MarketsMuse update courtesy of Feb 21 WSJ story by Bradley Hope
One June morning in 2012, a college dropout whom securities traders call “The Russian” logged on to his computer and began trading Brent-crude futures on a London exchange from his skyscraper office in Chicago.
Over six hours, Igor Oystacher ’s computer sent roughly 23,000 commands, including thousands of buy and sell orders, according to correspondence from the exchange to his clearing firm reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. But he canceled many of those orders milliseconds after placing them, the documents show, in what the exchange alleges was part of a trading practice designed to trick other investors into buying and selling at artificially high or low prices.
Traders call the illegal bluffing tactic “spoofing,” and they say it has long been used to manipulate prices of anything from stocks to bonds to futures. Exchanges and regulators have only recently begun clamping down.
Spoofing is rapid-fire feinting, and employs the weapons of high-frequency trading, aka “HFT”. A spoofer might dupe other traders into thinking oil prices are falling, say, by offering to sell futures contracts at $45.03 a barrel when the market price is $45.05. After other sellers join in with offers at that lower price, the spoofer quickly pivots, canceling his sell order and instead buying at the $45.03 price he set with the fake bid.
The spoofer, who has now bought at two cents under the true market price, can later sell at a higher price—perhaps by spoofing again, pretending to place a buy order at $45.04 but selling instead after tricking rivals to follow. Repeated many times, spoofing can produce big profits. Make no mistake, spoofing is not limited to the fast-paced world of futures contracts; high-frequency traders are notorious for spoofing and anti-spoofing tactics across listed equities, options and other electronic markets.
The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law outlawed spoofing, but the tactic is still being used to manipulate markets, traders say. “Spoofing is extremely toxic for the markets,” says Benjamin Blander, a managing member of Radix Trading LLC in Chicago. “Anything that distorts the accuracy of prices is stealing money away from the correct allocation of resources.”
For the full story from the WSJ, please click here