High frequency trading is a practice in which firms use sophisticated commuter programs to buy and sell stocks in milliseconds, faster than human beings can. Speaking at a symposium organized by New York University, Schneiderman said that traders can often make "rapid and often risk-free trades before the rest of the market can react" using their access to such information.
While the practice has grown in the past few years, it has also come under intense scrutiny.
"Rather than curbing the worst threats posed by high-frequency traders, our markets are becoming too focused on catering to them," said Schneiderman.
Trading firms are provided special service by stock exchanges, giving them access to key data -- including pricing, volume, trade and order confirmation -- much before regular investors get such information. This allows traders to take advantage of market conditions and take positions before anyone else.
"I am committed to cracking down on fundamentally unfair -- and potentially illegal -- arrangements that give elite groups of traders early access to market-moving information at the expense of the rest of the market," he said.
Schneiderman said that access to other services like extra network bandwidth, special switches and fast connection cables will also be scrutinized, as they are giving traders a distinct advantage over other investors.
The attorney general's office has already met with the N.Y.S.E. and Nasdaq concerning these issues and will attempt to meet with private trading firms as well.
The curbs come close on the heels of high-frequency trading firm Virtu's plans to sell shares and go public. Schneiderman's office has had some success in curbing these practices after announcing the effort last year.
Business Wire, a wire service, agreed to stop selling press releases directly to trading firms, giving them a slight time advantage before the news was released publicly. Asset manager Blackrock also ended its practice of surveying analysts before their opinions were realeased to the public.
“My office will not sit by and tolerate the exploitation of unfair advantages that undermine our capital markets,” Schneiderman said on Tuesday.
[New York Attorney General's Office]
[New York Times]