Saturday 30th April 2016
NEWS TICKER: Central bank policy is still dominating the trading agenda, even though most analysts believe that the Fed will, if it does move, move only once this year and will raise rates by a quarter of a percent. The statement of the US FOMC was terse and most likely signals extreme caution on its part, though there is a belief that hawkish voices are rising in the committee. The reality is though that the US economic growth story is slowing. Many think the June meeting will spark the uplift. Let’s see. The US dollar is continuing to lose ground across the board after data showed the US economy expanded at its slowest pace since the second quarter of 2009, according to the BEA, which FTSE Global Markets reported on last Friday. GDP increased at a 0.5% annualised rate - versus an expected 0.7% - after rising 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2015 as personal consumption failed to boost growth in spite of low gasoline prices. Central bank caution makes sense in that context, however timing will be sensitive. If the central bank moves in the autumn it threatens to unbutton the presidential elections; but the reality is that mixed data will emanate from the US over this quarter which will make a June decision difficult. It’s tough being an FOMC member right now. The Bank of Japan meanwhile signalled its intention to stay the course this week with current policy, which discombobulated the markets. The Japanese markets were closed today for a public holiday, so it won’t be entirely clear if the market will suffer for the central bank’s decision. Certainly if fell 3.61% yesterday and is down 5% on the week. so the omens aren’t great. Of course, the pattern that is well established of late is that as the market falls, the yen appreciates. The yen was trading at 107.14 against the dollar last time we looked, compared with 108 earlier in the session, having at times touched 111/$1 yesterday (the lowest point for more than 18 months) The month to date has seen a rise in both the short term and long term volatility gauges. Coinciding with the rise, Nikkei 225 Index Structured Warrant activity has also significantly picked up. Nikkei 225 Structured Warrants showed increased activity with daily averaged traded value up 33% month-on-month. The Nikkei 225 Index Structured Warrants had significant increase in trading activity year-on-year with total turnover up by 6.8 times. – ASIAN TRADING SESSION - Australia's ASX 200 reversed early losses to close up 26.77 points, or 0.51%, at 5,252.20, adding 0.3% for the week. The uptick today was driven by gains in the heavily-weighted financials sub-index, as well as the energy and materials sub-indexes. In South Korea, the Kospi finished down 6.78 points, or 0.34%, at 1,994.15, while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 1.37%. Chinese mainland markets were mixed, with the Shanghai composite dropping 7.13 points, or 0.24 percent, at 2,938.45, while the Shenzhen composite finished nearly flat. The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 12.42 points or 0.43% lower to 2862.3, taking the year-to-date performance to -0.71%. The top active stocks today were SingTel, which gained 0.26%, DBS, which declined 1.03%, NOL, which gained closed unchanged, OCBC Bank, which declined 1.00% and CapitaLand, with a 0.63% fall. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index gained 0.60%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index rose 0.49%. Structured warrants on Asian Indices have continued to be active in April. YTD, the STI has generated a total return of 1.3%. This compares to a decline of 4.9% for the Nikkei 225 Index and a decline of 6.3% of the Hang Seng Index. Of the structured warrants available on Asian Indices, the Hang Seng Index Structured Warrants have remained the most active in the year to date with Structured Warrants on the Nikkei 225 Index and STI Index the next most active – FUND FLOWS – BAML reports that commodity fund flows went back to positive territory after taking a breather last week, supported again by inflows into gold funds. “The asset class is currently the best performer, with year to date % of AUM inflow at 15%, far ahead of all other asset classes. Global EM debt flows reflected the bullish turn of the market on EMs, recording the tenth consecutive week of positive flows. On the duration front, short-term funds recorded a marginal inflow, keeping a positive sign for the last four weeks. The mid-term IG funds continue to record strong inflows for a ninth week. But it looks like investors have started to embrace duration to reach for yield, as inflows into longer-term funds have recorded a cumulative 0.8% inflow in the past two weeks,” says the BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research team – GREEN BONDS - Banco Nacional de Costa Rica is the latest issuer with a $500m bond to finance wind, solar, hydro and wastewater projects. The bond has a coupon of 5.875% and matures on April 25th 2021. Banco Nacional will rely on Costa Rican environmental protection regulations to determine eligible projects. This is the fourth green bond issuance in Latin America, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI). Actually, Costa Rica is one of the global leaders in terms of renewable energy use. In the first quarter of 2016 it sourced 97.14% of its power from renewables. Hydro's share alone was 65.62%. – SOVEREIGN DEBT - After coming to market with a 100 year bond last week, the Kingdom of Belgium (rated Aa3/AA/AA) has opened books on a dual tranche bond; the first maturing in seven years; the second in 50 years, in a deal managed by Barclays, Credit Agricole, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Natixis and Société Générale. Managers have marketed the October 22nd 2023 tranche at 11 basis points (bps) through mid-swaps and the June 22nd 2066 tranche in the high teens over the mid of the 1.75% 2066 French OAT – LONGEVITY REINSURANCE - Prudential Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company (PRIAC) and U.K. insurer Legal & General say they have just completed their third longevity reinsurance transaction together, further evidence that longevity reinsurance continues to be a vehicle for UK insurers seeking relief from pension liabilities exposed to longevity risk. “This latest transaction builds on our relationship with Legal & General and solidifies the platform from which future business can be written,” explains Bill McCloskey, vice president, Longevity Risk Transfer at Prudential Retirement. “It's also a testament to our experience in the reinsurance space and our capacity to support the growth of the U.K. longevity risk transfer market.” Under the terms of the new agreement, PRIAC will issue reinsurance for a portion of Legal & General's bulk annuity business, providing benefit security for thousands of retirees in the UK. PRIAC has completed three reinsurance transactions with Legal & General since October 2014 – VIETNAM - Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has affirmed its 'BB-' long-term and 'B' short-term sovereign credit ratings on Vietnam. The outlook is stable. At the same time, we affirmed our 'axBB+/axB' ASEAN regional scale rating on Vietnam. The ratings, says S&P, reflect the country's lower middle-income, rising debt burden, banking sector weakness, and the country's emerging institutional settings that hamper policy responsiveness. Even so, the ratings agency acknowledges these strengths are offset by Vietnam's sound external settings that feature adequate foreign exchange reserves and a modest external debt burden. The country has a lower middle income but comparatively diversified economy. S&P estimates GDP per capita at about US$2,200 in 2016. “Recent improvements in macroeconomic stability have supported strong performance in the sizable foreign-owned and export-focused manufacturing sector (electronics, telephones, and clothing). This strength will likely be offset by weaker domestic activity as the impetus to growth stemming from low household and company sector leverage is hampered by weak banks and government enterprises, and shortfalls in infrastructure. We expect real GDP per capita growth to rise by 5.3% in 2016 (2015: 5.6%) and average 5.2% over 2016-2019, reflecting modest outlooks for Vietnam's trading partners. Uncertain conditions in export markets and the slow pace in addressing government enterprise reforms, fiscal consolidation, and banking sector resolution add downside risks to this growth outlook – RUSSIA - Russia's central bank held interest rates steady at 11% today, in line with expectations, although it hinted that if inflation kept on falling it would cut soon. Last month, the bank held rates steady, warning that inflation risks remained "high" and that the then oil price rise could be "unsustainable." However, the decision came at a time of renewed hope for Russia's beleaguered economy and the country's oil industry with commodity prices showing tentative signs of recovery. The central bank noted that it "sees the positive processes of inflation slowdown and inflation expectations decline, as well as shifts in the economy which anticipate the beginning of its recovery growth. At the same time, inflation risks remain elevated." Yann Quelenn, market analyst at Swissquote explains: "The ruble has continued to appreciate ever since it reached its all-time low against the dollar in early January. At that time, more than 82 ruble could be exchanged for a single dollar note. Now, the USDRUB has weakened below 65 and even more upside pressures on the currency continue as the rebound in oil prices persists. The outlook for Russian oil revenues is more positive despite the global supply glut. Expectations for increased oil demand over the coming years and the fear of peak oil are driving the black commodity’s prices higher – MARKET DATA RELEASES TODAY - Other data that analysts will be looking out for today include Turkey’s trade balance; GDP from Spain; the unemployment rate from Norway; mortgage approvals from UK; CPI and GDP from the eurozone; CPI from Italy; and South Africa’s trade balance – FTSE GLOBAL MARKETS – Our offices will be closed on Monday, May 2ndt. We wish our readers and clients a happy and restful May bank holiday and we look forward to reconnecting on Tuesday May 3rd. Happy Holidays!

