Today’s daily stumble landed an interesting article about the “complicated” stock market order types and the alleged preferential order routing taking place by institutional traders for preferred clients. While this would be another bombshell if it is true, I would question whether it is entirely surprising.
The reality of stock markets is that they are filled with armies of programmers and mathematicians. The same technological innovations that have enabled competitors to enter the discount brokerage market and drive down commission pricing, have also enabled new methods of extracting value from financial transactions. If, as the exchanges claim, the data feeds and order types are all efficiently published, then the system as a whole is transparent and there is no harm being done. In this case, there happens to be sophisticated market observers who could give themselves a mathematical advantage by monitoring how, where and when a trade gets executed. Perhaps they’re just simply doing their homework. Should they be penalized for that? The crux of the debate, I believe, will come down to whether any systematic preferential routing is taking place or if there are just some savvier participants taking advantage of the rules. Unless there are some clear smoking gun emails, however, it won’t be easy for regulators to untangle that at all.
The competition in the stock market is true of competition in most places – it drives innovation. Even though seeking an advantage at the expense of ‘fair play’ isn’t exactly ethical, neither are stock markets. It sort of brings to mind all the ‘diving’ we often witness in professional soccer (and sometimes hockey too) – some of the “best” players do it and leave it to the referees to enforce it and even though fans might be outraged once in a while, they keep watching and the game keeps on going. Of course, as the MADtv character Bon Qui Qui so elegantly points out here, sometimes complicated orders can cause all kinds of problems too, and the right call is to call in security.
While wading through the internet today, I came across this post on mint.com. It is the first of a two part series authored by Minyanville.com, an investor information site, and it describes 10 questions that investors might feel a bit sheepish about asking. The questions that are brought up could take up entire chapters or even books to fully answer, so these brief answers are a good starting point to exploring these questions. The questions the article covers are provided below.
- Am I missing out by not investing in stocks?
- How do I find research by analysts and how would I know if an analyst is any good?
- What are the most important indicators of a stock’s health?
- What’s a dividend?
- If I hear about an upcoming IPO, how can I buy into it?
- I always hear about investors shorting a stock. What does that mean?
- What are the differences between preferred and common stocks?
- What’s a decent return for nonprofessional investors?
- Can I invest in a hedge fund? Should I?
- What’s an ETF and why should I care?
Today I came across a great educational tool for individual investors curious about online investing. The investing online resource center (IORC) was designed to to be a source of noncommercial information about investing online and was created by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA). While it is still online, the IORC does not seem to be updated anymore. Even so, there is a useful section for beginner investors to check out called the “investing simulation center” which contains three interactive modules:
- Find out what it’s like to trade online
- Learn how margin accounts work
- Don’t get burned: Spot the hype
Overall the modules are both interactive and informative. My biggest recommendation is to turn down the volume when going through the modules as there is a constant strange techno “music” playing in the background (and there is no way I found to turn it off). Also, the modules are flash based (mac users take note).
About the Daily Stumble
This section provides links to interesting websites or resources that we uncover as we scour the internet and beyond for the best stock market education resources for investors.