Schwab executives blasted high-frequency trading as “a growing cancer” that needs to be curtailed with tighter regulation.
Chairman Charles Schwab and chief executive Walt Bettinger said high-frequency traders were "gaming the system, reaping billions in the process and undermining investor confidence in the fairness of the markets” in a statement released Wednesday.
The outburst by the Schwab execs over high-speed trading isn’t their first. The latest missive comes as author Michael Lewis took to 60 Minutes and the New York Times to promote his new book, Flash Boys, claiming that high-frequency traders, or HFTs, have “rigged” the market against the average investor.
Bettinger and Schwab echoed the same warning. They claimed HFTs “skim pennies off the public markets by the billions" and that “individual investors are now pawns in a bigger chess game,” caught in a “technological arms race designed to pick the pockets of legitimate market participants” by jumping ahead of investor orders.
The Schwab executives urged regulators to establish cancellation fees to discourage the practice of quote stuffing, eliminate unfair order types and prohibit exchanges from selling preferential access or special data feeds.
Other observers, though, wonder what all the fuss is about.
“Making mountains out of molehills sells more books than a study of molehills,” wrote Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, and Michael Mendelson, a principal and portfolio manager at the firm, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
High-frequency trading appears to have driven down trading costs for long-term institutional investors, they said, and the small retail trade is “a perfect match for today's narrow bid-offer spread” driven by the hyper-traders.
“For the first time in history, Main Street might have it rigged against Wall Street,” the AQR executives said.
“Many fund managers tell Morningstar researchers that HFTs are a good thing,” said John Rekenthaler, vice president of research at Morningstar, in a post on the firm’s Web site.
“As with traditional market makers, HFTs provide liquidity in exchange for a fee,” he said. “However, the liquidity that HFTs provide is very high, which has helped to enable the shrinkage of stock spreads.”
“HFTs might well be an improvement on tradition—a de-rigging of the stock market, so to speak,” Rekenthaler added.