Tag Archives: NASDAQ

How technology is struggling to keep up with the speed of money

From the New York Times

A SUBSTANTIAL part of all stock trading in the United States takes place in a warehouse in a nondescript business park just off the New Jersey Turnpike.

Few humans are present in this vast technological sanctum, known as New York Four. Instead, the building, nearly the size of three football fields, is filled with long avenues of computer servers illuminated by energy-efficient blue phosphorescent light.

Countless metal cages contain racks of computers that perform all kinds of trades for Wall Street banks, hedge funds, brokerage firms and other institutions. And within just one of these cages — a tight space measuring 40 feet by 45 feet and festooned with blue and white wires — is an array of servers that together form the mechanized heart of one of the top four stock exchanges in the United States.

The exchange is called Direct Edge, hardly a household name. But as the lights pulse on its servers, you can almost see the holdings in your 401(k) zip by.

“This,” says Steven Bonanno, the chief technology officer of the exchange, looking on proudly, “is where everyone does their magic.”

In many of the world’s markets, nearly all stock trading is now conducted by computers talking to other computers at high speeds. As the machines have taken over, trading has been migrating from raucous, populated trading floors like those of the New York Stock Exchange to dozens of separate, rival electronic exchanges. They rely on data centers like this one, many in the suburbs of northern New Jersey.

Of course we aren’t sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing

The advantages of this new technological order are clear. Trading costs have plummeted, and anyone can buy stocks from anywhere in seconds with the simple click of a mouse or a tap on a smartphone’s screen.

But some experts wonder whether the technology is getting dangerously out of control. Even apart from the huge amounts of energy the megacomputers consume, and the dangers of putting so much of the economy’s plumbing in one place, they wonder whether the new world is a fairer one — and whether traders with access to the fastest machines win at the expense of ordinary investors.

It also seems to be a much more hair-trigger market. The so-called flash crash in the market last May — when stock prices plunged hundreds of points before recovering — showed how unpredictable the new systems could be. Fear of this volatile, blindingly fast market may be why ordinary investors have been withdrawing money from domestic stock mutual funds —$90 billion worth since May, according to figures from the Investment Company Institute.

No one knows whether this is a better world, and that includes the regulators, who are struggling to keep up with the pace of innovation in the great technological arms race that the stock market has become.