According to Nanex: HFT is Killing the EMini

As reported by Nanex, on Friday, Aug 5, 2011, we processed 1 trillion bytes of data for all U.S. equities, options, futures, and indexes. This is insane. A year ago, when we processed half of that, we thought it was madness. A year before that, when it was 250 billion bytes, we thought the same. There is no new beneficial information in this monstrous pile of data compared to 3 years ago. It is noise, subterfuge, manipulation. The root of all that is wrong with today’s markets.

HFT is sucking the life blood out of the markets: liquidity. It is almost comical, because this is what they claim to supply. No one with any sense wants to post a bid or ask, because they know it will only get hit when it’s at their disadvantage. Some give in, and join the arms race. Others leave.

Take the electronic S&P 500 futures contract, known as the emini, for example. This is, or used to be, a very liquid market. The cumulative size in the 10 levels in the depth of book was often 20,000 contracts on each side. That means a trader could buy or sell 20,000 contracts “instantly” and only move the market 10 ticks or price levels. Even during the flash crash, before the CME halt, when hot potatoes were flying everywhere, the depth would still accommodate an instant sale of 2,000 contracts.

Not anymore. On Friday, 2,000 contracts would have sliced right through the entire book. Not during a quiet period, or before a news event. Pretty much any minute of trading that day after the 9:54 slide. And it wasn’t just Friday, the trend in the depth of book size has been declining rapidly over the last few week. What used to be the most liquid and active contract in the world, which served as a proxy for the true price of the US stock market for decades, is getting strangled by the speed of light, a weapon wielded by HFT.

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