“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” - Friedrich Nietzsche “We adore chaos because we love to produce order.” ― M.C. Escher One intangible cost of being the sole US publicly-traded market making firm is the required level of financial and operational transparency - and the investor relations burden - that comes with that status. In this case, that cost may be unusually high because of the relative opacity of the competitors in this sector - what Alphacution typically refers to as the structural alpha zone of its asset management ecosystem map - coupled with the unparalleled use of technology and extraordinary magnitude of wealth generated by that small group of players. To compound this dynamic, recent dramatic shifts in the landscape for retail order flow sparked by the late 2019 moves - en masse - to $zero commissions by retail-oriented brokerage platforms, and the quick follow-on consolidations of TD Ameritrade (by Charles Schwab) and E*Trade (by Morgan Stanley), and given the pandemic-fueled volatility and volumes of [...]
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” - Robert Frost Jane Street is one of the most exciting players among the roster of proprietary market making firms in the entire trading ecosystem. What began in 2000 as Henry Capital, with memberships on the American Stock Exchange and Midwest Stock Exchange, today sports a broad global footprint and continues to solidify its legendary status among those that trade for their own account. As such, Jane Street is the subject of our next comprehensive case study to be published in the coming weeks. This post is an appetizer for that... Until next time...
"There's a point, seven thousand RPM, where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless, just disappears. And all that's left is a body moving through space and time. Seven thousand RPM." - Carroll Shelby In the early days of Quantlab, we suspected that there were stock trading signals in option data. Our futures program had waaaay too much slippage in it, and we needed to make a shift into a strategy with far less position concentration if we were ever going to survive. It was 1996 - or maybe it was 1997 - and the biggest challenge we faced in making such a shift was finding clean historical option data. That's when we met Sandor Strauss, Renaissance Technologies' first data guru... My brother recently gave me a copy of Greg Zuckerman's book, "The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution," for Christmas. Not being someone who allocates much time to reading hard-bound books, it sat at the corner of my desk, beckoning for the right moment to [...]
"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." - Ralph Waldo Emerson On Thursday, February 20, Morgan Stanley (MS) announced its acquisition of E*Trade (ETFC) for $13 billion in a billiard move that simultaneously 1) responds to the recent move to $zero commissions in retail brokerage; 2) responds to Charles Schwab's recent announcement to acquire primary ETFC competitor TD Ameritrade; 3) boosts MS's position in coveted wealth management channels; 4a) takes greater control of coveted retail order flows - and thus, (4b) away from competitive market making firms, like Citadel Securities and Virtu; 5) takes the last of the major independent discount retailed brokerage platforms off the proverbial table - sorry, Goldman; and 6) arguably completes a dramatic arc of industry evolution and consolidation that began with Schwab's acquisition of CyBerCorp in early 2000 and Citi's acquisition of Lava Trading in 2004... As trick shots go, this one is a doozy! Given that, I wanted to extend some thoughts around recent modeling that we [...]
"You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case." - Ken Kesey If you believe - as we do - that everything is connected to everything else, then it stands to reason that all events have potential to be seen as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Therefore, what we really need to do is notice stuff and connect dots. Here's a few of our latest observations... On February 10, 2020, Bloomberg reported "high-frequency firm Allston cuts employees amid low volatility," and further noted that this move follows XR Trading's 10% headcount reduction in late 2019. This got us thinking about the tier of smaller to mid-sized proprietary trading firms and if any of the available data (which currently tends to be US equities-centric) provide clues as to the health of those firms - as well as that space in the market ecosystem (where prop firms and market makers reside) that we typically call [...]
"No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible." - Frank Zappa On Tuesday, February 11, Virtu reported Q4 and full-year 2019 financials. What follows are a few thoughts and charts on the latest data: Net trading income came in at $228.7 million for Q4 - not great, not terrible - based on a QoQ uptick in core equities; some weakness in global FICC, options and other (whatever that is) relative to Q3 2019; and, flat execution services revenue relative to Q3 and Q2 2019 (basically since the ITG acquisition closed last March). The chart below visualizes an historical quarterly decomposition of net trading revenue components relative to the ratio of SPX realized to implied volatility for the 24 quarters beginning Q1 2014 and ending Q4 2019 to emphasize the importance of unexpected volatility spikes in the grand scheme of profitability for market making and execution firms. When the other components of Q4 2019 NTI became available, we will circle back [...]
"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." - Joseph Campbell For 12 straight years beginning Q4 2001, AQR Capital Management, LLC (AQR) - one of the great and legendary quant hedge funds of the current era - grew equity positions until peaking at 2,346 (long equity) positions by Q4 2013. Since that time, AQR's long US equity book has found an ominously consistent plateau averaging 2,140 positions. Here, in what would normally seem to be a benign factoid, lie the seeds of the story for why AQR has been suffering performance challenges of late; and, apparently, performance challenges for the foreseeable future according to co-founder and front-man, Cliff Asness. We start that story with the exhibit, below, where Alphacution presents the full 72-quarter record of total 13F (long) positions for the lineage of AQR Capital Management entities beginning Q4 2001 and ending Q3 2019. With these first shapes, we want to highlight that stocks are the dominant product class, thereby implying that there is little [...]
For 12 straight years beginning Q4 2001, AQR Capital Management, LLC (AQR) - one of the great and legendary hedge funds of the current era - grew equity positions until peaking at 2,346 (long equity) positions by Q4 2013. Since that time, AQR's long US equity book has found an ominously consistent plateau of about 2,050 positions. And, in what would normally seem to be a benign factoid, lie the seeds of the story for why AQR has been suffering performance challenges of late - and apparently, for the foreseeable future (according to co-founder, Cliff Asness). Hold that thought. More (very) soon...
"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." - Alan Turing One by one, those willing to stand and make markets in options are - uh - taking a knee. Back in December (2019), Barclays became the latest in a long string of players - big and nots-so-big - to punt their options trading business to a willing buyer before any more value evaporated. So, we thought to take a closer look at what patterns or signals might exist, if any, to detect moves like this. Here's the setup: It turns out that in a Feed post entitled, "Goldman Sachs and the Long Arc of Hull Trading," we have some useful benchmarking to draw from to frame Barclays' ultimate decision. In the chart, below, Alphacution presents total 13F options position counts for parent entity, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., over the 45-quarter period beginning Q2 2008. Note: The vast majority of these position reside in the broker-dealer entity, Goldman Sachs [...]
“From the point of ignition to the final drive, the point of the journey is not to arrive.” - Neil Peart New clues are emerging on the nature and pace of change... Here's the setup: Unlikely and unexpected virtuosity often serves as the catalyst for a dynastic run of success. Moreover, legend has it, that it's usually the will over and above the skill that fuels the initiation and duration of that run. While skills eventually decay, it's the will to keep finding a way to win - to distinguish oneself or team relative to the competition - that's the defining factor. Of course, whether it be a football field or a market landscape, like a moving sidewalk, everything happens as the ground is constantly shifting below our feet. What happens to Tom Brady next, I'm not here to predict. He is merely a reliable hook to drag your attention to this point in the story because the debate about whether his game has changed to favor running, mobile [...]