This tempest-in-a-teapot--some are seeking to downplay it and they're calling it a "teacup"--is something I covered initially in a related diary a few days ago, in: "Breaking: FBI Arrest Opens Goldman-Sachs' Pandora's Box," and in a follow-up piece on Thursday, entitled: "The Outrage Against Goldman Sachs Builds..."
...The abbreviated version of the story, in a few sentences: A senior technology strategist and Vice President at Goldman-Sachs, Sergey Aleynikov, copied much of his firm's "secret sauce"--an extensive set of proprietary, automated stock trading software code and algorithms--all related to "program trading." Upon finding out about this, senior officials at Goldman-Sachs informed the FBI of all of this and had Aleynikov arrested at Newark Airport on July 3rd.
The code, as it has been noted by many, including Goldman-Sachs, allows the firm to execute securities/commodities transactions in microseconds, thus providing their company with an extreme edge over their competitors. The tacit fact is, with proper monitoring of market trades, in general and as facilitated by Goldman's own practices, it's entirely conceivable--albeit significantly questionable from a legal standpoint--that the firm would be enabled to "frontrun" its competition at quite a grand scale, too, since it could see trades occurring in real-time, and then execute its own trades automatically at lightning speed, before the previously-observed trades of others were even concluded.
All along, for the past nine-plus months--and in part due to government-related authorizations (by appointing Goldman-Sachs as the only active player in a new effort known as the "Supplemental Liquidity Program") to enable Goldman to assist the Feds in propping up stock/commodities markets during the noted economic upheavals of same during this period--it has also been widely noted that Goldman had all but cornered the market, literally, in terms of the sheer volume of in-house trading the firm was engaged in during the time, supposedly, on its own behalf; to the point where it had been widely observed and documented that well over half of all program trading occuring on Wall Street (we're talking 20%-30% plus of all stock/commodities trades in this country, for all intents and purposes), during many weeks over the past nine months, was being executed by Goldman-Sachs, too.
From Denninger on Wednesday...
Wednesday, July 8. 2009
Posted by Karl Denninger
*FLASH* Goldman Code Theft BOMBSHELL?
Something really ugly popped up on Daily Kos yesterday late in the afternoon...
God help Goldman if this is true and the government goes after them...
God help our capital markets if this is true and is ignored by our government and regulatory agencies, or generates nothing more than a "handslap..."
There apparently is reason to believe that Sergey might have been involved in exactly this sort of coding implementation. Specifically, look at the patent claims cited on DailyKos; his expertise was in fact in this general area of knowledge in the telecommunications world......
This may be nothing more than a crazy conspiracy theory put out by someone at Daily Kos. But consider the following:
The last few days the the market has traded "organically." I and many other market participants have noted that prior to the week before July 4th the market had been acting "very odd" - normal correlations between interest rate, foreign exchange the the stock markets had been on "tilt" for the previous couple of months, with the amount of "tiltage" increasing dramatically in the last three or four weeks. In fact, many of my usual indicators that I use for daytrading had become completely useless. Suddenly, just before the July 4the weekend, everything started correlating normally again. I have no explanation for this "light-switch" change but it aligned almost exactly with the day the NYSE had "computer problems" and extended trading by 15 minutes. Was there a configuration change made to their networking infrastructure, one asks?
I believe the SEC and FBI must direct a subpoena at all market exchanges for an under-oath answer...If the answer...is "yes" then every market participant who had or has equipment colocated on the NYSE infrastructure must be immediately served with a subpoena for a true and complete copy of all software operating on every machine connected to said infrastructure for immediate forensic investigation to ascertain if any participants were indeed "sniffing" traffic and front-running orders.
The charge made on the pages of Daily Kos is incredibly serious. If this happened it is a case of literal robbery of every market participant for the entire duration of the time that the code in question was executing on the network, with losses to market participants potentially running into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Over the past 48 hours, we're now hearing from many financial services professionals, and they're alluding to the reality that "frontrunning," the illegal practice of jumping ahead of legitimate stock/bond/equity trades to capitalize upon them, is pretty much a common practice; one that has run rampant throughout Wall Street for a very long time.
