Tagged: Bats

Three Acts

Spain rocks.

We’re back from pedaling the Pyrenees and cruising the rollers of the Costa Brava on bikes, where the people, the food, the wine, the scenes, the art, the land and the sea were embracing and enriching.

To wit, we traversed 200 miles, thousands of feet of climbing and even walked some 40 miles around Barcelona and Girona and I still gained weight. But I wouldn’t trade a bite of Jamon Iberico or sip of rich red Priorat (I’ll let you look those up!).

After a night home we’re now in Chicago where I’ll speak today to the Investor Relations council for MAPI, the manufacturers’ association, on market structure, and tomorrow we’re in Austin for the NIRI Southwest Regional Conference where we sponsor and I’ll aim to rivet attendees with how IR should navigate modern markets.

Speaking of which, a perspective as September concludes this week that’s shaped by two weeks away and abroad might best work as journal entries:

Journal Entry #1:  CBOE to buy Bats Global Inc.

Years ago I sat in front of Joe Ratterman’s desk in the unassuming Lenexa, KS, BATS offices and talked about things ranging from market structure to Joe’s fondness for aircraft.  Joe is now chairman and should be able to afford a bigger plane.

But the thing to understand here is how the combination is a statement on markets. Derivatives and equities are interwoven with other asset classes. It’s what the money is doing. The market is a Rubik’s Cube where moving one square impacts others and strategies for traders and investors alike manifest in complex combinations (you clients see this all the time in our Patterns view in your Market Structure Reports).

The IR job is about building relationships with long-term money, sure. The challenge is to understand the process and method through which money moves into and out of shares. Without knowledge of the process and method, comprehension wanes – and it’s incumbent on IR to know the market. Investors and traders are not mere buyers or sellers now. Profit and protection often lie in a third dimension: Derivatives.

Journal Entry #2: The Tick Size Study. 

We reflected back to 2014 last week and revisited our comments from December that year. The exchanges at the behest of the SEC are at last embarking next month on a study of bigger spreads for buying and selling small-cap stocks to boost trading activity.

It’s a fundamentally correct idea except for one problem. And you’d think, by the way, that the Federal Reserve could grasp this pedestrian concept. Where spreads are narrow, products and services commoditize and activity moves to the path of least resistance. You understand? Low interest rates shift focus from long-term capital investment to short-term arbitrage.  Low market spreads do the same to stocks.

But the problem is the National Market System. It’s an oxymoron. Something cannot simultaneously be a market – organic commercial interaction – and a system – a process or method.  There’s either a market, or a process and method. The SEC wants to tweak the process and method to revitalize organic commercial interaction. Well, if organic commercial interaction is better, why not just eliminate the system?  The Tick Size Study is a good idea trapped within a process and method that will likely desiccate it of benefit.

Journal Entry #3:  The Market.

It too is matriculating in a process and method.  We had the Great Recession, as those who take credit for halting say.  The process and method for constraining it (for now) could be called the Great Intervention.  The third step is the Great Risk Asset Revaluation, currently underway.

In August 2014 the Fed’s balance sheet stopped expanding as the Great Intervention that followed the Great Recession halted.  In latter 2014 the stock market stopped rising. So long as the Fed’s balance sheet increased, the supply of money via credit did too, and that money chased a decreasing supply of product – stocks (because public companies are buying back more shares than they issue, collectively).  There are today fewer public companies than in 2008.  Stocks are trading roughly where they did in December 2014.

Something to ponder:  Generally when growth stocks experience slowing revenues (see Twitter for instance) or earnings, shares fall. The stock market has been in a year-long recession for both. Never in modern history has the economy not also been in recession when that occurred, nor has the market failed to retreat. That it hasn’t is testament to the inertia – a tendency to remain in a uniform state of motion – created by Intervention.

It’ll stop. And stop it must.  We’ll never have a “normal” market until then, so see it cheerfully and not with fear (inertia can last a long time too). Catch you in October.

Paid to Trade

“You’re giving the exchanges so much business, they should be paying you,” said Richard Keary of Global ETF Advisors in a June 2014 Financial Times article.

He was talking about Exchange Traded Funds, which drive big volumes for markets listing them, much like star athletes or Donald Trump. There’s the adage that the worth of a thing is what someone is willing to pay for it. Turns out ETFs are worth a lot to BATS Global Markets Inc. In 2014, BATS started giving free listings to ETFs with over 400,000 shares of average daily volume.

Now they’ve upped the ante.  Wall Street Journal reporter Bradley Hope in a Sep 30 article described BATS’ plan to pay as much as $400,000 annually for ETF listings. BATS now has 33 ETFs from iShares, ProShares and other sponsors. The gorilla is the NYSE’s Arca unit with over 1,600 listed derivatives.  The Nasdaq has about 180.  But BATS has found a secret sauce. It’s the biggest ETF trading venue by volume.

Exchanges profit on the opening and closing auctions. The exchange with the listing gets to hold the auction for that stock or ETF. During auctions, exchanges charge the same price to buy or sell, 10-15 cents per hundred shares, where the rest of the time they’re paying for liquidity or charging to consume it, about 29 cents each (that’s high-frequency trading at its purest, the exchanges incentivizing them to bring trades that price the whole market, making trading data valuable). Thus all the money is in the auction.

