A sprinter who jumps the gun gets disqualified from the race. But selling gun-jumping technology to Wall Street is big business for suppliers of economic data.
Wall Street banks are paying Thomson Reuters to receive important data earlier and faster than the rest of the market. The early-released numbers include the results of the University of Michigan Consumer Confidence Index, according to my CNBC colleague Eamon Javers.
(Read More: Thomson Reuters Gives Elite Traders Early Advantage)
Meanwhile, Thomson Reuters offers reports from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) on extremely fast connections known as "ultralow latency releases."
Thomson Reuters has contracts with the University of Michigan that allow it to release the consumer sentiment data early to elite customers. It's long been known that although the general public doesn't get to see the information until 10 a.m. on release day, the data is distributed five minutes earlier on a conference call for Thomson Reuters' paying clients, who are given certain headline numbers.
Less well-known is that the highest-level subscribers get the information two seconds earlier, at 9:54:58 a.m.
Information is one of the Street's most valuable currencies—all the more valuable when it is not in wide circulation. Wall Street banks equipped with ultrafast computers can exploit even small timing advantages to trade before the market moves on economic data.