Along the way, it's made the front pages of numerous financial blogs and media outlets. Here are just a few of the links...
According to Zero Hedge, Denninger's story on vets74's diary prompted CNBC to summon him over to talk about it last night, "Denninger Goes On Air, One Minute Twenty Seconds Of Airtime Ensues." But, somehow, the conversation was contorted into an analysis of blogger anonymity.
Denninger Goes On Air, One Minute Twenty Seconds Of Airtime Ensues
Friday, July 10, 2009
Posted by Tyler Durden at 2:35 AM
Tonight Karl Denninger tried to have a sensible argument with CNBC, even dressed up for it. Unfortunately, it didn't work as expected (by Karl). The only topic covered was bloggers anonymity, on which issue Karl was surprisingly goaded into agreeing with the amusing and lovable host. Karl, and host, we have pointed out before why certain entities prefer to remain anonymous: I would refer both of you to one version of the explanation here. As for Karl trying to debunk what passes for analysis at CNBC, that did not quite work out either. Maybe finally bloggers will realize that a sensible conversation can not occur within the confines of GE's subsidiary. Ever. Probably would be more realistic to discuss exchange server latency at a Goldman sponsored program trading conference with Sergey Aleynikov as keynote speaker and Misha Malyshev and Kevin Mitnick as moderators.
Karl - do what I did, and invite Dennis or whoever else to Market Ticker. I am still waiting for a response to my personal invitation. Maybe then you will have the opportunity to discuss the issues that truly concern you, and not have CNBC redirect to totally irrelevant concepts such as blogger anonymity, which the host subsequently spends another segment tryingto pin the issue on. No Dennis, that is not the issue, nor is it the solicitation of advertisers, although I am sure you are all too familiar with that (or lack thereof). There is a saying, "when facts speak, even the gods are silent"; alas when most of CNBC speaks, the heavenly laughter is near pain threshold levels.
So, in the course of 48 hours, we have this morphing from "crazy conspiracy theory" to a practice which has been tacitly acknowledged--albeit via less-sophisticated efforts up until now--for quite some time to what may soon turn out to be "...the biggest financial abuse story of our times." (See below for this last quote.)
The follow-on story by vets74 now appears to have culminated (at least for the moment) with a particularly damning piece posted Friday by Wall St. guru Bill King over at the widely-read GreenLight Advisor, "Automated Frontrunning On An Unfathomable Scale."
Bill King: Automated front-running on an unfathomable scale
July 10th, 2009 by GreenLight Advisor
For the past several years Street operators have assumed that the computer jockeys who were being employed by proprietary trading departments on The Street were developing algorithms that would find other algorithms that represented buyside orders so prop desks could trade against those orders.
Another trading prop that has been occurring for years is certain firms feed their electronic trading systems into prop desks so traders can see in real time money flows into and out of stocks and groups.
However recent revelations are forcing the Street to consider the possibility of automated front-running on an unfathomable scale. The two "front-running" issues are: 1) "queuing" [of orders] - finding orders loaded into a system, particularly limit orders, and trading against them; and 2) "latency" - discovering and then front-running electronic orders by a penny or more by exploiting the latency or lag in execution.
Bloomberg, Zero Hedge and many others on The Street have been writing about (high frequency trading) "HFT" for quite awhile. But, now it's being referenced with regard to the Goldman Sachs-Aleynikov story.
More from King, and GreenLight Advisor's comments about King, where we're also reminded that "firms could be making pennies a few billion times per day" from HFT trading.
While the Street is percolating with anger and curiosity about "High Frequency Trading" there is also frustration and astonishment that the media, regulators and our duly elected are not addressing what could be the biggest financial abuse story of our times, if not history.
And, then GreenLight Advisor and King bring it all home in the "money quotes..."
(See my notes above about the SLP program, and Goldman's virtually exclusive membership in it.)
Though the blogoshpere is all over the `HFT' trading story an important piece of the puzzle has not been publicized enough. Few people realize that exchanges actually pay firms to trade against order flow when they act as a SLP - "Supplementary Liquidity Provider."
