Saturday, April 14, 2012

Morgan Stanley on High Frequency Trading and the Inevitable Destruction of the Equity Market (futures too)

A tour de force.
From ZeroHedge:
Why The Market Is Slowly Dying
Three years ago, when virtually nobody had yet heard of High Frequency Trading, Zero Hedge wrote "The Incredibly Shrinking Market Liquidity, Or The Upcoming Black Swan Of Black Swans" in which we asked "what happens in a world where the very core of the capital markets system is gradually deleveraging to a point where maintaining a liquid and orderly market becomes impossible: large swings on low volume, massive bid-offer spreads, huge trading costs, inability to clear and numerous failed trades?" Subsequent to this, our observation was proved right on both an acute (the May 6, 2010 Flash Crash), and chronic (the nearly 50% collapse in average daily volumes since the 2008 top) secular basis. And while we are not happy to have been proven correct in this particular forecast, as it ultimately means the days of equity capital markets in their current configuration are numbered, we now note that none other than Morgan Stanley's Quantitative and Derivative Strategies released a note which, with a three year delay, effectively predicts the end of capital markets in a world where every declining retail participation (another topic we have been hammering for the past 3 years as it is only the most natural response to a world in which not only equities are openly manipulated by central banks, but in which perpetrators for massive market disturabances are neither identified nor prosecuted) is replaced by artificial high frequency trading churn, which never was and never will be a true liquidity provider on a long-term basis.

To wit from Morgan Stanley: "In our mind, many of the approaches to algorithmic execution were developed in an environment that is substantially, structurally different from today’s environment. In particular, the early part of the last decade saw households as significant natural liquidity providers as they sold their single stock positions over time to exchange them for institutionally managed products... While the time horizon over which liquidity is provided can range from microseconds to months, it is particularly shorter-term liquidity provisioning that has become more common." Translation: as retail investors retrench more and more, which they will due to previously discussed secular themes as well as demographics, and HFT becomes and ever more dominant force, which it has no choice but to, liquidity and investment horizons will get ever shorter and shorter and shorter, until eventually by simple limit expansion, they hit zero, or some investing singularity, for those who are thought experiment inclined. That is when the currently unsustainable course of market de-evolution will, to use a symbolic 100 year anniversary allegory, finally hit the iceberg head one one final time.

How does Morgan Stanley frame their analysis? First, MS notes the ever increasing ownership of the stock market by big institutions, as retail investors took a back seat to investment allocation decisions, a secular theme until 2008, which however has subsequently plateaued:
Asset management has become increasingly institutionalized over the years. Individuals have outsourced their wealth management to institutions, whether pension funds, insurance companies or investment advisors. These, in turn, invest mostly in institutionally managed products such as mutual funds, ETFs, or long/short vehicles. The net result of this is that the vast majority of investable assets are held through institutionally managed vehicles. Exhibit 1 shows the evolution of ownership vehicles of corporate equity in the US. 37% of the USD 22tn of corporate equity is held by ‘Households and Nonprofits’ now, down from 50% at the turn of the century. This segment includes endowments and foundations, as well as on-shore hedge funds. Arguably, these should be counted as institutional investors as well. This means that direct household ownership of corporate equity is substantially below this figure.

For a universe of large-cap stocks4, Exhibit 4 shows the evolution of the percentage of ownership attributable to 13F filers and mutual funds since Dec 2001. This data corroborates Exhibit 1 on the increase in institutional ownership – on average, institutional ownership increased from 54% in March 2000 to 81% at the end of 2011.

Following the rapid growth of institutional asset management, however, the pace of increase in institutional ownership has slowed since 2008. We see this as one of the key drivers of the change in market structure and liquidity sourcing opportunities in recent years.
As more and more "equity capital" was concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people, the only logical outcome took place...MORE
See also from Trader Dan's Market Views:

Algorithms Gone Wild - AGAIN, and AGAIN, and AGAIN


HT: Jesse's Cafe Americain
What more is left to say at this point other than the fact that the hedge fund computers and their damnable algorithms have destroyed the integrity of the US futures markets. The sheer size, extent, ferocity and volatility of the moves that these pestilential computers are creating have rendered these markets basically useless for what they originally came into being for, namely, risk management for commercial entities.

Price swings of this magnitude are blowing up hedged positions put on by commercials and other end users/merchants/processors, etc. While margins are reduced for legitimate hedgers, they still must meet any and all margin calls on any hedged position, whether that is a long position or a short position. Some will say that all they need to do is to buy or sell the corresponding physical commodity and while simultaneously lifting the hedge. That might work fine on paper but in the real world it is a fabrication.

A cattle feedlot, a grain elevator owner/operator, a cocoa processor, a cotton mill, etc, may or may not have the actual product ready to sell as it is still maturing or growing in the field or may not be ready yet to actually buy the product but they might have hedges in place while they are waiting. So much for their hedges in this sort of idiotically insane trading environment. Their hedges are getting blasted to kingdom come but they must maintain the thing if it moves against them meaning that they need cash to meet any and all margin calls.