Now, what is money doing today? A great deal of it follows benchmarks like the S&P 500 or the Russell 2000. That’s indexes and ETFs. Both may also have options designed to, as the NYSE’s Arca says in its materials, “gain exposure to the performance of an index, hedge and protect a portfolio against a decline in assets, enhance returns on a portfolio [or] profit from the rise or fall of an ETF by taking advantage of leverage.”

What drives volume? Money with a mission to move daily, especially if it’s big enough to have options (or futures) too. That’s liquid ETFs. Most track underlying indexes. The best way to price benchmarks is in auctions, which offer a midpoint and minimize intermediary arbitrage. These prices often set net-asset-value calculations for indexes.

The Nasdaq is running opening and closing auctions.  BATS does too. Ditto the NYSE.  Arca, the electronic NYSE derivatives market, has three auctions.  In May this year, the SEC approved an NYSE request to hold midday auctions in low-volume stocks.

Auctions aggregate buy and sell interest. Fragmented markets (an oxymoron) do not.  And the most valuable investment vehicles driving this auction revitalization are ETFs. At BATS at least, they’re worth more than the underlying assets, stocks of companies.

If BATS wants ETFs, which are derived from underlying shares, so badly they’re willing to pay, and a market system built on a relentlessly moving best bid or offer is increasingly seeking the singularity of auction prices, what’s driving this market? Well, the uniformity of money tracking benchmarks, and derivatives.

ETFs are derivatives. They don’t listen to earnings calls or meet executives to hear the story. Now let’s think about this.  Nothing exists – ETFs, indexes, options and futures would be valueless chaff – without the 3,800 public companies comprising the US stock market. How is it the things derived from the assets – ETFs – are being paid to list, while the assets, the actual companies driving results and strategies making passive investment possible, are being charged?

And if you’re listed at the Nasdaq you don’t pay the NYSE when your shares trade there.  Ever thought about that?  The problem is public companies aren’t paying attention.  Otherwise they’d be asking why derivatives get paid to trade, and companies pay to trade.

The exchanges will say, “Oh but that would require a rule change.”  Fine. This is why we’ve been saying for ten years that public companies need to understand the market. Then you can start asking the right questions, like what’s setting my price?  And what am I paying the exchange for again?

It begins with comprehending structure.  We track it every day.

Flash Boys

I don’t skateboard. But the title of Michael Lewis’s new book on high-speed trading, Flash Boys, made me think Lewis could’ve called it DC-town & Flash Boys.

Legendary skateboarder Stacy Peralta directed the 2001 documentary Dogtown & Z-boys chronicling the meteoric rise of a craze involving slapping wheels on little boards and engaging in aerobatic feats using public infrastructure such as steps and handrails. From Dogtown, slang for south Santa Monica near Venice Beach, Peralta’s Sean-Penn-narrated film tracked the groundbreaking (and wrist-breaking) 1978 exploits of the Zephyr skateboarding team, thus the “Z-boys.”

Skateboarding has got nothing to do with trading, save that both are frantic activities with dubious social benefit. We’ve been declaiming on these pages for more than a half-decade how fast intermediaries are stock-market cholesterol. So, more attention is great if the examiner’s light shines in the right place.

If you missed it, literary gadfly Lewis, whose works as the Oscar Wilde of nonfictional exposé include Moneyball (loved the movie), Blindside, Liar’s Poker and the Big Short, last week told 60 Minutes the US stock market is rigged.

The high-frequency trading crowd was caught flat-footed. But yesterday Brad Katsuyama from IEX, a dark pool for long investors that rose out of RBC, dusted it up on CNBC with Bill O’Brien from BATS/Direct Edge, an exchange catering to fast orders.

Which brings us to why Lewis might’ve called his book DC-town & Flash Boys. The exploitation of speedy small orders goes back to 1988. In the wake of the 1987 crash, volumes dropped because people feared markets. The NASD (FINRA today) created the Small Order Execution System (SOES – pronounced “soze”) both to give small investors a chance to trade 100 shares electronically, and to stimulate volume. Banditry blossomed. Professionals with computers began trading in wee increments. Volume returned. The little guy? Hm.

Regulators have always wanted to give the little guy opportunity to execute orders like the big guys. It’s admirable. It’s also impossible. Purchasing power is king. Attempt to make $1 and $1,000 equal in how trades execute, and what will happen is the big guys will shift to doing things $1 at a time. The little guy will still lose out but now your market is mayhem confusing busy with productive.

These benighted gaffes seem eerily to originate in Washington DC. Michael Lewis says big banks, high-speed traders and exchanges have rigged markets. We agree these three set prices for everybody. But they’re following the rules. (more…)

The Auction

Boo!

What a Halloween week. To our many friends, clients and colleagues on the Atlantic seaboard assailed by Hurricane Sandy, we in Denver are rushing sunshine your direction.

