High Frequency Trading and its Impact on Market Quality
This paper examines the impact of high frequency traders (HFTs) on equities markets. I analyze a unique data set to study the strategies utilized by HFTs, their profitability, and their relationship with characteristics of the overall market, including liquidity, price efficiency, and volatility. I find that in my sample HFTs participate in 77% of all trades and that they tend to engage in a price-reversal strategy. I find no evidence suggesting HFTs withdraw from markets in bad times or that they engage in abnormal front-running of large non-HFTs trades. The 26 high frequency trading (HFT) firms in the sample earn approximately $3 billion in profits annually. HFTs demand liquidity for 50.4% of all trades and supply liquidity for 51.4% of all trades. HFTs tend to demand liquidity in smaller amounts, and trades before and after a HFT demanded trade occur more quickly than other trades. HFTs provide the inside quotes approximately 50% of the time. In addition if HFTs were not part of the market, the average trade of 100 shares would result in a price movement of $.013 more than it currently does, while a trade of 1000 shares would cause the price to move an additional $.056. HFTs are an integral part of the price discovery process and price efficiency. Utilizing a variety of measures introduced by Hasbrouck (1991a, 1991b, 1995), I show that HFTs trades and quotes contribute more to price discovery than do non-HFTs activity. Finally, HFT reduces volatility. By constructing a hypothetical alternative price path that removes HFTs from the market, I show that the volatility of stocks is roughly unchanged when HFT initiated trades are eliminated and significantly higher when all types of HFT trades are removed.
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