@VirtuFinancial bid for KCG Holdings (@KCGHQ) today. Here's why: In the chart below, average daily adjusted net trading revenue for Q4-2016 returns to levels not seen since late 2013 / early 2014. Chances are quite high that persistent low volatility during Q1-2017 - which has only a dozen trading days left in it - has caused these figure to fall back to pre-2013 levels. A situation like that needs a good distraction; something that can change the narrative and allow for lots of financial restructuring and restatements. Voila! Try to take out one of your nearest competitors... Problem is, it won't work - even if the deal gets done. The cultures of Virtu and GETCO - the parts that are likely to fit together the most logically - won't mesh. Knowing the founders and leadership, they are as different as New York and Chicago, as different as right and left. Stay tuned...
Disclaimer: Opinions and a grain or two of salty language contained herein are solely those of the author. Save your time. Just, pick up the flashlight now. Ok. Here's some bait: Chances are quite high that you are searching for answers in the darkness (amidst the chaos). And the tools that you have at your disposal - typically in the form of 5,000 or 10,000 word salads with few pictures and fewer numbers from a "pedigreed" purveyor of guidance - actually do not emit much light. The good news is that you need not toil in darkness any longer. There is a flashlight at your disposal - and, unlike a normal flashlight, this one is designed to grow in luminosity and enhance your enlightenment at the same time. Now, you can continue to deny that this is your reality - and continue as you are - or, you can check out the flashlight. Still skeptical? Here's more of the pitch: I have been successfully solving complex puzzles for a very long time. The puzzle that fascinates me and tickles my curiosity most right [...]
Well, it would have been the Top 10 investment banks, but @Barclays doesn't publish quarterly headcount for some reason. Maybe they will help us fix that. Anyway, for the Top 9 investment banks, total headcount is down 13% from its peak in Q3 2011. And, with at least 2 of the 9 - @Deutsche Bank and @CreditSuisse - reporting significant headcount reductions for the road ahead as part their year-end 2016 financial releases and 2017 guidance, it's not much of a stretch for us to predict that the Wonkavator is highly likely to travel further back in time than year-end 2006 (see below). I just want to let this picture dangle for a bit without much comment. We will be revisiting and significantly expanding this analysis in the weeks and months ahead as we roll into the development of our 2nd Annual Global Bank Technology Spending study. Stay tuned...
If you are only interested in reading hyperbole-laced stories about the latest shiny things in #fintech innovation, then what follows is not for you. But, if you actually care about innovation that results in real impacts, then we invite you to keep reading. From the following angle, something changed around mid-2012 at @GoldmanSachs. Arguably, the groundwork for such change was laid prior to that time, but the impact of that groundwork (at least to observers like us) didn't become noticeable until the end of Q2-2012 when a metric that we are starting to track much more closely began to break out. Here's the setup: In an article published on February 7, 2016 by MIT Technology Review, "As Goldman Embraces Automation, Even the Masters of the Universe Are Threatened," a key statement made by Marty Chavez, the company’s soon-to-be chief financial officer and former chief information officer, caught our eye: "Goldman has already mapped 146 distinct steps taken in any initial public offering of stock, and many are 'begging to be automated.'" Our [...]
If today's announcement by Deutsche Bank CEO, John Cryan, is to be believed, total group headcount is set to be reduced by 9,000 souls. Note that these reductions will come from a year-end 2016 flock of 99,744 (which, by the way, is still within 2.3% of the all-time high of 102,062 set at year-end 2010). We decided to look into our DB model to take a quick read of the expected pace of these reductions. Here's the setup: Over the 40 quarters from Q1-2007 through Q4-2016, 21 of those quarters represented total headcount reductions. Furthermore: The maximum headcount reduction in a down quarter was -2,256 FTEs (full-time equivalents); The average headcount change over the 40 quarters (not counting an acquisition in Q4-2010) was 880 FTEs; and, The average of the 21 quarters with headcount reductions was -668 FTEs Separate from an outright sale of a business segment (which is being contemplated here in the form of its DB Asset Management arm), organic shrinkage is painful and can take more time than originally anticipated. At [...]
