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Buffett's Business Wire cuts feeds to speed traders

After consulting with Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Business Wire has decided to cut off the high-frequency trading firms that were paying big money to get news releases and economic reports through direct feeds from the company.

Business Wire has been under pressure from New York regulators since The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the direct access gave the HFT firms "the ability to trade fractions of a second ahead of less fleet-footed investors."

Warren Buffett
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Warren Buffett

In a news release, Business Wire Chief Cathy Baron Tamraz said the company had done "nothing wrong" but that the "article may have caused some misperceptions, and that was of deep concern to us."

In his own news release (also distributed by Business Wire), New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called the company's decision a "tremendous victory for our effort to eliminate advance trading on market-moving information." He said it showed a commitment to "being a responsible industry leader."

Business Wire said it would end the practice even though high-frequency traders had "absolutely no time advantage in receiving material news."

That's when compared with Business Wire's other direct feed customers, such as newswire services like Reuters, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. The newswires would then relay the releases to their customers, and the high-frequency traders believed that extra step gave them a very slight lead.

The Journal said the gap, measured in tiny fractions of a second, could have allowed computers deployed by high-speed traders to sell or buy stock slightly before others received the news—a "fleeting but lucrative edge."

At the time of the report, Business Wire told the Journal that anyone could buy a direct feed and that what happens after a release is issued is "beyond our control."

But on Thursday the company said, "Our most important assets are our reputation and the trust we have earned from our clients and other market participants for more than a half century. Therefore, we have proactively made the decision to terminate these feeds."

A company spokesman said Business Wire's distinguished high-frequency traders from other financial firms receiving direct feeds based on its "understanding" of the client's business.

Buffett is very conscious of protecting his own and Berkshire's reputation.

In 1991 testimony to Congress after taking over Salomon Brothers in the wake of a scandal, he said he told employees, "Lose money for the firm, and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless."

By CNBC's Alex Crippen. Follow him on Twitter: @alexcrippen

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