Tagged: SEC

Moving Averages

What if we forecasted the weather on temperature moving-averages?

It would seem silly. After all, ENIAC ran the first mathematical computations for a weather model in 1950. ENIAC is not an Icelandic singer. It’s the first true computer and was built by University of Pennsylvania professors in 1946 with funding from the United States Army.

Now, TV weather departments use models that consume data about jet streams, moisture, temperature fluctuations, topography and other factors to project outcomes. For instance, those models say it’ll snow in Denver tonight after 80-degree temperatures the past three days. Chances are they’re right. It’s a significant predictive advance over the old method, the Native American Rock model, in which a rock was hung on a string outdoors. If the rock was wet, it was raining. And so on.

Humans use mathematical models in many predictive ways today. In a subset of weather-forecasting, models anticipate the development and trajectory of hurricanes. We track seismic activity to forecast earthquakes with some measure of warning.

In one of the most interesting applications of mathematical modeling, scientists searching outer space for planets like ours have now identified at least one in a solar system beyond our own. How? With instruments so precise that they can measure differences in light as fine as turning a flashlight on and off on the moon. Slight dimming in measurable light is evidence of a shadow being cast along a path – proof of planets. (more…)

Understanding Markets

You’ve heard that bit of cowboy wisdom on how to double your money? Fold it over and put it back in your pocket.

I hear folks wanting cowboy wisdom on market structure. What do I need to grasp? In that sense, this could be the most important Market Structure Map I’ve ever written.

If you’re at home, get a glass of wine. We won’t belabor the story, but it’s not a simple one. In the beginning, in 1792, when 24 brokers clustered under a New York buttonwood tree and agreed to give each other preference and charge a minimum commission, trading securities was simple. That became the New York Stock Exchange. Most trades were for investing, some few for speculating. People have been gambling since the Garden of Eden, obviously.

Step forward. In the 1860s ticker tape by Morse code sped markets up but didn’t change structure. In the 1930s, the Securities Act formed the SEC and imposed a regulatory framework. Structure remained similar, if more process-driven.

Take another step. When Benjamin Graham wrote “The Intelligent Investor” in 1949 (Warren Buffett called it the best book about investing ever written), he said to first distinguish investing from speculating. Seek safety for principal and an adequate return, through research in business-like fashion to find good businesses at a discount to intrinsic value. Own them for the long term. Graham separated this “active” investment from cautious and generalized passive investment. (more…)

Lulled by Markets

Palo Alto is a great town.

While there sponsoring IR Magazine’s West Coast Think Tank last week we feasted at Evvia and Fuki Sushi. Denver’s got fine sushi. Our Sushi Den on South Pearl Street flat demoralizes Bryant Park’s Koi. Proprietors Toshi and Yasu Kizaki each day fly in hand-picked selections from the Tokyo fish market. You gotta get up pretty early to beat our fish. Fuki Sushi apparently rises at dawn. We ate to dullness.

Speaking of lulled, exchanges began introducing new SEC-approved Limit-Up/Limit-Down (LULD) single-stock circuit breakers Monday, smartly easing the program into effect. More will be added until the largest 2,000 are covered by late May and the rest of the market through August.

“It sounds simple, but for firms managing thousands of customer orders, you have to program how you’ll manage them, how you’ll deal with quotes and trades across 50 destinations, routing decisions and execution quality,” Chris Concannon, partner at high-frequency trading firm Virtu Financial, told Bloomberg reporter Nina Mehta.

Under LULD, stocks won’t be permitted to trade more than a certain percentage from their rolling five-minute average prices. The SEC mandated these changes after the Flash Crash of May 6, 2010, sent the S&P 500 plunging over a hundred points and the Dow Industrials a thousand points, before both rebounded, all in roughly twenty minutes. (more…)

Spread Too Thin

What if?

Those two words branded with a question mark may rank 2nd all-time behind “what is the meaning of life?”

What if…public companies could set spreads in their own trades?

