From the time there have been markets there have been traders trying to get an edge over their competitors, and "front running" the market, or trying to figure out what the other guy is going to do so you can push prices higher, is one of the oldest practices in the books.
The alarming part is how secretly and quickly it is being done now. High-profile hedge fund veterans Dan Loeb, David Einhorn and Bill Ackman are quoted in the book saying they didn't realize the computers had been able to blow a hole in markets.
Yet unanswered is just what this costs investors outside the world of testosterone-filled traders trying to outbid and outdo each other.
The most obvious way would be through large pension funds and mutual funds. Theoretically, the firms handling those accounts could get caught having to pay higher prices than they would in an HFT-free market, driving up costs for individual investors counting on their pensions and 401(k) plans.
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In practice, though, the largest firms in the fund business say that's simply not happening.
"The overall cost of investing in the equity market has actually come down significantly due to changes in regulations, technical enhancements and increased competition," said Katie Henderson, a spokeswoman at Vanguard, which manages $2.75 trillion for clients. "Vanguard has realigned its trading practices over the years to mitigate adverse impacts of trading costs."
Henderson said the firm encourages regulators to keep looking at ways to weed out "disruptive trading" but believes most high-speed traders operate within market rules.
An executive at a another big fund firm said the industry actually welcomes the HFT presence as it helps provide liquidity and price discovery—familiar arguments in favor of the high-speed traders.
It's also a position that Gary Hager, president of Integrated Wealth Management in Edison, N.J., believes holds true. One of Hager's clients is an unnamed high-frequency trader who got in around the ground level in 2004, and he believes that the market actually would be mourning its losses should HFT go away.
"If HFT was further regulated, and I'm not sure how you do that, it could have a negative impact on the public's perception of the market," Hager said. "What would happen is if that was curtailed, restrained or eliminated, the amount of volatility that would be added to the market would be more than the average investor would be comfortable with."
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Interestingly, he agrees with Lewis' comment that the market is rigged, but believes it is more so by the big Wall Street investment firms than by smaller HFT operations.
For the public, the raging debate over rigged markets is likely to stoke even more skepticism about Wall Street and the financial markets, something that could be costly should they decide to avoid stocks and the high-frequency trading sideshow.
"It kind of shows that the Street outsmarts itself sometimes. I'd love for it to be a be-all end-all scandal, but I'm not quite sure I see that," said Ashley, the Florida International professor. "It appears at least in my memory that everybody who is in that business does exactly the same thing, and that some of the institutions aren't totally unhappy with that. This is a hard one to unravel.
"It's more people having a gut reaction that something smells. But they're not sure if it's a stench, or just a bit of malodor."