Sunday, July 19, 2009

State Street On Electronic Trading And The Liquidity Hazard

Continuing the series of State Street presentations on relevant market topics, the latest piece "What are the Implications of the Growing Use of Electronic Trading" focuses on the nuanced difference between "real liquidity" and "liquidity hazard", depending on whether one is a price taker or market maker. Yet based on limited available public disclosure, non-premium clients of the NYSE and other PT-espousing exchanges have no visibility of who and under what conditions any given broker/dealer and quant become one or the other. And while merely a few years ago HFT was less than half of traded stock volume, recent data indicates high frequency trading now accounts for over 70% of US volume, and thus it is important to reassess what is the relevant set of data disclosure by dominating broker/dealers. The risk is palpable - as State Street itself notes, there is "equity capital at risk."

And closing off this weekend's program reading series is the following 2005 panel piece from Euromoney, which captures the insights of insiders such as John Elay of Hotspot FX, Scott Freeman of GFX, Bank of America, George Houlihan of GETCO, Ed Hulina of UBS, Ulf Lindahl of A.G.Bisset & Company and Mark Robson of Reuters. Particularly notable is the disclosure by Ed Hulina who discusses the liquidity mirage: "There are a lot of banks making prices and there’s ultimately only so much end-user volume to support those prices. So, yes, I think there is a risk of a liquidity mirage in some respects if there is a proliferation of platforms and people providing prices and representing more liquidity at any given time than is actually there."

Zero Hedge has disclosed how HFT/PT is now unquestionably dominating the markets as traditional trading mechanisms have fallen on the sidelines. Hulina's point in 2005 is exponentially more relevant now: how can we possibly know what liquidity is real in this market dominated by intermediaries and evaporating end-users? Absent regulatory reform, the only way to know would be a forensic analysis once the current topology breaks and the components are analyzed in retrospect. Of course, by then it would be too late.

hat tip Richard

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