What is High-frequency trading and How market makers are benefiting from HFT

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High-frequency trading Introduction

As noted above, high-frequency trading (HFT) is a form of algorithmic trading characterized by high turnover and high order-to-trade ratios. Although there is no single definition of HFT, among its key attributes are highly sophisticated algorithms, specialized order types, co-location, very short-term investment horizons, and high cancellation rates for orders.In the U.S., high-frequency trading (HFT) firms represent 2% of the approximately 20,000 firms operating today, but account for 73% of all equity trading volume.[citation needed] As of the first quarter in 2009, total assets under management for hedge funds with HFT strategies were US$141 billion, down about 21% from their high. The HFT strategy was first made successful by Renaissance Technologies.

High-frequency funds started to become especially popular in 2007 and 2008. Many HFT firms are market makers and provide liquidity to the market, which has lowered volatility and helped narrow Bid-offer spreads making trading and investing cheaper for other market participants.HFT has been a subject of intense public focus since the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission stated that both algorithmic trading and HFT contributed to volatility in the 2010 Flash Crash. Among the major U.S. high frequency trading firms are Chicago Trading, Virtu Financial, Timber Hill, ATD, GETCO, and Citadel LLC.

There are four key categories of HFT strategies: market-making based on order flow, market-making based on tick data information, event arbitrage and statistical arbitrage. All portfolio-allocation decisions are made by computerized quantitative models. The success of computerized strategies is largely driven by their ability to simultaneously process volumes of information, something ordinary human traders cannot do.

Market making

Market making involves placing a limit order to sell (or offer) above the current market price or a buy limit order (or bid) below the current price on a regular and continuous basis to capture the bid-ask spread. Automated Trading Desk, which was bought by Citigroup in July 2007, has been an active market maker, accounting for about 6% of total volume on both NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange.

Statistical arbitrage

Another set of HFT strategies in classical arbitrage strategy might involve several securities such as covered interest rate parity in the foreign exchange market which gives a relation between the prices of a domestic bond, a bond denominated in a foreign currency, the spot price of the currency, and the price of a forward contract on the currency. If the market prices are sufficiently different from those implied in the model to cover transaction cost then four transactions can be made to guarantee a risk-free profit. HFT allows similar arbitrages using models of greater complexity involving many more than 4 securities. The TABB Group estimates that annual aggregate profits of low latency arbitrage strategies currently exceed US$21 billion.

A wide range of statistical arbitrage strategies have been developed whereby trading decisions are made on the basis of deviations from statistically significant relationships. Like market-making strategies, statistical arbitrage can be applied in all asset classes.

Event arbitrage

A subset of risk, merger, convertible, or distressed securities arbitrage that counts on a specific event, such as a contract signing, regulatory approval, judicial decision, etc., to change the price or rate relationship of two or more financial instruments and permit the arbitrageur to earn a profit.

Merger arbitrage also called risk arbitrage would be an example of this. Merger arbitrage generally consists of buying the stock of a company that is the target of a takeover while shorting the stock of the acquiring company. Usually the market price of the target company is less than the price offered by the acquiring company. The spread between these two prices depends mainly on the probability and the timing of the takeover being completed as well as the prevailing level of interest rates. The bet in a merger arbitrage is that such a spread will eventually be zero, if and when the takeover is completed. The risk is that the deal “breaks” and the spread massively widens.


Layering (finance)

One strategy that some traders have employed, which has been proscribed yet likely continues, is called spoofing. It is the act of placing orders to give the impression of wanting to buy or sell shares, without ever having the intention of letting the order execute to temporarily manipulate the market to buy or sell shares at a more favorable price. This is done by creating limit orders outside the current bid or ask price to change the reported price to other market participants. The trader can subsequently place trades based on the artificial change in price, then canceling the limit orders before they are executed.

Suppose a trader desires to sell shares of a company with a current bid of $20 and a current ask of $20.20. The trader would place a buy order at $20.10, still some distance from the ask so it will not be executed, and the $20.10 bid is reported as the National Best Bid and Offer best bid price. The trader then executes a market order for the sale of the shares they wished to sell. Because the best bid price is the investor’s artificial bid, a market maker fills the sale order at $20.10, allowing for a $.10 higher sale price per share. The trader subsequently cancels their limit order on the purchase he never had the intention of completing.

Quote stuffing

Quote stuffing is a tactic employed by malicious traders that involves quickly entering and withdrawing large quantities of orders in an attempt to flood the market, thereby gaining an advantage over slower market participants. The rapidly placed and canceled orders cause market data feeds that ordinary investors rely on to delay price quotes while the stuffing is occurring. HFT firms benefit from proprietary, higher-capacity feeds and the most capable, lowest latency infrastructure. Researchers showed high-frequency traders are able to profit by the artificially induced latencies and arbitrage opportunities that result from quote stuffing.

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