Monday, April 07, 2014

Who cares about high-frequency traders?

I listened to several interviews of Michael Lewis plug his sensalized new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, and I don't get it. Exactly why is it such a bad thing that some big firms are making rapid trades?

Stock markets have always had market makers who profit from order imbalances, with some risk to themselves. Advancing technology has allowed the high-frequency traders to become part of the system. But Lewis does not explain how anyone is being cheated. Maybe the traders are making the market more efficient.

Lewis sounds as if he is on to something when he talks about how millions of dollars can change hands in less time than the blink of an eye. But usually liquidity is a good thing, not a bad thing, so I do not see the point. Of course someone could be illegally wiretapping, stealing information, defrauding clients, etc, and that would be a criminal matter. But I did not hear that being alleged.

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