The Truth Behind Discount Brokerage

Since I read Flash Boys, those ads for discount brokerage now appear differently to me. I used to think that when, say, TD Ameritrade offers commissions of $9.99 a trade it’s because their platform is so efficient, so geared to enjoy economies of scale, that this low rate was sufficient to generate revenue in excess of its costs. But after reading Michael Lewis’s latest book it’s now dawned on me that an important element in the business model of these firms is to sell their order flow on High Frequency Trading (FHT) outfits or “dark pools”. The payment for order flow concept is a market-based recognition that many investors represent a reliable source of profit for the counterparties to their trades over and above the commissions they pay. So the $9.99 commission doesn’t represent the full return to (in this case) TD Ameritrade from their participation in your business.

It’s all naturally legal and therefore held to be beyond reproach. And perhaps the clients on such terms are naive for assuming that their visible cost of execution (i.e. the commission) was the only cost. But wouldn’t most people like to know if their orders were in effect the subject of a bidding war among the HFT crowd? Wouldn’t you think that the broker is getting you best execution not in the literal sense as defined in the regulations, but actually setting about to do that? If a discount broker can sell your orders on to a profit-seeking algorithm, they may still be providing you with a service but are not obviously working in your best interests.

It just seems as if there’s been a colossal error of judgment. The client might well be staggered to comprehend the economics of the online broker. The HFT apologists are no doubt equally shocked that anybody else is shocked. Hasn’t all this been disclosed? Well, technically I guess it has, but you can’t blame the average retail investor for wondering who they can trust. The brokerage model is full of the potential for principal-agent conflict. Dark pools and HFT algorithms are the latest manifestation. At a minimum, this is a PR disaster. The burden of proof is on those who equate volume with liquidity, who find nothing offensive in computer software being implemented to front-run orders. When it’s worth $300 million to build a perfectly straight fiber-optic line from Chicago to NY so as to transmit orders in a fraction of the time it takes us to blink, the casual observer may be forgiven for assessing that something is very wrong.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Important Disclosures

The information provided is for informational purposes only and investors should determine for themselves whether a particular service, security or product is suitable for their investment needs. The information contained herein is not complete, may not be current, is subject to change, and is subject to, and qualified in its entirety by, the more complete disclosures, risk factors and other terms that are contained in the disclosure, prospectus, and offering. Certain information herein has been obtained from third party sources and, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified and its accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed. No representation is made with respect to the accuracy,  completeness or timeliness of this information. Nothing provided on this site constitutes tax advice. Individuals should seek the advice of their own tax advisor for specific information regarding tax consequences of investments.  Investments in securities entail risk and are not suitable for all investors. This site is not a recommendation nor an offer to sell (or solicitation of an offer to buy) securities in the United States or in any other jurisdiction.

References to indexes and benchmarks are hypothetical illustrations of aggregate returns and do not reflect the performance of any actual investment. Investors cannot invest in an index and do not reflect the deduction of the advisor’s fees or other trading expenses. There can be no assurance that current investments will be profitable. Actual realized returns will depend on, among other factors, the value of assets and market conditions at the time of disposition, any related transaction costs, and the timing of the purchase. Indexes and benchmarks may not directly correlate or only partially relate to portfolios managed by SL Advisors as they have different underlying investments and may use different strategies or have different objectives than portfolios managed by SL Advisors (e.g. The Alerian index is a group MLP securities in the oil and gas industries. Portfolios may not include the same investments that are included in the Alerian Index. The S & P Index does not directly relate to investment strategies managed by SL Advisers.)

This site may contain forward-looking statements relating to the objectives, opportunities, and the future performance of the U.S. market generally. Forward-looking statements may be identified by the use of such words as; “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “should,” “planned,” “estimated,” “potential” and other similar terms. Examples of forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, estimates with respect to financial condition, results of operations, and success or lack of success of any particular investment strategy. All are subject to various factors, including, but not limited to general and local economic conditions, changing levels of competition within certain industries and markets, changes in interest rates, changes in legislation or regulation, and other economic, competitive, governmental, regulatory and technological factors affecting a portfolio’s operations that could cause actual results to differ materially from projected results. Such statements are forward-looking in nature and involves a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, and accordingly, actual results may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in such forward-looking statements. Prospective investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements or examples. None of SL Advisors LLC or any of its affiliates or principals nor any other individual or entity assumes any obligation to update any forward-looking statements as a result of new information, subsequent events or any other circumstances. All statements made herein speak only as of the date that they were made. r

Certain hyperlinks or referenced websites on the Site, if any, are for your convenience and forward you to third parties’ websites, which generally are recognized by their top level domain name. Any descriptions of, references to, or links to other products, publications or services does not constitute an endorsement, authorization, sponsorship by or affiliation with SL Advisors LLC with respect to any linked site or its sponsor, unless expressly stated by SL Advisors LLC. Any such information, products or sites have not necessarily been reviewed by SL Advisors LLC and are provided or maintained by third parties over whom SL Advisors LLC exercise no control. SL Advisors LLC expressly disclaim any responsibility for the content, the accuracy of the information, and/or quality of products or services provided by or advertised on these third-party sites.

All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment will be suitable or profitable for a client’s investment portfolio.

Past performance of the American Energy Independence Index is not indicative of future returns.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.