Stability of Currency Markets to HFT

Last week @gappy3000 shared the Bank of International Settlements’ autumn 2011 assessment of the impact of high-frequency trading on foreign exchange (currency) markets.

For the lazy, here’s a summary of the executive summary:

HFT in FX operates on high volume but small order sizes, low margins, low latency (… milliseconds) and short risk holding periods (… well under five seconds). …[I]t occurs mainly in the most liquid currencies.

Market functioning: HFT[’s] impact on … FX market[s] … could be seen as beneficial in normal times. HFT helps to distribute liquidity across the decentralised market, improving efficiency, and has narrowed spreads…. Questions remain about HFT[s’] … willingness to provide liquidity … under [stressed] market conditions. … That said, recent experience  suggests that HFT participants are not … flightier than traditional participants in times of market stress….

Systemic risks: The 6 May 2010 “flash crash” in equities suggests that systemic risk is … more likely to be triggered by a “rogue” algorithmic trade than by pure HFT, which tends to involve small-size trades, short horizons and diverse strategies. Nonetheless, HFT may … propagate shocks initiated elsewhere….
Market integrity and competition: Many of the “predatory” or “unfair” practices attributed to HFT participants … are in fact not new. HFT is but the latest high-tech, high-speed manifestation of them.

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