Virtu

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 | 2020-03-12T22:36:47+00:00 March 12th, 2020|Alphacution Feed|

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 | 2020-03-01T22:37:59+00:00 January 15th, 2020|Alphacution Feed|

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 | 2020-03-01T22:58:54+00:00 December 18th, 2019|Alphacution Feed|

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 | 2018-11-15T00:10:58+00:00 November 15th, 2018|Alphacution Feed|

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 | 2020-03-01T21:53:43+00:00 November 14th, 2018|Alphacution Feed|

When Market Makers Ate Their Own…

Right out of the gate, this story might emit a whiff of last year's news. Maybe. But, that sense would only last until you realize that this is also a template for improving predictions about future events. And, that kind of predictive power relies upon the bet that more markets and opportunities are becoming winner-take-all in the digital era... (Hint: As the functioning of markets - and other economic opportunities - become more "digital," a single leader can emerge in that market. This is how we end up with the "FANG's" - Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. It's also how US equity markets end up with ~80% lit market-making flows being split between Virtu and Citadel. Here are some facts to fill in the background: In the three years beginning 2006, the Timber Hill market making unit of Interactive Brokers Group (IB) had an annual revenue run rate of around $1 billion, peaking at over $1.3 billion in 2008. By 2017, Timber Hill's revenue run rate had declined 94% to [...]

By | 2018-07-17T23:17:56+00:00 July 18th, 2018|Alphacution Feed|

Virtu: Q1-2018 Update on Extremes

With volatility spiking in Q1 of 2018 - and the successful porting of KCG's intellectual property (IP) prior to that in late 2017 - VIRT earned a welcomed reprieve from the conditions of recent quarters, as we predicted here (and elsewhere prior to that). In the exhibit below, Alphacution's as-if modeling of the combined entity - Virtu + KCG pre-Q3 2017 - yields a level of net trading income that would not have been seen since Q1-2016. Meanwhile, Alphacution's tracking of adjusted net trading income per employee - a proxy for our common look at revenue per employee (RPE) - starkly illustrates the path through the most recent maneuvers: Persistent declines in top line "productivity" since its most recent peak in early 2015 ultimately led to the acquisition of KCG, which closed in July 2017. Swift transfer of KCG's IP onto Virtu's infrastructure along with elimination of redundant technology and human capital allowed this productivity measure to bounce off its lows in Q3 2017 to finish the year as strongly [...]

By | 2018-06-21T20:28:30+00:00 May 15th, 2018|Alphacution Feed|

Virtu Financial: More Acquisitions on the Way, If…

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 [...]

By | 2018-10-31T16:48:33+00:00 March 27th, 2018|Alphacution Feed|

Nasdaq and the Case of the Missing Market Data

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 [...]

By | 2018-03-27T21:44:23+00:00 March 22nd, 2018|Alphacution Feed|

The State of Speed: A Virtu-KCG Post-Mortem

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 [...]

By | 2018-03-25T16:18:31+00:00 February 8th, 2018|Alphacution Feed|