Michael Lewis’ new book about the shadowy and lucrative world of high-speed stock trading, Flash Boys, comes out today. Its buzzy premise? Well, here’s how the author put it in an interview on 60 Minutes last night: “The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism, is rigged.”
Now that’ll move some hardcovers. In the clip below, Lewis explains to CBS’s Steve Kroft that high-speed trading firms use their software to figure out which stocks slower, less nimble investors want to buy before they can finish executing a trade. Then they snap them up and, like a ticket scalper on StubHub, sell them back to us poor eTrade-using saps at a higher price. Here’s the key clip, with a transcript below.
Kroft: What’s the advantage of speed?
Lewis: I’ll give you an example. If I am just an ordinary trader, at a bank, or an investor in Manhattan, and I’m trying to go buy stock, and I hit a button that says I’m going to buy 10,000 shares of Microsoft that seem to be out there, my trade signal goes up the West Side Highway, out the Lincoln Tunnel and arrives first at an exchange on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel called the BATS Exchange. There are waiting high-frequency traders who have algorithms that are able to determine what it is I want to do. They then need to beat me to the other exchanges to buy the Microsoft I want to buy and sell it back to me at a higher price.
Kroft: And they’re doing that?
Lewis: They’re doing that. But they not only need to beat me. They need to beat each other. Beating me is easy. I’m just an ordinary investor operating at fairly ordinary speeds. Fast, but not that fast. Whoever’s the fastest to go get the Microsoft at the other exchanges that are scattered across New Jersey will have the advantage and can get them and sell them back to me because I need to buy them.
Kroft: At a higher price?
Lewis: At a higher price.
This being a Michael Lewis book, the story of course involves a band of plucky super-geeks fighting back against the establishment. In this case, the role is played by the founders of a new stock exchange designed to delay high-speed traders and even out the playing field. If you can’t wait to pick up the book (or just want an appetizer-size serving of it) the New York Times Magazine is running an excerpt.