The Rise of Computerized High Frequency Trading: Use and Controversy

By: Michael J. McGowan

Over the last decade, there has been a dramatic shift in how securities are traded in the capital markets. Utilizing supercomputers and complex algorithms that pick up on breaking news, company/stock/economic information and price and volume movements, many institutions now make trades in a matter of microseconds, through a practice known as high frequency trading. Today, high frequency traders have virtually phased out the “dinosaur” floor-traders and average investors of the past. With the recent attempted robbery of one of these high frequency trading platforms from Goldman Sachs this past summer, this “rise of the machines” has become front page news, generating vast controversy and discourse over this largely secretive and ultra-lucrative practice. Because of this phenomenon, those of us on Main Street are faced with a variety of questions: What exactly is high frequency trading? How does it work? How long has this been going on for? Should it be banned or curtailed? What is the end-game, and how will this shape the future of securities trading and its regulation? This iBrief explores the answers to these questions.

Cite: 2010 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 016