Sabtu, 22 Mei 2010

A HFT primer

As a follow-up of my previous discussions on high frequency trading, I have invited guest blogger Jennifer Groton to share with us a quick survey of various common HFT strategies used by equities and FX traders.


High frequency trading strategies are under fire.  The recent trading spike in our national exchanges was duly noted as a short-circuit waiting to happen and drew immediate industry criticism of auto-trading robots. Before a witch-hunt ensues, perhaps a review of the common HFT strategies in stocks and Forex is in order. 

High-frequency firms employ a wide variety of  low-margin trading strategies that are implemented by professional market intermediaries who have invested heavily in technology. These firms claim that they make markets more efficient by enhancing liquidity and transparent price discovery to the benefit of investors.  The Forex market’s unique combination of high liquidity and low volatility make it an ideal environment for deploying HFT strategies, although many of the ideas and technology are from the equity markets.  The basic strategies fall into three categories: market-making, trending or predictive, and classic arbitrage.

Market-making strategies tend to focus on a single stock or currency pair.  Many firms in this area have been described as engaging in "rebate-capture trading", a reference to the credits that firms get for providing liquidity on most market centers.

The second group consists of mean-reversion and trending strategies. These utilize technical indicators for stocks or forex indicators for currencies, and seek to generate more return from individual trades.

The last group may involve a cross-section of trades from multiple markets.  The classic arbitrage strategy is a form of the “carry trade” that uses 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 transactions costs, then four transactions can be made to guarantee a risk-free profit.

High frequency trading is attributed with generating over 70% of the volume of trades on our equity markets.  Similar statistics are not available for forex markets, but speculating disguised as commercially necessary trades have been reported to be over two-thirds of the volume.  Liquidity and pricing transparency are the benefits offered by its advocates, but regulators and other market participants who disagree with this positive assessment are presently discounting these benefits.  Transaction taxes and time limits on orders have been proposed to mitigate the perceived risk created by HFT firms, but the wheels of Washington move slowly, even in crisis.  For the time being, there is no indication that their participation will be discontinued.   

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