Luke Merrick, a senior at the University of
Virginia, sings in the glee club and recently spent a summer in Japan. His
latest hobby? High-frequency trading.
engineering student is among the first users of Alpha Trading Labs, a startup
looking to bring ultrafast stock trading to the masses. The company says it has
built technology similar to that used by industry giants Citadel Securities LLC
and Virtu Financial Inc.,which trade tens of billions of dollars of shares each
high-speed trading firms typically keep their technology a secret, Alpha
Trading Labs is throwing its system wide open, with a programming tool kit that
anyone can use to access high-powered trading machines.
company, which launched its do-it-yourself platform in January, has invited
anyone with a trading idea and coding skills to try it out. Those who craft
successful algorithms can get a chance to run them and share profits with Alpha
Trading Labs, whose owners have up to $100 million to allocate to crowdsourced
It is an unorthodox
approach at a time when the high-frequency trading, or HFT, business has been struggling due to a multiyear slump in
volatility. HFT firms’ revenue from U.S. stock trading was an estimated $850
million last year, down from $7.2 billion in 2009, according to research firm
Tabb Group. Even though volatility has picked up in 2018, helping to lift
traders’ profits, the industry has become much more consolidated.
HFT firms use
computers and speedy connections to exchanges to buy and sell shares in
fractions of a second. It is a controversial business due to critics like
Michael Lewis, who accused high-speed traders of exploiting ordinary
investors in the 2014 book “Flash Boys.”Representatives of the HFT
industry reject such allegations.
Trading Labs says it will execute trades through computers housed in the data
centers of Nasdaq Inc., the New York Stock Exchange and other markets, a
practice known as “co-location.” HFT firms use co-location to execute trades
without being slowed down by the need to transmit electronic signals over long
Trading Labs says its initial group of several dozen users includes experienced
traders as well as students and academics; some are from as far away as India
and Russia. None of their algorithms are running in the markets yet, but the
company hopes to deploy the first ones later this year. It will screen users’
strategies to make sure they aren’t doing anything abusive or unlawful, the
market veterans question whether amateurs can become successful high-speed
is probably the hardest thing to do in quant trading,” said Manoj Narang,
founder of quant hedge fund MANA Partners LLC. “It requires very deep expertise
in both markets and engineering.”
Trading Labs says its interface makes HFT much more accessible, by eliminating
the need for users to worry about the behind-the-scenes technology needed to
execute speedy trading strategies.
Alpha Trading Labs’
main investor is CMT Group , a firm founded by
two veteran traders in 1997, with businesses that run the gamut from high-speed
trading to venture capital to real estate. It was an early investor in Dollar
Shave Club, the razors-by-mail service acquired byUnilever PLC for $1
billion in 2016.
years ago, Chicago-based CMT was looking to expand its trading business. But
poor market conditions were making it tough to find winning strategies. So
instead of paying headhunters to recruit traders, it decided to seek its talent
online, inviting novices and industry outsiders.
trading business has a notorious recruiting problem,” said Max Nussbaumer, a
member of Alpha Trading Labs’ board. “Recruiting people is expensive, and
there’s a pretty high rate of failure.”
traders often have degrees in subjects like physics and mathematics. Strict
noncompete agreements make it difficult to poach talent from rival firms.
reason that crowdsourcing appealed to CMT: Its founders felt that bringing
greater transparency to high-speed trading would help rebut critics like Mr.
Alpha Trading Labs
isn’t the only firm to try such an approach. Quantopian, a do-it-yourself tool
for developing quantitative trading strategies whose investors include
hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, launched in 2011 and now counts more
than 180,000 members. A fund powered by Quantopian’s users lost about 3% in its first four months of trading, The Wall
Street Journal reported in November, although a person familiar with the fund
said it is up this year. Other rivals include QuantConnect and CloudQuant .
Trading Labs tried to set itself apart by focusing on HFT, a subset of
quantitative trading. Both use computers and insights gleaned from market-data
analysis. But while quant strategies can involve holding stocks for hours, days
or months, HFT strategies often feature buying and selling in less than a
let users develop such strategies, Alpha Trading Labs provides them with
historical data on U.S. stock prices that show price fluctuations down to a
billionth of a second. Quantopian, by contrast, provides minute-by-minute data.
Merrick, of the University of Virginia, is still getting the hang of the
company’s tool kit and said he hasn’t developed a “million-dollar idea.” He
previously interned with a quant hedge fund and dabbled with Quantopian before
trying out Alpha Trading Labs this year.
trading is “really cool,” said Mr. Merrick. “For me, it’s not so much about the
greed or the betting,” he said. “You get direct feedback, and it’s unbiased.
You either make money or you lose money.”
Click here for the original
article from The Wall Street Journal.