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ALGO trading: a moveable feast Photograph © Robertds/Dreamstime.com, supplied March 2013.

ALGO trading: a moveable feast

Tuesday, 19 March 2013
ALGO trading: a moveable feast Algorithms have come a long way since the early days when traders used simple volume weighted average price (VWAP) routines to facilitate execution in large cap stocks. Technology has helped, of course; computers can now process so much data in near real time that programmers can incorporate feedback from the market to alter the way algorithms execute or route orders on the fly. Attitudes toward algorithms have evolved, too. Any lingering reservations—not uncommon among old-school traders—about how algorithms might perform during market dislocations were put to rest during the 2008/09 financial crisis. Today’s trading tools are smarter and more flexible than ever—and so are the users. Neil A O’Hara reports. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/media/k2/items/cache/f8c1ec925a18c92698c05bff8c327469_XL.jpg

Algorithms have come a long way since the early days when traders used simple volume weighted average price (VWAP) routines to facilitate execution in large cap stocks. Technology has helped, of course; computers can now process so much data in near real time that programmers can incorporate feedback from the market to alter the way algorithms execute or route orders on the fly. Attitudes toward algorithms have evolved, too. Any lingering reservations—not uncommon among old-school traders—about how algorithms might perform during market dislocations were put to rest during the 2008/09 financial crisis. Today’s trading tools are smarter and more flexible than ever—and so are the users. Neil A O’Hara reports.

The proportion of trades now executed by algorithms is a movable feast depending on who is asked. A buy side desk may say it uses algorithms for 30% of its trading, counting only the orders it handles using direct market access or other electronic broker pipes. The other 70% of orders are called in to brokers, where the sell side trading desk will likely enter the flow into algorithms for execution. “Most US equity trading now uses some sort of algorithm,” says Scott Daspin, a managing director in the global execution group at ConvergEx. “The average block size continues to fall and appropriate execution requires a trading tool.”


Growing confidence in algorithms has encouraged buy side traders to exploit more complex routines. While some players still rely primarily on VWAP—quantitative shops doing mass optimisations of market neutral trades, for example—this long-time favourite has given way to implementation shortfall routines designed to minimize market impact. Traders specify the degree of urgency and the algorithm tries to optimise execution within that time frame. Based on measures of liquidity in the name and where the liquidity is concentrated, the algorithm will select the best routing among venues and decide whether and when to cross the spread to obtain a fill. “Clients are moving toward implementation shortfall as their primary benchmark,” says Daspin.




Average investment holding periods have come down in recent years, which has reinforced the focus on implementation shortfall. The shorter the time horizon, the more market impact costs affect the expected return on the trade. If a portfolio manager expects a 5%-10% uptick in price from a positive earnings announcement next week, the difference between 50 basis points (bps) and 150bps in market impact matters more than for a stock expected to rise 30% over two years.


For sensitive trades that are not urgent, traders may prefer a dark aggregator algorithm designed to tap liquidity only in dark pools where the footprint of a large order is harder to detect. Some dark pools are darker than others, and some admit participants whose activities may be toxic to large orders so traders can exclude certain venues or order types on a particular venue. Jeffrey Bacidore, head of algorithmic trading at ITG, has seen attitudes toward dark aggregators evolve, too. At first, traders would designate where they were and were not willing to trade, but now they take a more nuanced approach. “Shutting a dark pool out completely means there is absolutely no liquidity in there a trader ever wants to participate in,” he says. “That can’t be true.”


ITG and other providers have built more sophisticated algorithms that expose bigger size in clean pools but still show some interest, albeit with stronger safeguards against gaming, in more suspect pools. The buy side does not have the resources to monitor every venue in detail, which has led firms to lean on brokers to deliver an acceptable end result. “Brokers have to justify their decisions and provide good performance,” says Bacidore. “Clients find it hard to stay on top of the landscape. They have outsourced that to brokers and hold us accountable.”


