HFT: In Search of the Truth

Most studies on the impact of high-frequency trading on market quality include at least one fatal flaw. But the truth is out there.

Statistics is a funny field – you can generally construct well-reasoned, well-supported arguments on both sides of an issue. I have found a paucity of independent, objective writing on the subject of market quality, and recently found myself researching what studies have been performed. Reviewing the literature on market quality, it is clear that nearly all studies of equity market quality have been done by either:

  1. HFT firms
  2. Exchanges (whose best customers are HFT firms), or
  3. Academics sponsored by HFT firms or exchanges.

Part of this problem is the data; it’s simply immense. In fact, it has helped to coin the term “Big Data.” And you know it’s bad when a bunch of computer scientists call something “big.”

This is not just a question of acquisition cost, though it is certainly costly to obtain this data (irrationally so considering this is data about public markets). It’s also a question of technological infrastructure and expertise. Generally it takes a lot of storage and computing resources to analyze this data, and those who know how are generally making large amounts of money in the industry. Or they’re looking to get a job making large amounts of money in the industry.

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