Before we ponder that, let’s tip hats to IROs Moriah Shilton at Tessera Technology (TSRA) and Kate Scolnick at Seagate (STX), who demonstrated such adroit command of market structure in yesterday’s NIRI webinar on why trading matters in the IR chair (replay available for NIRI members). Expertise like theirs is the future of our profession. Knowledge, as always and ever, is power.

Speaking of knowledge, the SEC yesterday convened a round table on price-spreads in trading, commonly known as “tick-size.” On the panels were finance professors, representatives from major exchanges, venture capitalists, folks from Fidelity and Invesco – and thankfully, David Weild at Grant Thornton/Capital Markets Advisory Partners, and Pat Healy from Issuer Advisory Group, both strong advocates for the interests of public companies.

But there wasn’t a CEO, CFO or IRO from a public company (Moriah Shilton and Kate Scolnick should be on these panels!).

Here’s the issue. Ever since increments between the best prices to buy and sell shares were set by law in 2001 with Decimalization, trading volume has exploded but ranks of public companies and broker-dealers have fallen. In 1997, there were 7,500 public companies. Today there are 3,700 in the National Market System.

At the time, a belief prevailed that small investors couldn’t get a fair shake because brokers and specialists controlled prices in stock markets. So the SEC mandated that prices be set in penny increments. No more trading in eighths or sixteenths of a dollar.

In 1983 there were roughly 450 IPOs in the USA. Thirteen years later in 1996, about 700. The last year US markets remotely approached “hundreds” of IPOs – and thus, hundreds of IR jobs – was in 2000, right before Decimalization. (more…)

Reality or Fantasy

Don’t forget to write your letters, folks!

Which letters? See last week’s Market Structure Map on prompting the NYSE or the NASDAQ to file a rule for better data.

Speaking of rule-filings, here’s an example. Last week ahead of an SEC review deadline, NYSE Arca, an automated facility focused on ETFs and global derivatives-trading, withdrew a proposal permitting ETF sponsors to pay market-makers to trade ETFs.

Filed in April last year, the proposal is similar to one from the NASDAQ on which we commented. We opposed it because these plans distort prices and true supply and demand. If you were paying brokers to buy and sell your shares, would your share-price reflect the views of investors or the market-incentive offered by payments to brokers?

At best, it would be hard to tell. Plus, if a party with a financial incentive to create demand for its product can manipulate outcomes for its own gain, it’s sometimes called racketeering when prosecuted criminally. Why would we permit something that in one place is considered criminal to in another one serve as a barometer for market demand?

Despite this logical conundrum, word is that NYSE Arca will reformulate and re-file the proposal. The NASDAQ’s proposal supporting sponsor payments for ETF traders is still matriculating, and the SEC must decide on it by March 8, according to Traders Magazine. (more…)

Issuer Data Initiative

“Nobody seems to care about the issuers.”

That short sentence in an email from an investor-relations officer recently reflects what many in our profession feel about share-ownership and trading data for public companies.

Back in March 2011, we decided to do something. You old-timers here at the Market Structure Map, you remember? With hope, fanfare and even media coverage, we launched our quixotic quest for better data. We beseeched the SEC, FINRA and staffers for members of Congress on committees regulating markets.

Turns out we were more like Don Quixote than Sancho Panza. Moving Congress is nearly a fool’s errand. And we also found that unless it produces dollars for regulators, yours is their last priority. But we also made a startling discovery about how to succeed.

Here’s the problem today. Shares trade in fractions of seconds but reports on ownership follow months later. Vanguard founder Jack Bogle says data on share turnover show average holding periods for institutions are now less than five months. Since 13fs are filed 45 days following quarter-end, reporting periods are longer than holding periods!

But ownership data don’t mean what they did before rules the last 15 years transformed market structure. Let me drive that point home. Too much attention is paid to WHO, and not enough to WHY.

Trading “back in the day” was the means to the end. Today, trading IS the end. Nearly 85% of volume is the product of a trading objective, not investment. So complete trading data matter greatly now – and you don’t have them.

