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High Frequency Trading HFT

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Definition of 'High Frequency Trading HFT'

High Frequency Trading (HFT) is a type of algorithmic trading, specifically the use of sophisticated technological tools and computer algorithms to rapidly trade securities. HFT uses proprietary trading strategies carried out by computers to move in and out of positions in seconds or fractions of a second. Firms rely on advanced computer systems and the processing speed of their trades to record high earnings in the market.

As of 2009, studies suggested HFT firms accounted for 60-73% of all US equity trading volume, with that number falling to approximately 50% in 2012.

High-frequency traders, move in and out of short-term positions aiming to capture sometimes just a fraction of a cent in profit on every trade. HFT firms do not employ significant leverage, accumulate positions or hold their portfolios overnight. As a result, HFT has a potential Sharpe ratio (a measure of risk and reward) thousands of times higher than traditional buy-and-hold strategies. High-frequency traders typically compete against other HFTs, rather than long-term investors. HFT firms make up the low margins with incredible high volumes of tradings, frequently numbering in the millions.

HFT may cause new types of serious risks and dangers to the financial system. Algorithmic and HFT were both found to have contributed to volatility in the May 6, 2010 Flash Crash, when high-frequency liquidity providers rapidly withdrew from the market. Several European countries have proposed curtailing or banning HFT due to concerns about volatility. Other complaints against HFT include the argument that some HFT firms scrape profits from investors when index funds rebalance their portfolios.

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