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Revising MiFID and RegNMS for HFT

Gawd, I hate acronymns and look at that!  Three in one blog entry title!!!

Anyways, for the nerdy-nerd equities guys, this will grab their attention.

It's all to do with trading in European and American stocks and shares using High Frequency Trading (HFT) systems, and the regulations therein with EU MiFID rules applying over here and USA RegNMS rules applying over there.

These rules are going to be overhauled soon thanks to the Flash Crash, that dreaded thing that caused US stock markets to go haywire on May 6th.  There has been lots and lots written about the Flash Crash of May 6th, but there’s not been a great deal saying it was a good thing … until you meet JPMorgan.

In this week’s Eye on the Market, they identify five things they like about the Flash Crash, namely:

[1] Stock-specific circuit breakers.

The U.S. has been slow to install circuit breakers on major exchanges, relying instead on “clearly erroneous trade rules” that cancel trades after the fact. In Asia and Europe, circuit-breakers have been around for a while. In Asia, trading is restricted outside of pre-specified daily bands of 5%, 10% and 15% (different by market). In Europe (e.g., Deutsche Bourse), trading is halted for 5 minutes after a 3%-10% move, and then reopened. In the wake of the Flash Crash, 10% circuit breakers are now applied to a few stocks as part of a pilot program (they have already been triggered on Citigroup, Anadarko and the Washington Post Company). If we are going to exist in a world with automated robots doing the lion’s share of daily trading, circuit breakers may be needed to prevent unintended and unmanageable meltdowns.

Another topic under discussion by the SEC: prevent HFTs from having “unfiltered, naked access” to the exchanges by requiring them to live by the same pre-trade risk management controls that clearing members do. Why? As noted by the Chicago Fed, “high-frequency trading has the potential to generate errors and losses at a speed and magnitude far greater than that in a floor or screen-based trading environment”.

[2] More balance to the HFT discussion.

HFT supporters claim they are providers of liquidity to the market, and that HFT makes U.S. markets more efficient than ever. Suggestions to the contrary have been deemed “utterly laughable” by firms defending them. However, the Flash Crash highlights the uncertainties around these assertions.

While volumes have tripled in the last few years, there’s a big difference between volume and liquidity (the ability to transact without moving the price). In an industry barometer survey1 conducted by the Tabb Group in May of this year, barely half the participants had a high degree of confidence in the US equity market structure; 73% did not believe the market structure is “orderly”.

One of the survey recommendations: HFTs should be required to register as broker-dealers.

To be sure, there were weaknesses in the old specialist system as well2. But specialists were required to maintain a fair and orderly market, and post quotes that were part of the National Best Bid and Offer system; their reputations mattered. HFTs have no such requirements (no minimum shares or minimum quote times); one proposal would require quotes to be valid for at least one second. The SEC has broadened the trader reporting system in order to analyze HFT activity more closely.

[3] Proposals requiring HFTs to act more like the floor specialists they’re replacing.

With the advent of HFTs, cancelled orders have soared. Today’s ratio of 30 cancelled orders for each one executed means that 97% are cancelled.

To curb abusive practices, some market participants recommend applying a fee to HFTs for an excessive number of cancelled orders. The increase in cancelled orders is one reason we do not agree that increased order depth on S&P 500 stocks at the NBBO is a clear indication of greater liquidity, as some market research alleges. Quotes pulled within a nano-second of being posted, and which are part of an algorithmic order detection exercise, don’t seem like liquidity in the traditional sense. Ameritrade’s representative on the recent SEC Roundtable referred to this as “opportunistic liquidity”.

[4] More discussion around HFT “co-location”.

Some HFTs co-locate computer servers inside stock exchanges3 to minimize the milliseconds (or nanoseconds) required to scan existing orders, and have algorithms act on this information. As trading execution and IPO listing fees declined, exchanges have tried to make up the difference by selling access to market data. Some exchanges have products which give clients a faster look at quotes, in exchange for a fee. As a result, some HFTs end up with access to information sooner than institutional or retail investors who rely on more standard venues (such as SIP Quotes).

The search for co-location benefits has existed forever (in polite company, “order anticipation strategies”). Broker-dealers in past decades argued that being closer to floor traders on the CBOT was an advantage to their clients. But historical parallels can lose their meaning when the instruments of battle change: one HFT computer can reportedly decode more than 5 million messages per second. The Flash Crash has increased the debate around whether co-location confers advantages to HFTs, and whether there should be obligations and responsibilities that accompany them.

