Tagged: Maker Taker Model

Maker-Taker’s Mark

Is it diluted?

That’s what everybody wants to know about the market. Are gains for broad equity measures, seemingly epic like my skiing Saturday at Copper Mountain, real or watered down?

That’s actually not our story this week. But we’re so fascinated by what market structure shows that if you huddle in here we’ll share observations. The dollar declined when Japanese Prime Minister Abe said Monday that either the Bank of Japan creates inflation or the government will rewrite its charter. That means more currency devaluations for everyone (if your money buys less tomorrow than it did today, that’s a devaluation whether called one or not).

So stocks rose yesterday. Also helping stocks, money was hedging at options-expirations Feb 15. When investors hedge they tend to invest more funds. Sentiment is okay, too, finishing last week at 5.38 (on a 10-pt scale), up from 5.05 to start the week. Yesterday it was down to 4.71, by far the lowest level all year.

All over, short volumes are down compared to long volumes. That’s a loaded message. Higher short volumes mean more competitive markets. But lower short volumes also mean demand for wholesale short positions is down and shorts are covering. Which is good.

Talk about mixed messages! Investors want stocks to rise but are wary. Lower overall short-interest (bullish) and some short-covering (bullish) also means money is less prepared for the unexpected, and that markets aren’t as competitive as they should be when prices are rising. Pray for no surprises or we’ll have a monumental down day.

Which brings us to our story. Beam, Inc., distiller of Maker’s Mark, said last week that to stretch its oak-aged bourbon it would cut the alcohol content. Drinkers recoiled in horror and disgust. They’d rather do without than do with less for the same price. Beam backed down. (more…)

Did you see the Nicole Kidman film ten years ago called The Others?

A woman becomes convinced her house is haunted. In case you’ve not seen it, I’ll save the twist, but it’s the twist that matters. Things are not as they seem.

Crack WSJ markets writer Tom Lauricella asked in a page one article Oct 18 if markets are cracked. Traders he surveyed said building positions in stocks is getting harder. Liquidity is thin. Spreads are rising. Getting trades done – completing an order to buy or sell shares within projected price ranges – is challenging now in the most liquid names.

In the movie The Others, the problem is perspective. The answer to what’s going on depends on how you look at it. Since we’re limited by the camera and the perspective of the central characters, the reality of the problem doesn’t manifest itself till near the end.

In markets, it seems like liquidity is the problem. But what if it’s a matter of perspective? Classically, liquidity is capital. Today it’s somebody on the other side of the trade. Are they the same? No. What’s on the other side of most trades? A machine. Why is it there? Incentives. It’s not there because it’s committing capital. It’s there because it’s paid to be there. (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!