How High-Frequency Trading Makes the World a Better Place (part 2)

First see: How High-Frequency Trading Makes the World a Better Place (part 1)

A high-frequency trading story.
by Elaine Ou

Peter was an engineering major at Princeton. Unfailingly polite, he was the type of person who wouldn’t begin eating his meal on an airline flight until everyone was served. Through social graces and a delightful personality he climbed the societal ladder with ease, and by senior year he was dating a lovely Art History major named Svetlana who he met while browsing dating sites for big beautiful women.

Near graduation, Svetlana was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Indonesia. Her grant proposed that she apply her Liberal Arts skills toward rebuilding communities in the wake of the South Asian tsunami.

Peter, like all graduates, was entirely confused about his career path. He approached the university career counselor for advice. Steeped in selflessness, he asked if there might be philanthropic opportunities for an engineering major.

Most nonprofit and social service positions are reserved for humanities grads, who have no monetizable job skills, said the guidance counselor. But I do have something that might be appropriate for you.

EWT is a newfangled private investment fund that performs a critical social good. Through electronic trading, they ensure that pension funds, charitable foundations, university endowments, and the general public obtain better prices for the assets they buy and sell.

You might call EWT a “for-profit” charity.

Peter interviewed at EWT and accepted an offer. Graduation came and went, Peter and Svetlana vowed to maintain their long-distance relationship. They promised to write each other every day, but neither ever did. Soon, memories of college were far in the past; Svetlana was hard at work teaching Art History to tsunami victims, and Peter was increasing market liquidity to ensure peace and prosperity for all.

After returning from South Asia and recovering from a bout of hepatitis, Svetlana had long forgotten Peter. She met a schoolteacher named Brad on OKCupid, and they married and moved to Madison to be closer to Svetlana’s elderly parents. In time, Brad and Svetlana had three beautiful children and one ginger one, and although Brad suspected that the last kid wasn’t his, he loved Svetlana far too much to ever let her know.

Brad had a secret too. He had tucked away a tidy sum from his middle school teacher salary, and enjoyed day trading during the last market hour of the day after the students went home. Brad was a few years older than Svetlana. He remembered the markets of last decade, when prices were denominated in fractions and the minimum spread was 6.25 cents. Brad shuddered to recall crossing that massive spread. So many times he had clung to losing positions, unwilling to unload them for fear of price impact!

Svetlana still had no marketable skills aside from a vague ability to discuss Neoclassical art. However, because it was now six times cheaper to buy and sell shares thanks to electronic trading, Brad could afford to have Svetlana prioritize family over career and be a stay-at-home mother.

Like all relationships, Brad and Svetlana’s marriage eventually deteriorated. No one really knew why the marriage deteriorated, but it was probably the kids. The fights grew more frequent, more contemptuous, and one day Svetlana simply packed the children and moved out.

Brad was at work when Svetlana left for good, and came home to find a break-up post-it on his computer monitor. Goodbye, she wrote. I don’t want you no more. He wasn’t the man she was looking for, but just the man she found.

Brad was so heartbroken that he had a massive stroke. With no one else in the house, he lay on the floor, half-paralyzed and unable to reach the phone.

Several months earlier, Svetlana had reconnected with her college flame on Facebook. She and Peter exchanged flirtatious messages with varying levels of seriousness all through the beginning of the year. The messages became increasingly suggestive until Peter professed his undying love and Svetlana booked the next flight to LA.

Svetlana showed up at Peter’s door and they collapsed in a fit of passion in the grand foyer. Peter looked much the same as he had a decade earlier. His hairline wasn’t quite where it used to be, but Svetlana had also chunked up a bit after four kids so whatever. Speaking of the kids, it was only then that Svetlana remembered she had left them in the rental car outside. Come on, you can’t leave kids in the car in LA, they fry in like ten minutes.

Svetlana remarried. The kids loved their charming new daddy. Peter still spent his days making markets more efficient and fair, and volunteered at the local Veterans Affairs hospital after work. On weekends, he coached his adopted son’s little league team and took the family out on the yacht he kept in Newport Beach.

Peter’s employer was later acquired by Virtu Financial, leaving everyone with a generous payout. Svetlana hired a British au pair to look after the children, so that she could consider returning to her career. After doing a lot of considering, she decided to remain at home.

Sadly, it was not until two days following Svetlana’s departure that one of Brad’s students passed by and peered in his window. Seeing Brad’s motionless body on the living room floor, the student called for help and an ambulance arrived. By then, Brad had suffered substantial brain death and entered a persistent vegetative state.

Brad’s savings, which he worked to accumulate through years of diligent day trading, were seized in the divorce settlement. Svetlana didn’t need the money, of course, but women always turn vindictive in a divorce, particularly when children are involved. And divorce courts always side with the woman. There wasn’t much Brad could do to protect himself anyway, because he was in a persistent vegetative state.

The Wisconsin Teachers’ Union Pension Fund had compounded unquantifiable-but-significant cost savings thanks to high-frequency market-makers. Because trading costs were so low, Brad’s pension afforded him benefits that yielded the finest in basic health care.

Brad lived out his vegetative days in a government-subsidized nursing home. Peter and Svetlana and the kids took lavish European holidays when not throwing charity galas. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Disclosure: I am long $VIRT but may not remain so.

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