Exchanges are hoping for sunshine too as trading resumes. It hinges on opening auctions. That gives us the creepy-crawlies, as though black cats were crisscrossing ahead as we ducked from ladder to ladder to avoid the falling sky.

Why? BATS Exchange saw its IPO torpedoed when the opening auction went awry. Flaws in the Facebook opening auction at the Nasdaq delayed quotes, and the fiasco lingers in recriminations and lawsuits. Knight Capital Group had bad software derail an algorithm hitting opening auctions.

We should note “closing auctions” too, since trading days begin and end with them. Some, like the Nasdaq, call them the opening and closing “cross” – not as though it’s catechism but because of what happens.

As Sandy stomped through Long Island Sound, the big equity exchanges including NYSE, Nasdaq, Direct Edge and BATS, were plotting how to get a good auction going today to restart markets dormant since Friday.

Now, stay with me. We have one aim: To explain why the Halloween auction is vital – and risky – and why auctions are both linchpins to price-discovery and the market’s Achilles Heel. (more…)

Mean Reversion

If our stock reverts to the mean, I don’t see that high-frequency trading matters.

I’m paraphrasing what many CEOs and CFOs believe. The market is complicated. There’s volatility. Trading is global. ETFs and derivatives probably affect volume. But I’m trading at a reasonable multiple of forward earnings, so who cares?

I hear that question sometimes. More often, reporters tell me they hear it from CEOs and CFOs. What difference does it make that 60% of my volume is the same shares trading over and over? So we had 7,800 public companies in the Wilshire 5000 in 1997 and now there are 3,600 in it. My stock trades at 16 times earnings. That’s about right.

So long as my house goes up in value, what do I care that people are getting these really ridiculous variable-rate, no-money-down mortgages for 125% of the home’s value, which means they’re financing the furniture over 30 years? What difference does it make to me? My house is still up 15% in value.

According to the ETF Industry Association, at July 2012 there were 1,486 exchange-traded products (ETPs), up from zero about 15 years ago, give or take, and fast approaching one ETP for every two stocks. The industry had net July inflows of $17.1 billion, mostly to equity ETFs. (more…)

Predictable Outcomes

It was 85 degrees Sunday in Denver when Karen and I rode up local landmark Lookout Mountain on bikes to pay respects at Buffalo Bill’s grave. We woke to snow Tuesday.

Speaking of hot and cold, we told clients to expect a good start Monday for the new quarter, followed by the strong likelihood of a big move Tuesday or Wednesday as imbalances from the quarter exited broker-dealers. The Dow was down more than 100 points intraday Tuesday.

Why are these outcomes predictable?

In answer, ever heard of Mexican film maker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga? The duo sadly parted ways after making Babel (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett), the third film following Amores Perros (Benicio del Toro) and 21 Grams (Naomi Watts, Sean Penn) with disparate threads woven into haunting themes on life and meaning.

Markets have recently given us disparate threads that can be loomed into predictive thematic raiment. Rumblings continue about the dramatic BATS Exchange IPO debacle March 23. The market-structure bugs at Zero Hedge advanced a theory that a deliberate algorithmic tactic torpedoed the IPO. (more…)

Let’s Think of Something to Say

Happy New Year! If the holidays this year seemed sweeter, the air more welcome to the well-caroled note, it’s probably because I’ve been quiet for two straight weeks.

And with good reason. The lovely KQ and I winged southward with fellow wayfarers for time over the keel on the cayes and reefs of Belize. At Queens Cayes east off Placencia past the wildlife preserve at Laughing Bird Caye, we found what one friend called “your own Corona commercial.” As the sun faded toward dusk there, we caught this grand view of our boats on Dec 11. Our companions below the surface included this delightful fellow, a spotted eagle ray. The Eagle Ray Club is a good name for a rock band. (more…)

Don’t pass Go.  I will give $200 to the first person who correctly answers two questions.

Only corporate IROs may answer. Apologies to the rest, but you’ll see why. Corporate IR pros, look up and write down your trading volume on March 4. First question: Where did your shares trade?

Second question: Which brokers executed the trades that, when added up, equaled that volume you wrote down for March 4?

Yesterday, Dow Jones reporter Jacob Bunge wrote about our drive to organize companies to petition Congress and regulators for more transparent data about their share-trading.

There’s a landing page on our website for the letter we’ve drafted. Our goal is to list 100 companies as supporters when we deliver this letter. It should be 5,500. I’ll tell you why in a moment. (more…)

Your Volume and the Maker-Taker Model

You’ve heard the saying “six of one, half-dozen of the other?”

The DXY, the spot market for the US dollar, declined 7% in July. Stocks were up 7%. May was a good month for the DXY, which rose from 81 to 87, roughly. May crucified equities and gave us the Flash Crash on the heels of a surge in the value of the dollar.

Is it six of one, half a dozen of the other? The dollar in your pocket loses 7% of its purchasing power versus other currencies in July. Stocks appreciate 7%. Call me simple, but it seems that when a thing you buy is worth more because the thing you buy it with is worth less, that these sort of cancel each other out. (more…)