Saturday, July 17, 2021

The race to transact in high frequency trading by Aquilina, Budish, and O'Neill

 High frequency traders are constantly involved in races to trade on existing bids and asks or to cancel those bids and asks as they become stale.  Here's an NBER working paper that let's us look in on the action.

Quantifying the High-Frequency Trading "Arms Race"  by Matteo Aquilina, Eric Budish & Peter O'Neill  NBER WORKING PAPER 29011 DOI 10.3386/w29011  July 2021

Abstract: "We use stock exchange message data to quantify the negative aspect of high-frequency trading, known as “latency arbitrage.” The key difference between message data and widely-familiar limit order book data is that message data contain attempts to trade or cancel that fail. This allows the researcher to observe both winners and losers in a race, whereas in limit order book data you cannot see the losers, so you cannot directly see the races. We find that latency-arbitrage races are very frequent (about one per minute per symbol for FTSE 100 stocks), extremely fast (the modal race lasts 5-10 millionths of a second), and account for a remarkably large portion of overall trading volume (about 20%). Race participation is concentrated, with the top 6 firms accounting for over 80% of all race wins and losses. The average race is worth just a small amount (about half a price tick), but because of the large volumes the stakes add up. Our main estimates suggest that races constitute roughly one-third of price impact and the effective spread (key microstructure measures of the cost of liquidity), that latency arbitrage imposes a roughly 0.5 basis point tax on trading, that market designs that eliminate latency arbitrage would reduce the market's cost of liquidity by 17%, and that the total sums at stake are on the order of $5 billion per year in global equity markets alone."

From the introduction:

"At the center of the controversy over speed is a phenomenon called “latency arbitrage”, also known as “sniping” or “picking off” stale quotes. In plain English, a latency arbitrage is an arbitrage opportunity that is sufficiently mechanical and obvious that capturing it is primarily a contest in speed. For example, if the price of the S&P 500 futures contract changes by a large-enough amount in Chicago, there is a race around the world to pick off stale quotes in every asset highly correlated to the S&P 500 index: S&P 500 exchange traded funds, other US equity index futures and ETFs, global equity index futures and ETFs, etc. Many other examples arise from other sets of highly correlated assets: treasury bonds of slightly different durations, or in the cash market versus the futures market; options and the underlying stock; ETFs and their largest component stocks; currency triangles; commodities at different delivery dates; etc. Perhaps the simplest example is if the exact same asset trades in many different venues. For example, in the US stock market, there are 16 different exchanges and 50+ alternative trading venues, all trading the same stocks—so if the price of a stock changes by enough on one venue, there is a race to pick off stale quotes on all the others. These races around the world involve microwave links between market centers, trans-oceanic fiber-optic cables, putting trading algorithms onto hardware as opposed to software, co-location rights and proprietary data feeds from exchanges, real estate adjacent to and even on the rooftops of exchanges, and, perhaps most importantly, high-quality human capital. Just a decade ago, the speed race was commonly measured in milliseconds (thousandths of a second); it is now measured in microseconds (millionths) and even nanoseconds (billionths)."

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