For Subscribers

Simplex Trading: Against the Odds

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”Henry Ford On occasion, we have framed the world's leading proprietary trading firms with the following graphic: And, as many of you know, this is the terrain upon which we have focused a notable component of our attention to date - and likely where we will place a disproportionate share of our attention going forward. This is partly due to the fact that this group bears out-sized responsibility for a quiet cascade of impacts throughout the global markets ecosystem, and partly because there are so few others that have managed to marry such scale with such creativity. This dynamic is made more notable by the idea that winner-take-all market dynamics that tend to reinforce an "incumbency of incumbents" make such an ascension less likely than the previous unlikeliness from all the yesterdays before... That said, based on our ongoing surveillance of the broader landscape, there are always exceptions. If you watch [...]

By |2020-10-16T23:50:57-04:00October 16th, 2020|For Subscribers|

Wholesale Market Makers: Adding Price Improvement to the PFOF Analysis

"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones." John Maynard Keynes Just because the rule requires “market centers that trade National Market System (NMS) securities to make available standardized, monthly reports containing statistical information about covered order executions that are free and readily accessible to the public" does not mean that that information is lounging around under a bank of Klieg lights in an easily consumable format. Like a lot of raw regulatory data, you need to know where to look while simultaneously in possession of a decoder ring... Meanwhile, there is a dramatic falling of US equity market dominoes that began a year ago with an industry-wide move to zero-commission retail brokerage models. This move became exacerbated in March by a convergence of pandemic-related forces that has resulted in a gusher of unprecedented profitability for a short list of leading proprietary trading firms that are otherwise known in the light of day as wholesale market makers. At the intersection where [...]

By |2020-10-14T21:34:19-04:00October 9th, 2020|For Subscribers|

The Fourth Exchange

“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.” – Sophocles With a geyser of attention-snatching news as our normal daily backdrop, one could easily be forgiven for missing a signal from a collection of recent market structure clues. Individually, most of these have been on the radar of those that follow capital markets closely. And then there are others that are much deeper down in the weeds. Taken together, however, they paint of picture of increasing levels of market complexity coupled with increasing dependencies on fewer dominant players. Here’s the evidence: By now, most of you know that the launch of Long-Term Stock Exchange (LTSE), the launch of Members Exchange (MEMX), and the launch of MIAX Pearl equities exchange – all of which going live this month – bring the total number of US equities exchanges to 16. Now, considering that 33 alternative trading systems (ATSs) and at least another 12 internalizing broker-dealers (including wholesale market makers, single dealer platforms (SDPs) and central risk books) executed trades in NMS (national market system) stocks in 2019, US equity market fragmentation continues to [...]

By |2020-10-02T16:22:22-04:00September 29th, 2020|For Subscribers|

Runaway Concentration Risks in US Option Markets

“The future is a choice between utopia and oblivion. Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay race right up to the final moment…” – Buckminster Fuller On September 23rd, the Financial Times reported, “Citigroup halts market making in retail options” in an apparent response to the challenges brought about by the era of zero-commission retail trading; an era that is swiftly nearing its one year anniversary. Among the more notable impacts of this Citi news, the fact that Morgan Stanley now remains as the sole major Wall Street bank still standing as an intermediary for retail option flows ranks high. Truth be told, it ranks second only to a backdrop of creeping concentration as bulge players like Citi and Barclays before them and Goldman before them and others before them – including those that have been winding down their cash equities businesses – have punted on their options businesses because it has become so mind-numbingly complicated and expensive to make money in [...]

By |2020-10-02T16:17:22-04:00September 23rd, 2020|For Subscribers|

Stranded, As Virtu Bids Farewell to Madison Tyler

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us.” – Marcel Proust With pandemic-era factors being historically and paradoxically hospitable for market volumes and volatility, those players that stand in closest proximity to the sources of listed liquidity have experienced an unexpected windfall so far in 2020. Today, with market making revenue for the past two consecutive quarters at all-time highs and seeming to bend a long-term downward trend in a new upward direction, VIRT stock found its own all-time high… For the remainder of this story, we need to refresh your perspective with a little context: Founded in 2008, Virtu is the youngest of a dozen leading proprietary trading and market making firms in the world: What is most unique about Virtu, however, in the context of this group is that it has grown primarily by acquiring other people’s trading strategies – typically by outright acquisition of other companies – from the beginning. By comparison, all the others on this roster have [...]

