Tagged: immediate or cancel trades

Losing Facebook

What’s green and brown, and rolls? The terrain south of Santa Fe where we rode 103 miles on bikes Sunday, averaging 15.6 mph through 4,500 feet of climbing and insistent New Mexico winds. Icing: We saw the eclipse, glimpsed through a combination of my Droid and some passerby’s strip of roll-film. We were pleased.

Less pleased were buyers of Facebook shares. Another market-structure lesson, IR folks.

Remember the Infinite Monkey Theorem (now also a winery here in CO)? The notion was that infinite monkeys randomly clicking keys of infinite typewriters – dating the era from whence this theory arose – could reproduce our great literary works by accident.

Whether ‘twas to be or not, the Infinite Monkey Theorem tripped up trading at the Nasdaq in Facebook. With trades machinating through theoretically infinite combinations of data points, it was impossible for Nasdaq engineers to anticipate every erroneous outcome. Thus, hypothetical monkeys pounding figurative keys bumbled into an unanticipated event.

Part B. Confusion over who owned what when the music died shouts through a bullhorn at us about the way markets work. Most trades are intermediated using shares that, for lack of a better descriptor, are rented. The buying and selling is often (60%+) not real.

You’ve seen an auction, right? “Do I hear $42?” Somebody raises a finger, and the price of the thing up for auction becomes $42. Is that what the buyer pays? No. It’s a bid. (more…)

Among the eight panelists pondering how to forestall another Flash Crash, my favorite quote comes from Columbia professor and Nobel winner in Economic Sciences Joseph Stiglitz, who said in a 2008 paper: “Dollars are a depreciating asset.”

Potent statement. I invite you to consider its ramifications some other time, however. Let’s discuss what the Flash Crash Panel’s recommendations mean to the IR chair. They will affect how your stock trades.

We read all fourteen ideas. They range from charging traders for excessively posting orders and cancelling them, to setting limits on the permitted up/down movement of stocks and imposing circuit breakers for all securities save the most thinly traded. The panel clearly aimed at addressing investor uncertainty through controlling outcomes. If stocks are constrained to ranges, and algorithms to supervision, incentives are adjusted to encourage this, and fees imposed to stop that, the net result will be less uncertainty, the panelists hope.

The net result will be a market suited only to passive index money. If that’s what you want then you’ll be happy. If you want vital markets, where investors can differentiate your shares from other stocks, then a market built around rigid conformity is not for you. (more…)

Give yourself a break! Okay, we’ll give you one. We’re cycling from Prague to Vienna, a wedding anniversary trip, and won’t be within writing distance next week. The Map will thus be on hiatus, back Sept 21.

We’ve had questions about the “quote stuffing,” article last week in the Wall Street Journal. In essence, gobs of immediate-or-cancel (IOC) trades gumming up markets might have contributed to the Flash Crash. It’s equity whack-a-mole, where trades pop up to draw fire, then disappear.

No form of equity order randomly appears in the markets, crafted by conniving traders. All must be submitted via rule filing to the SEC, and approved. So the orders being questioned by regulators now were earlier approved by the same regulators.

IOCs are not the choice of committed, rational money. These orders suit intermediaries, whose aggressive bids and offers keep spreads tight and markets liquid – which is what regulators and market centers seek. But there is an unintended consequence to managing, manipulating, and incentivizing behaviors – which is what crafting orders that fit certain participants best does. The markets may not do with the incentives what was hoped and expected. And notice, too, that issuers, whose shares are the blood of markets, rendered no opinion on IOCs. We should.

Remember, our market system is a “maker/taker” model that relies on manufactured volume. Buying and selling is incentivized – induced with payments and types of orders that encourage middle men with no interest in owning shares to be aggressive. Why? People fighting to outbid each other should mean low spreads and competitive prices for consumers, regulators reason.

The problem? Consumers aren’t setting prices. The forces being incentivized are. We have no real idea what value buyers and sellers place on stocks, because the entire model is unwittingly obfuscating prices. Every time someone has an interest in buying shares, a fast intermediary may run ahead and re-price the market. This is couched as “price improvement.”

So, it should be no surprise that there were clouds of IOCs around the Flash Crash. This is exactly how the system is designed to function. It’s sort of like looking at the vortex in your bath tub after you pull the plug and wondering if the vortex is responsible for water leaving, or vice versa.

Think about it. Rather than the causal link between IOCs and the Flash Crash, we might ask instead why these IOCs drew out zero, zilch, nada “natural” liquidity. That’s market lingo for “real buyers and sellers.”

A mad scramble by intermediary systems failed to induce buying and selling. So those systems pulled out. So the answer to our question is that real buyers and sellers were uncertain of prices and unwilling to commit. Real money did not, and still does not, know the price or value of stocks. That should be a huge red flag fluttering in the market breeze like Old Glory on Labor Day.

Which brings us to trading today, the first after Labor Day. Why was the market down? Because the dollar strengthened. The DXY rose $0.85, or 1%, the reverse of the market. Last week it dropped sharply and markets climbed 250 points in one day.

This is precisely the same thing that is wrong with trading markets. Governments around the globe are manipulating, managing and incentivizing behaviors. The result is not a recuperated economy but instead that manipulation becomes an end unto itself. I hope we stop before we’ve been incentivized right back down to warring city-states.

Speaking of warring city-states, it’s that season when the sellside tries to out-schedule each other with industry conferences. Do you know how host firms of conferences trade your stock? What’s their order flow like? What do they do around expirations? Do they list the derivatives trader at the top (don’t laugh, many do) of research notes?

The nature of a firm’s order flow can tell you about the money consuming your liquidity (on those occasions when it’s real). If you need more growth-style money but don’t have lots of market cap, you might attend conferences hosted by major structured products purveyors.

Committed buy-and-hold money? Focus on firms differentiating with soft-dollar programs built around research, rather than ones with multi-asset-class trading capabilities. Sometimes small conferences are better. One committed investor can change the speculative and risk-management behaviors in your trading – because someone runs ahead and re-prices.

These ideas must now be in the modern IRO’s arsenal. And with that, have a blast out there on the road. We will – spandex, spokes, sunglasses and all!