Friday, February 13, 2015

Flash Boys - my review

I finally got around to reading "Flash Boys" by Michael Lewis.   Bottom line, like a lot of non-fiction books, it is pretty good, but probably could be half as long.

The basic story, in case you haven't read it is as follows {SPOILER ALERT}

  • RBC Equity trader suspects that his trades are being front run  - someone is anticipating his moves and then picking off his juicy trades by jacking the price very slightly.
  • After much research (using LinkedIn and experts in fibre optic cables) he figures out the problem.
    • The fragmented nature of equity markets - there are more than 30 equity trading venues - coupled with the speed at which information flows from one market to another - allows high frequency traders to lure trades to one market then pull back depth and pick off the trade at the next market.
    • The solution is to slow down trades
  • RBC Equity trader quits his day job and creates a new exchange which works on the idea that by slowing down trading, you remove the advantage to the HFT guys.
  • After a slow start, the new exchange does really well, because people hate getting ripped off the by the HFT guys.   
  • The exchange is still going:  http://www.iextrading.com/
There are a couple of side stories.  Apparently someone is laying fibre from New York to Chicago.   Also a coder goes to jail for apparently stealing open source code from Goldman.  But really he wasn't a bad guy.

Overall, worth a read if you are interested in HFT, but if you are not, then it's a pretty geeky book and probably not worth the effort.

The broader takeaway from the book is that a huge amount of money is being made from HFT.   Because HFT isn't a value creating enterprise, and the stock market is basically a zero-sum game, this means that this money is coming from investors.  Investors who have money in pension funds and mutual funds etc.  People like me.

Bottom line.  To quote Josh Brown: "The way to defeat high frequency traders is to be a low frequency trader"

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Buffett's bet against a Hedge Fund manager

We're in year 6 of Warren Buffett's million dollar bet against Hedgie Ted Seides.   Buffett bet that the S&P 500 index would crush a portfolio of hedge funds hand picked by Seides.

So far, Buffett is correct.  The index is stomping on the hedge funds.

Of course, there's no surprise here.  If you are interested in long term capital appreciation a portfolio of indexed stocks will virtually always outperform a fund that is charging 2/20 and is run by people who think that they are smarter than the market.

What's amusing is that Seides is now coming up with excuses for why it's not a fair competition.  You can read them here

Thanks to my accounting colleague, Don for the link.