Here's an Inauguration Day rant for you: They hadn't even finished counting the ballots for the new POTUS when, on November 10, 2016, one of the great poster-children for modern-day douchebaggery, Alan Greenspan (@realGREENSPAN) said to CNBC "I'd love to see Dodd-Frank disappear; a "disastrous mistake." Hasn't this guy figured out that he is way past his sell-by date? Anyway, just bookmark the timing of that statement while I set up today's metaphor: Roll back the clock a few decades to the early 1980's - height of the Reagan days - when those in the halls of power concluded that they could sell increasing levels of consumption to more of the masses (the "American Dream) by helping them lever their assets. The federal government played the game, too - of course. This was the real-life birth of the Avengers Initiative. Collectively, we The People, asked (or allowed) our representatives in capitol buildings across the land to help make it easier for banks to engage in financial engineering so that people on Main St. could consume more fancy stuff with [...]
If you read Part 1 to this post (from December 15, 2016) then you know that at least as of the end of 2015, financial reports from HFT bellwether Virtu Financial illustrated strong and even increasing profitability. Our surprise from these impressive figures came from the countervailing hypothesis that HFT was already well past its prime (given the evidence of prop shop closings and consolidations over the past 5 years or so). Apparently, Virtu didn’t get that memo. However, upon closer inspection of the most recent quarterly reports – which as of now yields details over 11 quarters starting in calendar Q1 2014 (March) and ending in calendar Q3 2016 (September) – even this bellwether may have seen its best days. Exhibit 1 (below) is one perspective of what this recent turn of fortune looks like: Some translation: After spiking in Q4-2014 and peaking in Q1-2015 at an annualized (adjusted net trading) revenue per employee (RPE) of over $4.1 million, trading revenue as of the end of Q3-2016 has returned to somewhat less [...]
I'm on the fence when it comes to the "robo-advisory" craze. Clearly, given the gush of venture money and subsequent marketing buzz behind automated trading and investing methods for the masses, lots of very smart folks think that "robots" managing your money (on an highly automated or assisted basis) are here to stay. Note that in 2016 Betterment and Personal Capital bagged rounds of $100 million and $75 million, respectively. Here's the first shoe: Quantitative methods for retail investors were always inevitable once a sufficient level of maturity in the underlying mechanisms had been achieved. In an earlier generation of quantitative trading strategy development (ie - late 1990's), we used say, "You can either fish or sell bait." Meaning, simply, that you can either use your trading signals on a proprietary basis or sell your modeling output for a fee. For those who were good at it, the profitability in the beginning was - or at least could be - far too juicy to sell for a fixed fee. And, frankly, these methods were in a far too formative [...]
It's March 25, 2016 - and I crack open the newly minted 10-K from our friends at Virtu Financial. The equivalent of that new car smell wafts northward from its fresh digital pages. The anticipation is palpable. With years of intense focus and vigorous debate on the mechanics of #HFT - and the jealous wonderment surrounding its stratospheric profitability - it is both rare and puzzling that the public should get a real, data-driven look inside to support or debunk the mythology of this ultra-secretive corner of the global financial landscape. Searching within this fresh set of data, I update our model - and the output creates one of those WTF cognitive dissonance moments. After all, isn't the heyday of HFT over?! Haven't numerous high-speed shops consolidated or folded? As a refresher, the vid below is what we were saying back in July 2013 (while at Tabb Group): Hello from 2013! Struggling is not what's going on here. By the looks of things at Virtu - at least as of the [...]
We have been playing with some new equations; looking to see if anything interesting can be learned from benchmarking assets per employee across various firms. (It turns out that adding this analytic to our suite of other "per employee" metrics yields significant insights.) In the figure below, we took the top 10 hedge funds ranked by assets under management (AUM) and then re-ranked that list by AUM per employee. We also tossed in Virtu Financial and KCG (Getco) for giggles - and to test the extremes. Notice anything interesting? Based on what you might know about these trading companies, how would you label the X-axis? Here's some additional data to consider: The correlation between assets and headcount is not perfect by any stretch, but it is signal-worthy. Also, this trick works best on mature, ongoing firms whose operations and business are relatively consistent. Headcount level doesn't seem to matter. Albeit at the extremes of tradings firms, Virtu Financial generated nearly US$800 million in revenue (2015) with 148 employees - so [...]