BOOKS:Flash Boys – A Wall Street Revolt

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt is a non-fiction book by the American writer Michael Lewis published by W. W. Norton & Company on March 31, 2014.

The book focuses on the rise of high-frequency trading (HFT) in the US equity market. Lewis states that “The market is rigged” by HFT traders who front run orders placed by investors. The book remained on the first place of The New York Times Best Seller list for four consecutive weeks.

The book centers on several people, including Sergey Aleynikov, a one-time programmer for Goldman Sachs, and Bradley Katsuyama, the founder of IEX, the Investors’ Exchange.

Flash Boys starts out describing the new construction of Spread Networks’ secretive 827-mile cable running through mountains and under rivers from Chicago to New Jersey that would reduce the journey of data from 17 to 13 milliseconds.

The speed of data becomes a major theme in the book; the faster the data travels, the better the price of the trade. Lewis claims access to this fiber optic cable, as well as other technologies, presents an opportunity for the market to be controlled even more by the big Wall Street banks.

To counter this disadvantage to investors, Katsuyama bands together a team that sets out to develop a new exchange, called IEX, to make the playing field for trading fairer.

The book takes a look at how electronic trading replaced the trading floor of screaming brokers, slamming telephones and hysteria-inducing ticker tape, and how that change impacted the market.

The book concludes by observing that there is now a conventional (microwave) link between Chicago and New Jersey, which follows an even straighter route than the Spread Networks’ 827-mile cable (as microwaves always follow a direct path, whereas cables, by their very nature, must, at least occasionally, detour around physical barriers).

The new route also takes advantage of the faster speed of signal travel that is possible through air (compared to signal travel speed through glass fibers, which slow light down). With these two advantages, this new link shaved 4.5 milliseconds off of the Spread Networks speed. In a very real sense, Spread Networks’ victory was Pyrrhic.

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