By |2020-10-02T16:02:53-04:00September 9th, 2020|For Subscribers|

ETF War Games

“Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” – Leonardo da Vinci Market making in individual stocks has become so competitive that most hyperactive strategies – the ones that reside in Alphacution’s structural alpha zone – have turned to increasingly rely on some form of ETF arbitrage. This competitive dynamic is exacerbated by factors such as liquidity fragmentation, liquidity internalization, payments for order flow (PFOF), and the winner-take-all impacts of process automation (aka – scaling via technology). For those proprietary trading firms with few, if any, options positions in their portfolio, cash ETF position concentrations (based on total 13F position counts) are represented as follows: When we isolate the leading order flow wholesalers and consider aggregate cash ETF positions as a percentage of 13F gross value, one of the clues that rises to the surface (in concert with the findings in the prior chart) is the prominence G1 Execution Services (G1X), a unit of legendary derivatives powerhouse, Susquehanna [...]

By |2020-10-02T15:50:55-04:00September 2nd, 2020|For Subscribers|

Daily Average Fugazi’s: Robinhood Postures for IPO

“Name of the game? Move the money from your client’s pocket into your pocket. Number one rule of Wall Street: Nobody knows if the stock is going up, down, sideways or in … circles. It’s all a fugazi…“ – Mr. Hanna, Wolf of Wall Street On Monday, August 10 at exactly 11am EDT (you know, after the opening bell was safely in the rearview mirror), Robinhood Markets, Inc. – the anti-incumbency insurgent trading app platform and self-proclaimed democratizer of all things financial – set out to dominate the week’s financial news cycle by enticing media powerhouse, Bloomberg, to drop a news bomb into an ecosystem already negligently over-stimulated on the topic: “Robinhood Blows Past Rivals in Record Retail Trading Year.“ One piece of data was exclusively revealed to Bloomberg at the center of this story: 4.31 million daily average revenue trades – commonly known as DARTs (and generally defined as customer orders executed divided by trading days) – were recorded in June with the additional explanation that “the firm is revealing the data for the first time, [...]

By |2020-10-02T15:34:20-04:00August 13th, 2020|For Subscribers|

Q2 PFOF Craziness: Robinhood Becomes Parody of E*Trade Commercial, Competes with TikTok for Attention…

“There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.” – Ludwig von Mises, economist Someday, sufficiently far into the future, when we have somehow broken free of the illusion, we are going to look back on this chapter in world history and wonder how we had entered into such a collective state of insanity in parallel with such profound technological advancement… The Fed has all but said that it will prevent markets from declining (and plug whatever economic holes it needs to plug and lubricate whatever financial gears it needs to lubricate), no matter how much money it needs to print, debts and deficits be damned. This is not a characteristic of free markets, nor is it a feature of a capitalist system… And so, as if gleefully hurling itself from a trampoline [...]

By |2020-10-02T15:23:24-04:00August 6th, 2020|For Subscribers|

The Evolving Value of 13F Reporting: Building a Macro-Structure Cockpit

“The Initial Mystery that attends any journey is: how did the traveler reach his starting point in the first place?” - Louise Bogan, poet and author After 40 years, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced on July 10, 2020 that it had proposed to amend Form 13F to update the reporting threshold for institutional investment managers and make other targeted changes. The proposal would "raise the reporting threshold to $3.5 billion, reflecting proportionally the same market value of U.S. equities that the current threshold - $100 million - represented in 1975, the time of the statutory directive." Furthermore, the new threshold is expected to "retain disclosure of over 90% of the dollar value of the holdings data currently reported while eliminating the Form 13F filing requirement and its attendant costs for the nearly 90% of filers that are smaller managers." Now, those of you who have been following Alphacution's work know that we have leveraged 13F data in ways that no one else has ever replicated, and therefore, has become [...]

By |2020-10-01T21:33:33-04:00July 30th, 2020|For Subscribers|

TD Ameritrade’s Q2 Update: To Infinity or Oblivion?

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." - Michael Corleone, The Godfather: Part III   Chicken or egg? For today's story, we know which one came first. However, we may never know for sure which one was the more prominent cause of the recent sustained spike in US stock volumes: A frictionless environment brought on by a zero-commission framework or a high-volatility market brought on by a once-in-a-century global pandemic? Granted, there may be additional factors at play here. Like the gamification of market interfaces as substitution for a sports apocalypse. People need something to do. And, when confined for extended periods, they will naturally choose paths of least resistance, especially those that entertain, are addictive and tickle financial desires... This is what one of those paths looks like; notably since March 2020: Now, I made a point last week, in "Robinhood's Trailing Stop Orders: Extreme Profitability, By Design," to say that we would try to avoid seeming redundant in our topical choices, at least [...]

By |2020-08-17T07:14:01-04:00July 23rd, 2020|For Subscribers|