When we launched our first trading program at Quantlab in the late 90's, we didn't have direct market access yet. We generated an order list (overnight) that was worked throughout the subsequent market session at the discretion of an algo-equipped executing broker; some of whom now roam the halls at Jefferies / Leucadia. This was the era when 1- to 3-day portfolio turnover was considered fast - SOES bandits were still a thing - and Schwab would soon acquire electronic trading pioneer, CyBerCorp, from Philip Berber - a short drive down the road from our Houston headquarters in Austin, TX. Of course, everyone had nicknames then - as I suspect they still do now. Ed Bosarge, founder of what eventually became Quantlab (after at least 3 prior related incarnations that began for me around 1996), was known as Dr. Evil. Let's just say it's a hair-raising story about a swashbuckling pioneer of applied math involving a hideous toupee... I was known as Mr. Bigglesworth - or, "Bigsy" for short. No [...]
In late April 2017, we noticed a new string of dominoes falling at the fast, automated end of the trading spectrum: With Virtu about to gobble up KCG - not to mention additional consolidations of principal trading groups like RGM Advisors (to DRW), Timber Hill (to Two Sigma) and Chopper Trading (to DRW), among others - it seemed pretty clear that one of the next dominos to fall would be in the direct-feed market data space. The question was: To what degree? (See: "Nasdaq Under Virtu Market Data Axe," April 28, 2017) And yet, when we went back to look - via updating our Nasdaq model - this picture showed up: As Paul Harvey used to say: "...And now the rest of the story..." Obviously this trajectory is the opposite of what was expected. Better yet, in a dictionary somewhere is this chart - at least, of late - next to the words, "fairly smooth sailing" or "strong growth." Over the last few years, data products (and the growth in [...]
When the deal between Virtu Financial and KCG Holdings was announced in March 2017, we offered the following read of the motivations behind the announcement: Average daily adjusted net trading revenue for Q4-2016 has returned to levels not seen since late 2013 / early 2014. Chances are quite high that persistent low volatility during Q1-2017 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… Now, with the deal completed as of July 2017, and Virtu now reporting full year 2017 highlights, we took some time to update and combine our Virtu and KCG models. Here's what's notable about this latest update: The combined financials show some signs of improvement (or, at least, stabilization), however, the market landscape has continued to deteriorate: Over the 28-year life of CBOE's volatility index (VIX) - aka the "fear gauge" - 2017 [...]
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 [...]
Despite dramatic changes to the fortunes of quantitative trading strategies of late, they still represent the extremes of "technology leverage" in the global markets ecosystem. This means that due to a high level of workflow automation, these types of firms generate more output - as measured by revenue per employee (RPE) - than any others in the industry. Or, so we thought... In the context of its broader research mission, Alphacution has been focused - perhaps even a little obsessed - on modeling, measuring and benchmarking the interplay between the two primary engines of productivity within the global financial services ecosystem: technology capital and human capital. The value of this research - something we call "navigational intelligence" - is to help technology buyers understand where they fit amongst the constellation of peers and competitors, and for solution sellers to understand the needs and spending patterns of their clients. Until recently, high frequency trading and market-making operations - like those found at Virtu Financial and its newly acquired KCG Holdings - [...]
A quick math assignment: @Nasdaq earned $540 million in information services (aka - #marketdata) revenue in 2016, up 5.5% over 2015 (and, not to put to fine a point on it, but this growth is slowing as 2015 v. 2014 was +8.2%). @KCGHQ spent $148 million on communications and data processing in 2016. @VirtuFinancial is on its way to acquiring KCG - and is on record with a strategy to ultimately consolidate both operations onto a single, unified trading platform. No doubt, this is not lip service. What is the impact on Nasdaq - and other exchanges - whose revenue growth has become so dependent on market data sales? If you are ambitious, here's some additional intelligence that you could use in the analysis: (We have more in the can if you need it.) BTW, you have to guess that all #HFT leaders have really spiffy axes, no?
We've moved a major step towards a done deal here. Good news is that this remains far from a done story. Easy access to financial and operational data about the outer extremes of technical leverage in the global financial services sector provides great fodder for a story that will continue to inform and fascinate. Along those lines, and in addition to the updated deal news, both parties disclosed results from the most recent quarter today. With that, I thought it would be timely to update our ongoing analysis to see if the evidence confirms or alters the findings we have been showcasing to date. Here's where we started a little over a month ago on March 15 when Virtu made its unsolicited bid for KCG: "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 ... has caused these figures to fall back to pre-2013 levels." And then there is this additional comment: [...]
Here's an update from the initial post on March 15, 2017... The first wave of commentary is in, and the consensus seems to be that the unsolicited bid by Virtu for KCG is all "about the little guy." In other words, this deal is all about the position of a wholesaler relative to retail order flow. Maybe so. There is also some suggestion that these firms are not competitors; that, in fact, they may be complementary. Ok, I guess. But, widen your interpretation of the situation a bit and consider this: According to the 2016 Virtu 10-K, it is disclosed that, "We make markets by providing quotations to buyers and sellers in more than 12,000 securities and other financial instruments on more than 235 unique exchanges, markets and liquidity pools in 36 countries around the world." The notable liquidity venues are as follows, (and notice the part about "major private liquidity pools.") Since #HFT and narratives about highly-automated trading strategies are crowded topics among capital markets punditry, Alphacution has not followed the nuances close enough to know for sure whether the sponsor [...]
@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...
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 [...]