Exchanges will pay firms 1⁄4 of a penny if they "provide liquidity" when an order appears in their system. This is extra incentive to front run order flow ... Theoretically a firm could "scratch" all day and profit.
Over the past decade the move to electronic trading and pricing in pennies was heralded by Street insiders as a means to improve liquidity for clients. This appears to be a deception. Virtually every facility benefitted proprietary trading at a select few firms. Who's the patsy?
Anyone with a modicum of industry experience understands that "providing liquidity" is at best a euphemism for front-running order flow.
So, if after reading this anyone wishes to put forth the concept that it's outrageous to think that Goldman-Sachs would never front-run a trade I, again, link to this.
In short, this evening we're hearing that frontrunning has been going on for a long time, in various shapes and sizes, throughout Wall Street. Given a virtual license to front-run by the government, via their exclusive authorization by Washington to participate as the only significant "Supplemental Liquidity Provider" on Wall Street for the past nine-plus months, it's far from a stretch to consider the reality that Goldman-Sachs', acting entirely under the sanctioned, watchful eye of our government, could have merely (and quite legally) implemented tools to make that effort more efficient.
It appears that this may very well turn out to be the "place" to which the Wall Street CW may evolve in coming days. IMHO, it certainly looks like that's where we're going.
If we end up there, all I can do is echo Denninger's sentiments: "God help our capital markets if this is true and is ignored by our government and regulatory agencies, or generates nothing more than a handslap..."
At that point, IMHO, any doubts some may have had about our country's financial system having become the laughingstock of the planet will be dispelled by these newly-acknowledged and quite pathetically sad realities. Others will just refer to it as "the biggest financial abuse story of our times."
UPDATE (for clarification): Adding more shades of gray to what is somewhat more than just a story with black and white facts...
NOTES: Regarding "front running" and "tailgating" via Wikipedia:
Front running, as defined by Wikipedia...
...is the illegal practice of a stock broker executing orders on a security for its own account while taking advantage of advance knowledge of pending orders from its customers. When orders previously submitted by its customers will predictably affect the price of the security, purchasing first for its own account gives the broker an unfair advantage, since it can expect to close out its position at a profit based on the new price level. Front running may involve either buying (where the broker buys for their account, before filling customer buy orders that drive up the price) or selling (where the broker sells for its own account, before filling customer sell orders that drive down the price).
Allegations of front running occasionally arise in stock and commodity exchanges, in scandals concerning floor brokers and exchange specialists.
Also pertinent to this story, and as discussed in the Wiki entry, linked above, is the concept of "Tailgating," or buying securities (etc.) in a manner which shadows another's purchase of the same security, a split-second later.
Interestingly, it is also possible that, simply due to the enhanced speed (as mentioned in numerous pieces about this story) with which one would be enabled to follow/mimic another trade at Goldman-Sachs (with the assumption being that the tailgating trade was executed on a faster "channel" or system, or modulated with a higher-priority tag on it, than the original trade), after it commenced, one could then conclude their "tailgating" trade in a more timely manner than the original trade, if it was facilitated on a slower system and/or modulated on a "lower-priority channel." (For instance, routing instructions for the tailgating trade might be made via a "priority path" to the New York Stock Exchange, while the original trade might be tagged to be executed on a "standard" and/or "normal path.")
And, according to the Wiki entry, tailgating--while not considered illegal--is very much frowned upon in the securities industry, for obvious ethical reasons, as opposed to frontrunning, which is considered to be illegal as defined by most schools of thought on Wall Street and in the courts.
So, effectively, one could state that there were a number of ways, both legal and illegal*, by which Goldman may have availed itself of the self-modulated and exceptionally high speed of its platform to achieve the desired profitability/result, internally, for its in-house trading efforts.
On the front end of the transaction--at the commencement of it--if an appropriate trade, responding trade, leveraged trade, or countertrade is processed prior to the original trade being concluded, it's called "front running," and it is perceived to be illegal.*
*Unless it's legally permissable due to a government sanction/exception (or a consumer's authorization) that allows one to circumvent the law.