U.S. Prosecutors Probe High-Frequency, Algorithmic Trades
U.S. prosecutors have joined regulators’ investigation into whether some high-speed traders are manipulating markets by posting and immediately canceling waves of rapid-fire orders, two officials said.
Justice Department investigators are “working closely” with the Securities and Exchange Commission to review practices “that are potentially manipulative, like quote-stuffing,” Marc Berger, chief of the Securities and Commodities Task Force at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, said today at an event in New York.
While regulators previously said they were probing possibly abusive algorithmic trading practices, the attention of criminal authorities ramps up the stakes.
The SEC and Commodity Futures Trading Commission sharpened their focus on technology-driven trading after the so-called flash crash on May 6, which temporarily erased about $862 billion from the value of U.S. equities in less than 20 minutes. Regulators have placed limits on price moves and proposed rules limiting other practices, and lawmakers banned “spoofing,” in which market participants try to trick other computers into making decisions that can be exploited for profit.
A joint SEC-CFTC report released in October found no evidence that the May 6 sell-off was triggered by manipulation.
The SEC last year established a market-abuse unit to investigate cases of manipulation. At the securities law conference in New York today, SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami said investigators need better technology to adequately police markets and detect possible misconduct coming from high- speed and algorithmic trading.
“The question is, do we have enough transparency to detect wrongdoing if it was going on,” Khuzami said, adding that SEC investigators are probing other matters arising from the May 6 market crash.
Berger said market manipulation was among six of his task force’s priority areas, which include insider trading, Ponzi schemes, accounting fraud, asset forfeiture and structured financial products.
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