The buy side learned long ago that while brokers always claim to put clients’ interests first a broker’s own interests will take priority if the client suffers no harm, at least in theory. In the spirit of “trust, but verify” the buy side is demanding more transparency about how algorithms route orders and where they are filled. Convergex has just opened its kimono through a Web portal on which clients who enter a ticker symbol and size can see a forecast of the expected market impact, how long it will take to complete the order, where the trade will route and where fills are expected. When clients enter a live order, they can see in real time where the order goes and the fills come from.


“When we demo this technology to people we don’t know, they fall off their chairs,” says Daspin. “We can practically see them reaching for the phone to ask their existing brokers how orders are routed.”


The degree of transparency ConvergEx offers allows buy side traders to tweak their execution strategy based on hard data about which venues give the best fills in a name. Sometimes it requires just a change in the parameters entered into the algorithm, but Convergex will customise the algorithm if need be. “The beauty of transparency is that people can make the algorithm exactly what they want, which is not the same thing for everyone,” says Gary Ardell, head of financial engineering and advanced trading solutions at ConvergEx.“Transparency helps clients get the right tool for the right job.”


The heightened transparency may tax the capacity of some buy side shops to make good use of it, however. Paul Daley, head of product development at SunGard’s Fox River Execution Solutions, says many clients struggle with the sheer volume of data generated in the full routing disclosure his firm provides and prefer to rely on monthly summaries instead. The snag? The summaries only includes trades done through Fox River, so users cannot compare the results with trades done through other brokers who do not offer similar transparency.


Clients who use the complete data dump can see where orders went, whether they were ever routed from one venue to another, how they were executed and whether they took or provided liquidity. “Over time, people are getting more into the logic of why a broker went to a particular venue, not just where it went,” says Daley. “People will use the tools and get their hands around the data.” He expects buy side trading desks to hire quantitative analysts with a grasp of trading who can use their programming skills to mine the data and suggest improvements in how the desk interacts with the market.


The buy side trader’s role continues to evolve from the jumped-up order clerk of yore toward equal partnership in the investment process. Traders don’t have to watch the market all the time any more; they can focus on higher value-added tasks like picking the best execution strategy and leave implementation to the machines. “A human does not have to look at the screen, see the bid move up a penny and decide whether to cancel and resubmit the order,” says Bacidore at ITG. “The algorithm has already done that if it makes sense. The trader looks at the objective and works more closely with the portfolio manager behind the trade.”


The nature of product development for algorithms has changed, too. Ten years ago, Bacidore says the main concern was to ensure the routines were robust and would not break down or go haywire. Today, those safeguards are a given and developers spend more time figuring out how to source liquidity as efficiently as possible. They also know other technology-savvy market participants like high frequency traders will try to reverse engineer or game their designs, a constant threat to buy side clients. “We have to have cutting edge technology,” says Bacidore. “We must be as smart and efficient as the best people in the market if we are to deliver good results to our clients.”


While technical improvements in single name algorithms will continue, the bigger challenge is to perfect algorithms that can handle baskets of stocks. It’s a daunting task: not only must the algorithm process data on all the individual names but the trading in one name affects how other names are traded. In a market neutral (equal dollar amounts to buy and sell) basket of 1,000 names, for example, the algorithm must maintain balance so that buys and sells don’t run too far out of whack. “The algorithm takes into account portfolio level objectives and constraints,” says Bacidore. “It comes at a cost, though—they can’t be too dynamic.” If a block showed up in an illiquid name on an institutional dark pool, a human trader might grab it but the algorithm might not because a large fill would unbalance the basket.


Another difficulty is the lack of industry consensus about how basket algorithms should work. The objective is clear: to minimize risk and maximize return on the trade—but opinions differ over what that means in practice. The uncertainty has hampered development efforts, according to Daley. Fox River could build an algorithm that made sense to its developers but if clients reject the logic it would be wasted effort. “We all agree what a VWAP algorithm is,” says Daley, “but we don’t necessarily agree what a basket algorithm is. There is a tremendous amount of unsatisfied demand in that space.”

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