Investing Blog

Finance Blogs » Investing Blog » How high-frequency traders help

How high-frequency traders help

By Sheyna Steiner ·
Friday, August 3, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

This week, the stock market was roiled by another trading glitch by high-frequency trading, this time by Knight Capital Group.

With the proliferation of high-frequency trading programs and the havoc they cause when they go haywire, some people may have the perception that the stock market is out of the league of small investors these days.

For instance, Jason Zweig, normally a bastion of common sense investing advice, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, "The hearts of many small investors have been broken by the serial setbacks of the past few years," in a column titled "When will retail investors call it quits?"

He quotes Joseph Amiel, a lawyer and novelist in New York:

"The game is stacked against them. I know from speaking to other small investors that they feel that no matter what they do, they're going to be late to the game and probably wrong. And they'd rather keep it safe even at one-one-hundredth of a percent interest in a cash account than risk losing it all on a roulette-wheel stock market."

That's exactly the problem that plagues so many small investors; they shouldn't necessarily be investing the way that high-frequency traders are doing, which is by taking advantage of split-second pricing inefficiencies. Even without the computerized opponents, it's more often than not a losing proposition for small investors to try to time the market or day trade.

Some people do it successfully. Many don't.

"They shouldn't be in that business in the first place. Its speculation," says Larry Swedroe, principal and director of research at Buckingham Asset Management in St. Louis, Mo., and author of "Wise Investing Made Simpler" and "The Only Guide You'll Ever Need for the Right Financial Plan."

Any number of events that are completely unrelated to the stock market can influence prices, but in general, prices usually return to where they should have been after the dust settles.

"The same thing happened after the flash crash and any other event like that if it doesn't change the fundamental value of corporations; all it affects are day traders going in and out, and it doesn't affect me at all as a long-term investor," Swedroe says.

And, according to Swedroe, high-frequency trading actually helps small investors a little bit by tightening the bid-ask spreads, which makes trading more efficient and orderly for everyone.

"In terms of percentages, you would see a small stock trade at a 5 percent bid-offer spread; today those spreads have come way down. The offset to that is that there is much less liquidity in the market. If you want to move a large block of stock, you can't do that as easily without moving the price," he says.

Unless you're selling a few million shares, that's not too much of a problem. What do you think about high-frequency trading or the stock market today?

Get more CD and Investing News with our free weekly newsletter.

Follow me on Twitter @SheynaSteiner.

Bankrate wants to hear from you and encourages comments. We ask that you stay on topic, respect other people's opinions, and avoid profanity, offensive statements, and illegal content. Please keep in mind that we reserve the right to (but are not obligated to) edit or delete your comments. Please avoid posting private or confidential information, and also keep in mind that anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

By submitting a post, you agree to be bound by Bankrate's terms of use. Please refer to Bankrate's privacy policy for more information regarding Bankrate's privacy practices.
August 04, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Look what happens when the Regulators ( instead of already on the books , law enforcement) take over more and more

to offset the damage they do to the banks, ( and so the bankers will keep the $$$ flowing into their pockets) the little guys get hit up with

must have 25k to day trade( and not fall into a "pattern day trader") and all the day trading rules to support that

so that the little guy will give up and let the big boys take back all the business

HFT is not a problem per se

a glitch is a glitch and certainly occurred before HFT

as did and does corruption

Also, insider trading regs are yet ANOTHER rule meant to have the little guy thinking that are "protected" from the bad guys

BUT THE FACT is that if information was allowed in real -time as opposed to the delay the SEC allows via the Insider trading laws

we could make decisions based on reality

Not,,Warren Buffet invested in XYX ( 2 months ago) then people pile in allowing Warren the Opp to sell to those newbies


THAT IS WAY WAY WORSE THAN THE HFT which is just another historonics diversion which those in the know, know will catch the attention of the MSM and the little guys and make the SEC /Congress look like heros

Do a story on the Insider Trading laws as I have described

thank you

August 04, 2012 at 4:19 pm


August 04, 2012 at 3:00 am

Investing fees are the most disappointing part of investing for myself being a small time investor. Really no complaits about my 401k's offerings, but when the occasional windfall comes around, it's sadly more tempting to put $100 in a MMA, CD, or Treasury instead of in a mutual fund, etf, or individual stock due to the excessive fees of the transaction itself and managment fees. Seems like outside of employeer provided retirement plans, it's costly for someone with an occasional $100 or so dollars to spare to get that into the marketplace without having $5 - 10 eaten up immediatly