Virtu Financial

Virtu’s Optionality? Some Good News…

“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 [...]

By |2020-10-14T21:40:22-04:00March 12th, 2020|For Subscribers|

Virtu Financial: Musical Chairs

"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 [...]

By |2020-08-17T07:14:02-04:00February 13th, 2020|For Subscribers|

Implications: 2019 Payments For Order Flow Flat vs. 2018

"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 [...]

By |2020-10-14T21:47:35-04:00January 15th, 2020|For Subscribers|

What Bloomberg Misses About Citadel Securities

"You can have all the transfer orders that you want, but you have to ask me nicely." - Col. Nathan R. Jessup, "A Few Good Men" On December 11, 2019, Bloomberg News editor Tom Maloney publishes an unusually illuminating article on Citadel Securities, "Ken Griffin Has Another Money Machine to Rival Hedge Fund," citing specifically that the market maker earned $3.5 billion of revenue in 2018 and "handles more than 1 of 5 shares traded in the US each year." Of note, the article includes two charts, the first of which ranking net trading revenue in 2018 for a selection of bank and non-bank market makers; and the second of which showcasing the shifting market shares of US retail equity wholesalers. Given that Alphacution has followed this and other firms in this space as closely or moreso than any others - for example, we are not aware of any other research and advisory group publishing a comprehensive case study on Citadel Securities - I wanted to add a few thoughts [...]

By |2020-10-14T21:47:51-04:00December 18th, 2019|For Subscribers|

Saved By Zero? Virtu’s 30 Quarters of Payments For Order Flow

"The idea of the song is how great it is to get back to zero." - Cy Curnin, The Fixx frontman, in reference to the Buddhist mantra, Śūnyatā Today, Amazon announced that it would be launching cashierless grocery stores in 2020. Immediately, a thought-bubble arose above my head and played a scene from the Illinois Tollway when my E-ZPass battery went dead, and I spent a half hour - the lane I was in all backed up with frustrated travelers - pushing buttons in the vain attempt to cause a person to show up. Just send me a bill for the busted tollgate next time... No, thank you. I don't want to scan and bag my own groceries... I don't want to go fill my own plate at restaurants... And, I don't want to trade in a market that has been sanitized of all intermediaries with a pulse...  Because that's where we're headed; the exact wrong and utterly Simpletonian outline of a "free market," where all levers conspire to deliver [...]

By |2020-08-17T07:14:02-04:00November 20th, 2019|For Subscribers|

Virtu Financial: Q3 2019 Update #1

“Making mountains out of molehills sells more books than a study of molehills." - Cliff Asness With Virtu's Q3 2019 earnings out this past Monday (Nov 5), but the Q3 2019 13F report coming out next week, we are going to keep most of our powder dry for this one. However, since much of what we are trying to do here is convert new information into new "shapes" - and therefore, take the occasional opportunity to conserve our words - we offer a couple updated pictures. You might draw your own conclusions... One thing's for sure, the concentration of market making and trading related revenue has been notably diluted since the closing of the ITG acquisition in March (2019). More coming over the next couple weeks...

By |2020-10-05T16:27:10-04:00November 7th, 2019|For Subscribers|

Virtu Financial: The Frying Pan and the Fire

"If you are not growing, you are dying." - Tony Robbins On August 8, Virtu reported Q2 earnings and the stock (VIRT) fell 18%. Non-GAAP EPS came in lower than Street estimates. In addition to the costs of integrating the ITG acquisition, disappointing results in the market making segment were blamed on lower volatility and trading volumes. Now, here's what you're never going to hear from the company: The Frying Pan: Both the market making and execution businesses are under significant spread and fee pressure. If there isn't an ongoing arms race for speed - which there still is - then there's intense competition around execution costs. Payments for order flow continue to rise as a result. And, some are exiting the equities brokerage business... 2. The Fire: They claim to be diversified. They try to become more diversified. And yet, they remain grossly over-weighted to equities and ETFs. The increased balance sheet that resulted from the KCG acquisition has not been lightened up, now 2 years later, despite [...]

By |2020-10-14T21:43:52-04:00August 22nd, 2019|For Subscribers|

Virtu, ITG: Much More Than Meets The Eye…

"The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust (1923) “Develop your senses — especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” — Leonardo Da Vinci (~1500) If you  - like the precious thousands of other professionals, mostly notably from the high-performance end of the global trading spectrum, who will venture this way - have come this far in search of Alphacution's unique brand of irreverent spin on Virtu's 3rd quarter earnings announcement, then you are about to miss most of the intelligence that is on offer from the growing portfolio of evidence that we are assembling here. Yes, our modeling and charting and narratives surrounding this latest catalyst from Virtu - along with its and others' exploits in this rare corner of the financial world - can be found here and throughout our Feed. But, for those who choose to stretch their go-to frame of perspective, there is much more going on here than initially meets the eye... What is actually going on [...]

By |2020-10-14T21:44:34-04:00November 15th, 2018|For Subscribers|

Robinhood and Payments for Order Flow

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 [...]

By |2020-10-14T21:50:30-04:00November 14th, 2018|For Subscribers|