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Is Uncle Sam Manipulating the Equity Markets?
Part III

Posted by Larry Doyle on July 8, 2009 6:47 AM |

Kudos to the blog Zero Hedge for highlighting the questionable nature of the technical flows in the equity market that have occurred via high frequency program trading.

Massive kudos to Joe Saluzzi of Themis Trading for going public last week on Bloomberg with this story. While Zero Hedge, Sense on Cents, and every other financial blog sit outside the fray, Joe Saluzzi is actually ‘in the arena.’ I commend him for his character and courage in shedding light on this opaque and arcane program trading business. Yesterday on his blog at Themis Trading, Saluzzi wrote a piece entitled “Manipulation?”:

We have talked extensively on our blog and in our white papers about the power of high frequency trading and program trading.  We have noted that these trading strategies can move the market quickly  during the trading day.  We have always suspected that there have been certain major players that can dominate this space.    Now comes the case of the stolen proprietary trading code from Goldman Sachs.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=axYw_ykTBokE

Most interesting in this Bloomberg article is the following statement by Assisitant U.S, Attorney Joseph Facciponti:

“The bank has raised the possibility that there is a danger that somebody who knew how to use this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways,” Facciponti said

Is this an admission by Goldman Sachs that there is the possibility of manipulation in the market?  Does anyone think that this is the only program in the world that can “manipulate” markets?  With all the programmers in the world, we can only imagine how many more manipulative programs are out there.  Now here is the best part according to the assistant U.S. Attorney:

The proprietary code lets the firm do “sophisticated, high- speed and high-volume trades on various stock and commodities markets,” prosecutors said in court papers. The trades generate “many millions of dollars” each year.

Markets are a zero sum game – somebody wins and somebody loses. Where do you think these “many millions of dollars” are coming from?  They are coming from you – the average retail investor and the large institutional investor.  These programs are taking advantage of real order flow and are siphoning off small profits throughout the day that belong in the pockets of the retail investor and the traditional money manager.

So, who is out there to protect you from these “machines” and their army of programmers?  One would think the SEC has your back.  But what did they have to say about high frequency trading.  According to an article in the WSJ (http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20090618-707189.html )

The Securities and Exchange Commission believes institutional money managers are “sophisticated” enough to trade against the machines without further regulation.

“We don’t want to curtail liquidity,” said Gene Gohlke, associate director for the SEC. Gohlke said it’s up to the managers themselves to make sure other traders aren’t manipulating their models.

This story is just at the beginning stages and we here at Themis Trading intend to keep a careful watch on it.

WOW!!! This statement by Mr. Saluzzi is as powerful a condemnation of a Wall Street business practice as I have seen in a long time.

Effectively, Mr. Saluzzi is stating that the high speed program trades ‘front run’ order flow from retail and institutional investors. This practice helps explain the disconnect between the underlying economic fundamentals and the technical support of our equity markets. The SEC has given the practice of program trading its blessing.

This smells.

For those interested in this topic, please reference previous posts by Sense on Cents on this topic:

Is Uncle Sam Manipulating the Equity Markets?

Is Uncle Sam Manipulating the Equity Markets? Part II

Kudos again to Zero Hedge and especially Joe Saluzzi!!

LD

  • lizzy

    Great story LD. It sounds like Goldman may be playing the role of Dr. Frankenstein in this monster flick.

  • Lizzy,

    Pretty amazing stuff. Kudos to Mr. Saluzzi for shedding light on this.

  • Aaron kramer

    None of this will go anywhere as Goldman owns the FED, Treasury and our government. Our only hope is auditing the Fed and exposing the corruption.

  • Aaron…perhaps not, but the NYSE program trading reports is where all of this emanated. To the extent that those reports are not accurately reported, the exchange and the major market participants are playing with fire.

    I agree the Fed should be audited.

  • rickets

    The equity markets are not a zero sum game. To the extent someone outperforms and someone underperforms – those net out to zero….but the net returns of all investors are not 0%. This is very important to distinguish. Investors are not hurt by program trading. Higher volumes have led to dramatically lower spreads and commissions which likely save the common investor more than it costs them. If you want the programs gone, prepare for spreads to triple and prepare for the fact your mutual fund will need to push stocks further in price to find liquidity. Sure, the programs make money, but its not at additional expense of the retail investor

  • Rickets….Mr. Saluzzi is referencing the fact that on a trade by trade basis it is a zero sum game. If I buy something from you at a certain price regardless of when you entered into the trade or when I exit, our individual transaction will be a zero sum game.

    To be perfectly frank, the lower spreads primarily came in when stocks went from trading in increments of .125 (eighths of a point) to .01 (cents). That move crushed the specialists and led to these large program trading activities.

    I think you would be hard pressed to argue that program trades do not effectively front run order flow on the exchange.

    I would encourage you to watch the video clip of Mr. Saluzzi linked in my first post on this topic. He clearly has a different point of view on this topic.






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