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Nanex: Investors Need to Realize The Machines Have Taken Over

High Frequency Trading (HFT) deeply concerns Erik Hunsader, founder of Nanex. He worries that today's investors, our regulators, -- heck, even the HFT algorithms themselves -- don't fully understand the risks market prices face in the brave new era of bot-dominated trading. For instance, Hunsader estimates that HFT algorithms are responsible for 70%(!) of all completed transactions on our exchanges, and for 99.9%(!!!) of all exchange quotes. The pictures of trading floors you see on TV, where the people in bright jackets appear frantically busy in making their trades, have no bearing -- claims Hunsader -- on the actual trading action. The real action happens across fiber-optic cables, on racks of servers in cooled rooms; where an arms race defined by cable length and switching speeds is being waged The reality is that the machines have taken over. When you buy or sell a security, the odds are extremely high the other side of the trade is being placed by an algorithm -- one that cares nothing for the fundamentals of the underlying instrument. It simply is looking to make a quick profit, oftentimes measured in fractions of pennies. And this has vast repercussions for the stability and the fairness of our financial markets. Because of speed advantages, HFT algos can see and react to prices faster than you can. Ridiculously faster. A second on the clock, to an HFT algo, is an eternity. The deep pockets of the firms emplying HFT algos combine with this speed to move asset prices around, sometimes wildly so, faster than most of us can comprehend. In the time it takes for your "real-time" quote system to refresh, an individual stock could have traded many percetages up and/or down -- and you would have no idea. This unfair advantage, along with the short-term profit outlook of the algos, creates the potential for deadly market price downdrafts. Algorithms prefer predictability. If something spooks them (e.g., unexpected breaking news, a delay in the market's opening), they simply stop trading. And -- poof! -- 70% of the market has just disappeared. With no support and no bids, prices can drop dizzyingly fast. Making matters worse, the "smarter" algos can recognize a downdraft in process, and begin piling back into the market on the short side, exacerbating the price declines.
Length: 34:58


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