There is no evidence that high-frequency traders (HFTs) are able to systemically exploit slower traders in real-time, although they do appear to have an advantage over longer time periods, according to a paper published on Friday by The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
The FCA paper examines order book data from the U.K. equity market for evidence of HFTs anticipating the order flow of other traders.
The researchers report that HFTs don't appear to be systemically exploiting their speed advantage to trade ahead of other orders in real-time. "We do not find evidence that HFTs systematically anticipate near-simultaneous marketable orders sent to different trading venues by pure non-HFTs," the FCA paper says.
The paper suggests that this finding could be a function of the fact that all of the trading venues in the U.K. are in close physical proximity to one another, so it takes microseconds for messages to go from one venue to another. As well, the regulatory framework in the U.K. "makes it more difficult to predict where orders will be routed, compared to the US market," the paper says.
Over longer time periods (measured in seconds), the researchers report that they did find patterns that are consistent with HFTs anticipating the order flow of non-HFTs. "However, we cannot say whether this is due to HFTs reacting more rapidly to new information, or to order-flow anticipation," the FCA paper says.
"This behaviour may or may not be detrimental depending on very specific characteristics of the order flow," the paper adds.