Paddy Hirsch is a Senior Editor at Marketplace. He is the author of the book Man vs Markets, Economics Explained, Pure and Simple, and he is the creator and host of Marketplace Whiteboard, a video explainer of financial and economic terms.
Hirsch joined Marketplace in 2007, just as the credit crunch that preceded the 2008 financial crisis began to take hold. As editor of the New York Bureau and the entrepreneurship desk, he spearheaded Marketplace’s financial markets coverage throughout the crisis and as the economy fell into recession. He was awarded a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 2010, and he returned to Marketplace in July of 2011, when he was appointed Senior Producer of Marketplace Money. He published his first book, Man vs Markets, in August 2012.
Hirsch got his start in journalism with an internship at the BBC in Glasgow, Scotland. He became a field producer for CNBC in Hong Kong and later was a consultant to the Open Broadcast Network in Bosnia. He has been an editor for Direct Capital Markets, Institutional Investor Newsletters, Standard & Poor’s, and the Vietnam Economic Times. Prior to becoming a journalist, he served as an officer in the Royal Marines.
Hirsch attended Campbell College in Belfast and received a bachelor’s degree in French and International Studies from the University of Warwick. He is a Knight Fellow and was a Webby honoree in 2009.
Features by Paddy Hirsch
Dark pools are once again in the headlines, thanks to Michael Lewis' new book "Flash Boys," and there's also reports this week that Goldman Sachs may be considering shutting down its dark pool, which has the admittedly rather thrilling name Sigma X. Dark pools are mysterious, and names like Sigma X only make them more so. That's pretty cool when you're trying to persuade a client to trade in your dark pool: Dude, It's totally secret! No one will know you're in there! No one will ever know what you buy or sell. Total anonymity! But it's not so cool when the press and the public and regulators and lawmakers and basically everyone else is obsessed with greed in the financial markets, and start making a fetish out of transparency.
To the outsider, dark pools look shadowy and suspect, even sleazy. The question goes: Why do bankers need to go to these places to trade? And why do they need to be dark? Suspicion ensues: Are they using these places so that they can just rip us off, quickly and quietly, so that we never know about it and they can run off, laughing all the way to the bank (as it were)?
The fact is that a dark pool isn't an offshoot of the black arts. It's simply a privately-owned exchange, in which buyers and sellers can trade confidentially and in private. And they’re not new: they've been around for years. Creatures from the Black Lagoon, they ain’t. Here’s a short video explainer:
It's a phrase that's come up again and again this week: in "Flash Boys," Michael Lewis' new book about high-frequency trading; in today's spirited debate on CNBC between BATS Global Markets President William O'Brien and IEX's Brad Katsuyama; and in almost every high-speed trading article in between.
Front running. But what the heck does it mean?
On Tuesday, I described it as a dog running off with your sausages, but that's not entirely accurate. It's more like the dog finding out how much you are prepared to pay for your sausages, buying up all the sausages itself and then selling them to you for a higher price.
Front running is when a high-frequency trading firm sees you bid a certain price for a stock in one exchange, and then uses its superspeed to get in front of you (hence, front running) in all the other exchanges, buying the stock that you want and then selling it to you for more than you originally bid.
Traders hate being front-run. Not just because it means they are paying more than they thought they would have to pay (heck, the client can eat the loss), but because they like to think of themselves as Masters of the Universe, people who dominate, who control everything around them. But if you're being front run, then you're in control of precisely nothing. You are, in fact, being led by the nose. Like a Master of the Universe's pack mule.
Yes, if you get front run, you're a donkey.
No wonder there's so much hate for HFT firms. Michael Lewis points out that the losers in the hedge fund game are often hedge funds, who trade on behalf of pension funds. Hedge funds don't like to be victims. And they sure as heck hate being seen as donkeys.
From all the furor about high-frequency trading, sparked by Michael Lewis' new book Flash Lads, you'd think that HFT was only just invented. In fact, it's been around for years, and it's always been controversial.
Here's a video from five years ago, explaining how HFT works:
JP Morgan Asset Management has released a thumping great 42-page "Guide to Retirement", which is both interesting and valuable, but reads somewhat like every other document you ever got from a bank.
That said, it does have some very colorful and useful illustrations.
Including this one, which everyone, regardless of age, should stare at until it becomes part of thier very essence. It's a chart showing the value of saving, saving early, saving for a long tme and, most importantly, not touching your savings at any point. It shows, in other words, the value of compounding. To understand how compounding works, you could read and digest the entire JPM document, or you could save yourself some time and check out this 90-second explainer.
News that the Federal Trade Commission is poking its nose into the company Herbalife probably had investor Bill Ackman jumping around on his desk, with his fists clenched and his eyes squeezed shut, going "Yesssssss!"
Ackman is a big-time investor who has made a billion-dollar bet (actually $1.2 billion) against Herbalife. He's like a gambler at a race track putting a huge chunk of money on a horse to not finish the race. Ackman's argument is that the horse (Herbalife) is such a busted up old nag that it will drop dead before it reaches the finish line. Herbalife, he says, is a pyramid scheme and a parasitic business model that simply can't sustain itself. The company, he argues, will eventually drop dead, and anyone who has invested in it will lose all their money.
Ackman's opponents say that he's more like a gambler who has made a huge bet, and is determined to make it pay by bad-mouthing the horse. Ackman, they say, has been publicly smearing the company for the last two years in order to drive the stock down.
Unfortunately, things haven't gone quite so smoothly. Instead of going down, the stock's price has risen. By more than 50 percent. Ackman is now, in trader parlance, "out of the money," which means if Ackman had to return the shares he owes today, he'd end up paying a lot more for them than he got when he sold them way back when.
And that's why the FTC decision is such a big deal for Ackman. He's hoping the regulators will drill into Herbalife and vindicate his claims that it is, in fact, a pyramid scheme. If that happens, investors will likely run for the hills, the stock will almost certainly crash, and Ackman will make out like a bandit. But if the FTC says Herbalife is fine, then Ackman could find himself very badly needing a drink.
Full disclosure: my Dad used to sell Herbalife products. He had a big sign on his car saying "Lose Weight Now - Ask Me How!" (It was super embarrassing.)