"The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust The data contained in the revised SEC Rule 606 reporting has landed like a transparency bomb for those few of us who try to make sense of complex - and historically opaque - market structure issues; perhaps even more so for those fewer of us that are able to triangulate on the strategic movements of the various players by weaving additional insight from multiple datasets. Add the moves of the largest retail brokerage platforms, in particular, to a zero-commission paradigm off the back of the controversially-successful Robinhood platform, and we have a potent cocktail made of disruption and intrigue. For those of you that have been following along recently, Alphacution has toggled widely between intense fixation on these themes - with our latest Robinhood-related Feed posts, "Phenomenon: On This Score, Robinhood Now Exceeds E*Trade, Others" and "Trick Shot: Robinhood Underwrites MEMX" and our recent contributions to the July 8 New York Times [...]
"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time." - Winston Churchill The holidays, with all of its gift-giving elves, came early this year with new data; data that I have been crunching non-stop for the past week - and will likely continue to crunch in the week ahead. The exercise has yielded one "I-shit-you-not" revelation after another after another, almost as if such a trove could not exist in the public domain lying around for free. However, rather than fully unwrap any of these gifts right hear and right now (and go through the instructions in detail), I'm just going to set this one down under the tree for the weekend... Until next time...
“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: 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 If there ever was a time to see how things are connected to other things, it is now. This is particularly true in places where something that is "free" is interpreted to be "without cost." After all, like "free" drinks at the casino, human nature tends to regress to its most lizard-like tendencies when presented with a frictionless environment... When will we ever learn that "free" is never the best price? Anyway, without becoming distracted by a rant about the true cost of Facebook, et al, let's take a brief look at the impact of "commission-free" trading on the macrostructure of the US market ecosystem over a very short window since October 2019: Thanks, in large part, to the popularity of retail broker, Robinhood Financial, LLC ("Robinhood) - the upstart financial [...]
“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 [...]
"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 [...]
"Historians study the past not in order to repeat it, but in order to be liberated from it." - Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow With three quarters worth of financial reports for calendar 2019 long in the bag, it is not much of a courageous leap for us to deliver an estimate for order routing revenue - otherwise more notoriously known as payment for order flow (PFOF) - for the full year. And, with the quarterly earnings season coming in the month ahead, it won't be long before we are able to test the accuracy of this estimate. In the chart below, Alphacution extends our prior analysis not only to include 2011 and 2012 but also, more relevantly, to include the year just completed; thereby extending to nine years from six our focus on five of the primary players in retail order flow for US equity markets who also disclose order routing data: TD Ameritrade (soon to be acquired by Charles Schwab); E*Trade; the [...]
It was a recent father-son (and dog) road trip. Several hours in the car, on our way to support daughter / sister, Emma, at her final regatta of the season. Head of the Hooch in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And, an opportunity for some undistracted conversation. Among the many topics was our ongoing debate about how to trade Tesla (TSLA). Eddie has proven himself to be fairly decent scalper of this volatile name, so I usually ask how he is positioned and the levels he thinks are meaningful. Anyway, it turns out, he is trading on the Robinhood platform - no more than a few shares at a time - and paying zero commissions which, of course, improves his net profitability. This is the main attraction on top of the fact that he can toggle between trading stocks, playing video games, watching YouTube, Instagramming with his friends and listening to music all on the same device. (No wonder he is always wiped out!) So, this got me to thinking about some of [...]
Broker spending on technology is one of those topics that rises to the top of the headlines from time to time, particularly given how much the market landscape has shifted in the past several years - and how competitive, regulatory, and new market drivers threaten to change that landscape even more along the road ahead. So, during the course of developing research on a related topic, we had occasion to expand our modeling in the area of market makers, broker-dealers, and related specialist execution technologies - and stumbled upon a different lens through which to evaluate "broker" spending patterns. In the following chart, we share a common format for presenting these kinds of figures; a ranking of 5-year average total technology spending by 9 public broker and broker-like companies. Simple output. Mildly interesting. Ten's or hundred's of millions of dollars spent on technology is notable. But, not particularly illuminating. However, as we benchmarked technology spending using employee headcounts - a technique we use regularly - the picture packs an entirely [...]