[5] Asset managers learn that “cheapest <> best”.

After the NYSE moved to decimalization in 2001, bid-offer spreads fell almost in half on S&P 500 stocks (less so for the Russell 2000 stocks, where HFTs are less active). Schwab retail commissions fell from $35 in 2003 to less than $10 in 2009. This trend is confirmed by broader research from the American Association of Individual Investors. So if the prism of success is bid-offer costs and commissions on individual trades, the battle has been won.

But is that the right prism to define what makes an optimal marketplace? Part of the HFT industry tracks the order flow of larger investors who leave electronic footprints4. Using algorithms which include spraying the tape with thousands of quotes, the intentions of large investors is ferreted out. This can result in higher trading costs for such investors, and by extension, their clients, who include 401k investors, and pensioners participating in state and corporate plans. Quantitative Services Group computes analyses of HFT impacts on execution costs. They estimate that HFT tracking algorithms can drive execution costs up 1.5 to 3 times, even when institutional investors parcel trades into smaller orders to avoid detection.

There’s lots more of interest in their report, which you can read in full and download if you want:

JPMorgan's Eye on the Market

Meanwhile, you may note that a lot of it is about High Frequency Trading (HFT), which I’ve written quite a bit about recently:

as have many others.

This means that this area is going to get regulated, and it will mean significant restructuring.  For example, back in January, the SEC started a consultation through the Concept Release – a request for public comment on securities issues – on HFT and more.

Key areas under review include:

Market Quality Metrics

What are the best metrics for assessing market quality for long-term investors and have these metrics improved or worsened in recent years?

Fairness of Market Structure

Is the current highly automated, high-speed market structure fundamentally fair for investors?

High Frequency Trading

What types of strategies are used by the proprietary trading firms loosely referred to as high frequency traders, and are these strategies beneficial or harmful for other investors?

Is the overall use of any harmful strategies by proprietary firms sufficiently widespread that the Commission should consider a regulatory initiative in this area?

Co-Location

Do co-location services (which enable exchange customers to potentially route trades faster by placing their computer servers in close proximity to an exchange's computer system) give proprietary trading firms an unfair advantage?

If so, should the proprietary firms that use these services be subject to any specific trading obligations?

Dark Liquidity

Has the trading volume of undisplayed trading centres (such as dark pools) reached a sufficiently significant level that it has detracted from the quality of public price discovery?

If more individual investor orders were routed to public markets, would it promote quote competition in the public markets, lead to narrower spreads, and ultimately improve order execution quality for individual investors beyond current levels?

Are a significant number of individual investor orders executed in dark pools and, if so, what is the execution quality for these orders?

Lots of comments have been received on the Concept Release, and its conclusion cannot be far away.

Now we have a European response to this area with Kay Swinburne, rapporteur to the Economic and Monetary Affairs committee of the Parliament, producing a draft report last week. This report provides indication of much of what might be in the revised MiFID and very little is left untouched.

Jeremy Grant over at the Financial Times, has picked out some of the more interesting nuggets from Kay’s report:

  • She suggests it may be necessary for “informal market makers” – read: HFTs – to be subject to mandatory liquidity provisions;
  • Calls for an “ongoing regulatory review” of the algorithms used by HFTs;
  • Seeks an examination of HFT to determine whether market flow generated automatically is providing “real liquidity” to the market and what the effect of this is on overall price discovery;
  • Suggests that, “in the interests of equitable treatment”, rules need to be introduced so that MTFs (multilateral trading facilities”, like Chi-X Europe) are subject to the same level of supervision as exchanges, under certain circumstances;
  • Calls for new provisions under Mifid for “broker crossing networks”, including requirements that they submit to authorities “orders matched in the system”, and “details on access to the system”; and
  • Suggests a minimum order size for dark pools.

This is pretty dramatic stuff and Jeremy finishes his column by referencing David Doyle, a regular speaker at the FSClub, returning to the London meeting on 12th January 2011 for our annual EU regulatory update.

David presented on the key changes in MiFID at a conference at the London Stock Exchange last week, stressing that “the whole review of MiFID will have as its driving principle investor protection – that is, the interest of the retail investor, not the operators of exchanges, dark pools and HFTs.”

Too true David, too true.

If you’re interested in more of what David had to say, here are his slides:

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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One comment

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing the information regarding the HFT. Probably the the majority of useful method in which the typical temporary buyer may contend within an Strike atmosphere would be to concentrate on marketplace elements which calculations can’t determine.

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