Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Flash Crash

Buy on the rumor; sell on the news.
-- Wall Street Proverb

So here’s the deal.

Flash trades basically are handled by “bots” or computerized systems at close to the speed of light.
Buy or sell orders are handled in nanoseconds. In fact, orders are received and transacted faster if the physical location of the computer-generated trade is closer to the servers that exist for the Exchange – wherever that facility is actually located.
If the brokerage house/investment bank is closer to the Exchange, it’s possible to execute a trade faster than a local office of, say, Merrill Lynch, whose office could be in Iowa. The electronic time lag gives the edge to the broker near the Exchange.

Goldman Sachs is known to have been making its money by having its systems closest to the action. Fully 70% of all trading is now flash trading. Goldman is said to account for nearly 48% of these trades and 35% of all trades. Flash trades enable the fastest “gun in the East” to get ahead of other orders and with a few million trades a day, makeing its money by executing in and out before its rivals. Investors who have stop loss orders are sold out and combined losses of hundreds of billions of dollars are estimated. Goldman makes money. In fact, Goldman regularly has $100 million days.

Essentially, flash trades permits Goldman to see an order and choose its execution by inside information that is due to the faster (closer) proximity to the source of the information. The Flash Crash exposed this system.

Mayor Motz of Quogue was prosecuted for this. Only, in his case it was called “Frontrunning.” Either Motz is innocent or Goldman is guilty. You can’t have it both ways. The only difference was speed.

There you have it, folks.

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