ModernIR provides great statistical measures of trading behavior because markets run on rules and math, and we can apply statistics to both. But why do public companies have incomplete data? The act creating the SEC says all constituents shall have equal treatment. (more…)

End Reg NMS

The structure of equity markets is like Lance Armstrong: Defining an industry but dogged by accusations.

The SEC seems to be in near-continuous investigative mode. Last week the Chicago branch of the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, joined the cooks in the kitchen, including Congress, to huddle over the stove and study the stew.

Speaking of Congress, a bombshell detonated during market testimony last week. Bloomberg’s Nina Mehta wrote Sept 20 in an article titled “NYSE Executive Urges Assessment of 2007 Stock Trading Overhaul” that Joe Mecane, head of equities for the exchange, thinks the SEC should reconsider Regulation National Market System.

You’d expect shock. Thus far, no. But agreeing with Mecane were Nasdaq transaction services head Eric Noll and BATS chief operating officer Chris Isaacson. Rather than piecemeal reactionary remedies to yeasty glitches in trading markets, all three said, regulators should examine the extreme makeover given markets by Regulation National Market System.

SIDEBAR: Join us Friday 9/28 at 3p ET for a web meeting on using Rational Price to sort signal from noise – and to talk about Reg NMS and what issuers should do.

Amid a vast array of market minutia managed by provisions in its 500 pages, Regulation National Market System decreed that trades must meet at the “national best bid or offer.” To facilitate compliance, quotes under Reg NMS are only acknowledged if computerized. Thus, automated quotes have proliferated in continuous footraces to set stock prices. (more…)

Quiet Period

Define irony.

Alanis Morrissette called things ironic in song and was criticized for the apparent absence of irony in her verse.

So is it ironic, or instead coincidental or paradoxical, that the SEC may consider speeding up information by removing the quiet period around IPOs at the same time that many are calling on regulators to slow down trading markets?

You may have seen that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif) called on SEC chair Mary Schapiro to consider revising antiquated rules about information flow around IPOs. Ms. Schapiro seemed to concur in her August (not august) reply to Rep. Issa that change is worth considering. Rules were created to address disadvantage for small investors, then relaxed in 2005 as communications technology advanced.

The implication is that in a Twitter age where everyone can possess the same information (albeit we’re overwhelmed by endless talking and perhaps underwhelmed by actual doing) a quiet period makes sense like a black fly in your chardonnay. Or rain on your wedding day.

And no surprise, social media is at the heart of the matter. Facebook’s retail holders may have been, er, defaced as a result of regulation ill-suited to the kind of markets we’ve got today where word travels fast. If the quiet period goes away ahead of IPOs, can it be far behind around earnings calls? After all, doesn’t the same principle apply?

Irony is an expression conveying the opposite of what it seems. Some of us are guilty of this when we, for instance, say “nice to meet you.” Just kidding. (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…)

Bending Like Beck

Do you hate day traders?

Reading the 30-page Waiver and Consent letter from Peter Beck, who once ran now-defunct day-trading firm Swift Trade, it seems FINRA must.

Maybe you do too. But there’s a lesson in the story here, IR folks.

If you missed it, Beck’s woes got page-one billing from the keyboard of Scott Patterson at the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Beck ran a loose global day-trading federation last decade that at peak hosted some 4,000 traders outside the United States funneling orders through Beck’s execution broker Biremis Securities in Toronto.

The allegations are a compendium on failed oversight. We counted 35 instances of the words “appropriate,” “proper,” “improper” and “improperly” in the document signed by Beck and his legal counsel. It effectively bans Beck from US securities markets (although Beck operated outside the US so the ban seems hollow).

Behind bolded subheadings, the letter says primarily that Beck failed to supervise staff, didn’t keep good records and didn’t comply with standards. What gets attention in the Wall Street Journal is a practice called “layering,” in which traders place a bunch of orders at various price points, say, to buy shares in one place, and then simultaneously enter opposing orders elsewhere, and then cancel most orders as soon as other participants react. The aim is a quick profit at minimal risk. (more…)