A 60 Minutes interview with Michael Lewis recently revealed how millions of investors are being secretly being defrauded by front-running actions of banks and brokerages. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/is-the-us-stock-market-rigged/. Below is an excerpt of Lewis explaining how he believes that the markets are “rigged”:
Steve Kroft: What’s the headline here?
Michael Lewis: Stock market’s rigged. The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism is rigged.
Steve Kroft: By whom?
Michael Lewis: By a combination of these stock exchanges, the big Wall Street banks and high-frequency traders.
Steve Kroft: Who are the victims?
Michael Lewis: Everybody who has an investment in the stock market.
Michael Lewis is not talking about the stock market that you see on television every day. That ceased to be the center of U.S. financial activity years ago, and exists today mostly as a photo op. This is the stock market that Lewis is talking about; the one where most of the trades take place now, inside hundreds of thousands of these black boxes located at more than 60 public and private exchanges, where billions of dollars in stock change hands every day with little or no public documentation. The trades are being made by thousands of robot computers, programmed to buy and sell every stock on the market at speeds 100 times faster than you can blink an eye. A system so complex, it’s all but invisible.
Michael Lewis: If it wasn’t complicated, it wouldn’t be allowed to happen. The complexity disguises what is happening. If it’s so complicated you can’t understand it, then you can’t question it.
Steve Kroft: And this is all being done by computers?
Michael Lewis: All being done by computers. It’s too fast to be done by humans. Humans have been completely removed from the marketplace.
“Fast” is the operative word. Machines with secret programs are now trading stocks in tiny fractions of a second, way too fast to be seen or recorded on a stock ticker or computer screen. Faster than the market itself. High-frequency traders, big Wall Street firms and stock exchanges have spent billions to gain an advantage of a millisecond for themselves and their customers, just to get a peek at stock market prices and orders a flash before everyone else, along with the opportunity to act on it.
Michael Lewis: The insiders are able to move faster than you. They’re able to see your order and play it against other orders in ways that you don’t understand. They’re able to front run your order.
Steve Kroft: What do you mean front run?
Michael Lewis: Means they’re able to identify your desire to, to buy shares in Microsoft and buy ‘em in front of you and sell ‘em back to you at a higher price. It all happens in infinitesimally small periods of time. There’s speed advantage that the faster traders have is milliseconds, some of it is fractions of milliseconds. But it”s enough for them to identify what you’re gonna do and do it before you do it at your expense.
Steve Kroft: So it drives the price up.
Michael Lewis: So it drives the price up, and in turn you pay a higher price.