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Who can keep up with super high frequency traders (up 200% YTD)? Where quants fail - France Roundtable

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Who can keep up with super high frequency traders (up 200% YTD)? Where quants fail

The French market is a very attractive market for two main reasons. First, France has very large investors who invest in all types of funds, including Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs), even if the latter are not the biggest bucket. Then, you find the renowned French excellence in the quantitative space which has in fact penetrated a lot of sectors globally.

The French asset management industry is vibrant, already 400 firms are registered as AIFM and thus comply with AIFMD. Some of the managers participating at this Roundtable have been doing very well, achieving positive returns of 6%, 7% and even 11% (by end of September), also demonstrating resilience and the ability to protect capital during the wild summer months of August and September. CTA veteran Manuel de Bonneval, the “historian in finance”, was up 25% in 2014, and has in fact outperformed his peers by approximately one point per month over the last three years. “We did not get there by chance,” he added.

“When Winton Capital is up, everybody is up; when Winton is down, then everybody is down.”

But de Bonneval also criticises the quant industry for being too correlated and “doing the same thing”. “When Winton Capital is up, everybody is up; when Winton is down, then everybody is down.” While many of the mathematical models are extremely clever, a lot of people would be using them wrongly; “they rely on them too much and do not look at what happens in the world. It is not normal in an industry with so many clever, good people, that they all do exactly the same thing.”

Largest “global super high frequency prop trading group” is up more than 200% YTD

Very likely, this does not apply to the largest global super high frequency prop trading group which reportedly is up more than 200% so far in 2015. This group trades only prop money, but their market share, in terms of volumes for the equity market globally, is almost 30%. These prop trading groups are facing criticism for a number of reasons, starting with their market-maker status from the exchanges which offers them - amongst certain obligations - also very low fees and a much quicker access to the market.

They are blamed for adding a lot of volatility and “noise” to the markets, for “pushing the market to the extent that the whole market structure is changing. It is also like they are collecting a tax that would be paid by investors, particularly the end and retail investors.” Could you actually say it’s a form of technology front running? While speed is a risk management tool for market participants, where is the limit crossed to the extent that the principle of equality for all market participants has been abandoned?

The illusion of liquidity

In one way or another, probably most investors and managers are affected by these “super high frequency traders” — maybe not that much if you’re moving in “slow motion”. Still, those groups are said to know where the managers, the traders have their positions, and they are pushing the markets. This is visible with some stocks' extreme intraday moves, in the currency sector, and more and more in the interest rates and in commodities sectors now. Of course it creates new opportunities, but overall is seen as a challenge for everyone as those traders also create the illusion of liquidity. “You can have liquidity for 10 seconds and then it’s gone.” So the gap risk is much higher, and in the end, with most investment banks having more or less disappeared, the long term investors, mostly institutional, are now waiting for larger drawdowns and larger gaps before they come back in the market.

More players are now raising such questions, and also want to know how exchanges and regulators worldwide are dealing with this phenomenon? For example, which exact changes or restrictions did the German “High Frequency Trading Act” bring? Who has to comply, and are the regulations effective?

The Opalesque 2015 France Roundtable, sponsored by Eurex, took place October 6th at the office of Eurex in Paris with:

  1. Franck Guiader, Head of the asset management policy division, AMF
  2. Manuel de Bonneval, Tendance Capital
  3. Jean-Louis Juchault, Puzzle Capital
  4. Arnaud Chretien, Aequam Capital
  5. Raphaël Gelrubin, KeyQuant
  6. Arnaud Boilley, Karakoram
  7. Julien Sureau, Unigestion Asset Management (France)
  8. Nicolas von Kageneck, Eurex
The Group also discussed:
  • Why the French don’t worry about the future, even if so far bonds and interest rates have been major contributors to their current performance
  • Why solely price-driven systematic strategies can profit from being long bonds or interest rates despite thethreat of Fed increasing their rates.
  • What are the two major ways to do merger arbitrage?
  • How many hedge funds has Unigestion, the EUR 16.3bn Swiss asset manager, on their buy list? Which sectors are attractive for Unigestion at the moment?
  • How alternative investment managers in Europe have benefited from European regulations as non-European investors increasingly invest in European labels. Which are some of the newer EU labels?
  • How will MiFID II change the European private wealth management industry? Why have certain firms started to buy asset managers?
  • In which sense compares the environment today to the 1980s or the 90s?
  • Why nobody should be afraid to trade peripheral currencies, like for example the Mexican or Colombian peso.
  • How should your stops look like in the age of the super high frequency trades?
  • How will the digital revolution affect the wealth and asset management industries over the long term? Could digital due diligence make life easier for managers and investors?

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