Tagged: Statistical Arbitrage

The Trading Edge

If stocks trade on moving averages, why do high-frequency firms hire math whizzes?

Providing some form of answer, Thomson Reuters will cease publishing the University of Michigan’s twice-monthly consumer-confidence survey two seconds early to premium data customers including high-speed traders, following pressure from New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman.

Do you have an investment horizon of two seconds? If you don’t, is the early provision of data the problem, or is it a market structure that makes information more valuable if it’s received first?

New York Times writer Nathaniel Popper quoted me in a piece July 8 on the widely publicized controversy. Most everyone said something like, “It’s about time they stopped leaking information to the privileged.”

I said the market had devolved into a footrace. There’s nothing wrong with information asymmetry. Look at the Buttonwood Agreement in 1792 between 24 brokers who formed the NYSE. It set a minimum commission so none would undercut others on price, and required that all give each other preference on trades. Well, isn’t that a first look? Unique and valuable information is the bedrock of capital-formation. (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…)

Machinating Your News

For what struck me as a giant one-day life metaphor, I joined 2,500 other clinically insane individuals Sunday on Colorado’s hallowed cycling Triple Bypass (motto: “For Those Who Dare”).

Coursing from Avon to Evergreen over 123 miles and a triune set of towering climbs totaling more than 11,000 feet of elevation gain, the ride seared lungs and legs, testing the flesh with sweeping escarpments and breath-taking descents. Life’s highs and lows, triumphs and travails, rolled up and thrown aboard a road bike. I’ve crossed it off the list. Whew.

And daily deep in the bowels of Gigabit Ethernet connections, machines are performing triple bypass rides through your stock, feasting on economic data en route.

Taking but one example, the Nasdaq announced – fittingly on Friday the 13th – a machine-readable news service called Event-Driven Analytics. Created by RapiData, a firm the Nasdaq acquired this year, news is formatted so “latency-sensitive” traders can process it with algorithms that decide what and when to buy or sell.

Latency is a trading term that describes the pursuit of seamless and blistering speed. Those sensitive to it are like cyclists in a peloton, wheel to wheel at break-neck pace, who can be harmed by the slightest fluctuation. I saw that happen ahead of me Sunday as we raced over Dillon Dam near the Keystone ski resort at nearly 26mph. One rider made the slightest hesitation and the two trailing him collided and were down skidding over the pavement in a fraction of a second. They were okay but skinned, bloody and bruised. (more…)

NYSE Goes Retail

The recent SEC approval of plans by the NYSE to attract retail dark liquidity generated a nationwide acronym alert.

Just kidding. Mostly. But acronyms in hordes do assault readers of the NYSE rule. It was not readily apparent that the filing had been composed in English.

If you didn’t hear, the SEC last week approved plans by the NYSE to host undisplayed orders originating from retail investors for matching against high-frequency trades in sub-penny increments.

We don’t fault the NYSE. It’s trying to compete for data revenue under plans that require it to match at least 25% of trades to earn revenue from the data those trades generate. With its share of market slipping below that level in May, the need was urgent.

But there are problems here for IR pros and public companies beyond that fact that it represents an abrupt and contradictory about-face from the SEC. We could go on for pages but because some of you would become alcoholics as a result, we’ll confine ourselves to a single, overriding flaw:

The rule effectively establishes 1,000 price points per dollar. In Regulation National Market System, Rule 612, called the Sub-Penny Rule, states: “No national securities exchange, national securities association, alternative trading system, vendor, or broker or dealer shall display, rank, or accept from any person a bid or offer, an order, or an indication of interest in any NMS stock priced in an increment smaller than $0.01 if that bid or offer, order, or indication of interest is priced equal to or greater than $1.00 per share.” (more…)

The Emperor’s ETF Clothes

If somebody tells you he has a plan to improve your financial condition by borrowing your credit card and buying himself a bunch of stuff with it, be suspicious.

With that setup, we have a story to tell you. In a minute.

First, we said last week: “Overall sentiment is surprisingly good in money behind client shares. Stocks may recover quickly.”

Spot on. It shows how data-analytics help us understand market behavior. But remember our qualifier: “The DXY dollar index shows the same fissures it had last summer when the Euro nearly came undone. This currency crisis is coming back in weeks or months.”

We stand by that. The Infinite Elasticity Theorem posited by central banks is about to snap. It goes like this: “In times of crisis, expand the supply of money until the problem disappears under a pile of paper, because we can’t handle the truth, so we don’t want you to either.”

To our story. The Nasdaq has asked the SEC to approve its Market Quality Program, in which sponsors of thinly traded (under 2m shares daily) Exchange Traded Funds would pay market makers to trade the ETFs. The Nasdaq says these payments will stimulate trading in the ETFs, thus narrowing spreads, making markets efficient, enhancing market confidence and integrity, and boosting volumes in issuer components of the ETFs. (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…)

Arbitragers Love Monetary Intervention

Say you were playing poker.

I don’t mean gambling, but real cards. You’re engaged with some seriousness. You’re watching how you bet and when, reading the players ahead and after you.

Then The House starts doling out stacks of chips. Would you play more or less cautiously if you had free chips?

Apply this thinking to equity markets, IR folks. In trading data, we saw European money sweeping into US equities Nov 28. Why did markets trembling Nov 25 decide by the following Monday to up the ante in risk-taking? Primary dealers implementing policy for global central banks also drive most program-trading strategies.

Thus, European money surmised that central banks would intervene, and their behavior reflected it. The rest caught on, and markets soared Nov 30 on free chips from central banks. It was short-lived. By Dec 2, we saw institutions market-wide assaying portfolio risk and locking in higher derivatives insurance. The chips were gone.

Money sat back expectantly. On Dec 8, The House delivered chips as the European Central Bank lowered interest rates. That’s devaluing the euro. At first, cheapening the euro increases the value of the dollar – which lowers US stocks (a la Dec 8). But if you’d hedged with derivatives as most of the globe did, you bluffed The House. Plus, the Fed will likely have to follow Europe’s bet up with a see-and-raise to devalue the dollar back into line with the euro (expect it next week, but before options expirations).

In poker, having “the nuts” is holding the best cards, and knowing it. Central banks have given arbitragers the nuts. (more…)

The Tale of Tail Risk

If you think “tail risk” is what happens if you grab a cat by the tail, well, that’s not far off. Did you know that an entire institutional subset is focused on the risk relative to theoretically ending up with a handful of grabbed cat? We’ll come to that in a minute, and how it might affect your stock.

First, these markets. Real, or more statistical arbitrage? Checking the data, something very unusual occurred last week. On November 4 in our data, the volumes we call electronic and speculative were dead, spot-on, even, at 35.8% of the total, each. That day, divergence in major market measures ceased, and volumes turned bullish. It stood out to us.

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