Commentary

Tim Quast
Traders Magazine Online News

We're All HFTs Now

In this guest commentary, author Tim Quast looks back at the history of HFT and how the market has evolved to where many firms now fit the definition of high-frequency trader.

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May 1, 2011

Sellside Wants Discretion

By Peter Chapman

Also in this article

  • Sellside Wants Discretion

Gaming was a hot topic at this year's TradeTech USA conference. Brokers were under the gun to defend their order handling and explain how they were protecting their customers' orders from opportunistic high-frequency traders. And, for the most part, that's what they did.

Owain Self

But it soon became clear that thwarting the HFT was not just the responsibility of the broker and his technology. Brokers said it was also up to the buyside trader to play a part. Often, the actions of the buyside trader will work against successful order handling, brokers complained. What brokers want is more discretion over the handling of the order. They need the ability to switch gears when necessary.

"You can put the same sophistication the high-frequency trader puts into his execution logic into yours," Owain Self, UBS's head of algorithmic trading for the Americas and the EMEA region, said at TradeTech. "And you can be totally unseen in the marketplace."

But a well-designed algo requires flexibility to change course if necessary, Self explained. And that may not be possible if the institutional customer has his own agenda. Oftentimes, Self explained, a buyside will insist on being a certain percent of the volume, regardless of market conditions. Staying at 10 percent of a day's volume, for instance, throughout the day, could amount to a signal for the tape watchers.

"We are being very predictable by being a certain percent of the volume," Self said. "We create a signal. They feed off that and trade more volume. We react to the increase in volume and create a higher signal. It's a perpetual thing. We create more and more signals, and they make more and more money."

Self contends it is essential to build some discretion into such a "participation rate" algorithm. If the client wants to be 10 percent of the volume, it is important to be able to reduce that amount to, say, 5 percent when being gamed, and increase it to, say, 15 percent when not.

Avoiding HFT gaming means knowing when and where to trade, brokers say. And knowing when and where to trade requires following the signals the market is throwing out or that the broker has designed. But acting on those signals can be impossible if the restrictions the buyside places on the sellside are too onerous.

"We've been given a number of shares that need to be traded," said Amit Manwani, Nomura Securities' head of quantitative and analytics products in the U.S. "The only way we can actually add value is if the client gives us some discretion. Then we can listen to those signals and provide liquidity when it is appropriate to do so. Or demand it when it is favorable to do so."