High frequency trading is rightly criticized. It isn’t bad because rich people are getting richer. It is bad because of the manipulation of markets. Those being
- Front running – having orders executed milliseconds in advance to gain an edge (there is no market benefit to millisecond variation). In the grossest for it is clearly criminal: putting in orders prior to known orders from a customer to make money at the expense of your customer and others in the market. My understanding is the criminal type is not what they are normally accused of, of course, who knows but… Instead they front run largely by getting information very quickly and putting in orders to front run based on silly price difference (under 1/10 of a cent).
- Putting in false orders to fake out the market – you are not allowed to put in false orders. It is clear from the amount of orders placed and immediately withdrawn they are constantly doing this. Very simply any firm doing this should be banned from trading. It wouldn’t take long to stop. Of course the SEC should prosecute people doing this, but don’t hold your breath.
Several things should be done.
- Institute a small new financial transaction tax – adding a bit of friction to the system will reduce the ludicrous stuff going on now. Use this tax to fund investigation and prosecution of bad behavior.
- Redo the way matching of orders is done to promote real market activity not minute market arbitrage and manipulation – I don’t know exactly what to do but something like putting in a timing factor along with price. An order that is within 1/10 of cent for less than 1,000 shares are executed in order of length of time they have been active (or something like that).
- Institute rules that if you cancel more than 20% of your order (over 10 in a day) in less than 15 minutes you can’t enter an order for 24 hours. Repeated failures to leave orders in place create longer bans.
- Don’t let those using these strategies get their money back when they do idiotic things like sell bull chip companies down to 20% of their price at the beginning of the day. You don’t get to say, oh I didn’t really mean to buy this stock that lost me 50% the day I bought it, give me money back. There is no reason high frequency traders should be allowed to take their profits and then renege on trades they don’t like later.
Speculation is fine, within set rules for a fair market. Traders making money by manipulating the system instead of through beneficial activities such as making a market shouldn’t be supported.
To the extent high frequency trading creates fundamental buying opportunities take advantage of the market opportunity. Just realize the high frequency traders may be able to reverse you gains (and if you lose you are not going to be granted the same favors).
The truth is the billions of dollars high frequency traders steal from others market returns matters much less to true investors. For long terms holdings the less than a cent they steal from other market participants is small. It is still bad. Just people really get more excited about it than they need to. I would love to just get 1/1000 of cent on every trade made in the markets, I could retire. But they are mainly stealing very small amounts from tons of different people. Now the fake orders and trades that go against them that they then get reversed are a different story.