allowing high-frequency trading, what HFT practitioners say they're doing that's good for the market (which is rubbish), what could happen based on what has already happened, and what to do to fix this black hole.
The problem is HFT is based on a lie.
High-frequency traders send out tens of millions, if not billions, of orders to exchanges that are never meant to be executed. They are fake orders designed to dump manipulative information onto the nation's exchanges.
And while other market participants are not actually forced to adjust their bids and offers or engage in any of these trades, allowing access to the exchanges to manipulate anybody in any way is something that ought to be outlawed.
Exploiting an Unfair Advantage
In the HFT world it's all about speed. Without it, HFT wouldn't be possible.
There's nothing wrong with employing external innovations that speed up computers or the time it takes for information to get from one server to another. But HFT takes it to an entirely different level.
As I write this, chains of fixed microwave towers are being erected to send market data and orders between New York and Chicago because electromagnetic radiation travels only 2/3 as fast in glass fibers as it does through the air. The towers were designed and are being built by a pair of HFT entrepreneurs who already have HFT customers lined up.
And as soon as this winter passes, Hibernia Atlantic's Project Express will be dropping a more direct new generation transmission cable across the Atlantic so data and trade executions can travel faster between New York and London.
The new cable will reduce the 30 milliseconds travel time it takes now by only a few milliseconds, but space has already been leased to the only takers, the HFT crowd.
It may be unfair that some players are able to pay for a speed advantage by employing new technologies, but it's certainly not illegal.
What should be illegal, and is an abomination, is that the SEC allows exchanges to serve high frequency traders by leasing them co-location space next to the exchange's servers.
Not everyone can afford that access. But because it can be bought, HFT players have a significant speed advantage over everybody else who expects the SEC and the nation's regulated exchanges to guarantee equal access to get data and place trades.
Trust Me, It's Not About Liquidity
The HFT crowd argues that they act as market-makers and add liquidity wherever they practice their trades and both markets and investors are better served by their activity.
That's absolute nonsense.
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