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Deutsche Bank Research: Existing evidence related to the impact of HFT on certain market quality and efficiency indicators is inconclusive. Some studies (e.g. Hendershott and Riordan, 2009; Jovanovic and Menkveld, 2010) suggest that HFT using market making and arbitrage strategies has added liquidity to the market, reduced spreads and helped align prices across markets. While there is no proof of a negative liquidity impact in the academic literature, certain issues still remain:
  • HFs are under no affirmative market making obligation, i.e. they are not obliged to provide liquidity by consistently displaying high-quality, two-sided quotes. This may translate into a lack of available liquidity, in particular during volatile market conditions.
  • HFTs contribute little to market depth due to the marginal size of their quotes. This may result in larger orders having to transact with many small orders and may affect overall transaction costs
  • HFT quotes are barely accessible due to the short duration for which the liquidity is available when orders are cancelled within milliseconds.
Another interesting issue is whether HFT contributes to the price formation process on equities markets. In this context, Brogaard (2010) examines a large data set of HFT firms trading on Nasdaq and finds that, firstly, HFTs add substantially to the price formation process as they tend to follow a price reversal strategy (irrespective of whether they are supplying liquidity or demanding it), driven by order imbalances, and so tend to stabilise prices. Secondly, HFTs do not seem to systematically front-run non-HFTs. They provide the best bid and offer quotes for a significant portion of the trading day, but only around a quarter of the book depth (as do non-HFTs) and reduce their supply of liquidity only moderately as volatility increases. Thirdly, HFTs engage in a less diverse variety of strategies than non-HFTs, which may exacerbate market movements if HFTs use similar trading strategies. Fourthly, while in principle high cancellation rates could impact the smoothness of execution in markets where HFTs are present, prevailing narrow spreads seem to suggest that cancelled quotes are quickly replaced by other market participants. Hendershott and Riordan (2009) find that algorithmic traders’ quotes play a larger role in the price formation process than human quotes. Summing up, on the one hand, price discovery benefits from market participants who quickly detect anomalies in market prices and correct them. On the other hand, HFT may distort price formation if it creates an incentive for natural liquidity to shift into dark pools as a way of avoiding transacting with ever-decreasing order sizes. In terms of market volatility, neither Hendershott and Riordan (2009) nor Brogaard (2010) find any evidence for a detrimental impact of either AT [algorithmic trading] or HFT. Economic perspective and potential regulatory aspects.

High-frequency trading? Better than its reputation?, DB Research, Feb 2011

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