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FX survey 2011: Banks take fight to the algo traders

Electronic trading has transformed foreign exchange into a $4 trillion a day flow monster, delivering record revenues to those with scale. But by focusing on building their own internal platforms, banks have left themselves open to attack from the high-frequency traders, who pick them off at will and force them to hold more risk. Now the banks are fighting back. Hamish Risk reports.

"IT’S LIKE HAVING internet sex," a veteran FX trader tells Euromoney, mangling his metaphors over beer and burgers one April evening, searching for a layman’s explanation for the complexities of high-frequency traders’ behaviour in his market. But perhaps he has made his point well. Because today’s foreign exchange market has become a forum populated by participants who hold multiple identities or aliases to conceal their true selves, where accepted market behaviour is no longer adhered to, attention spans are skittish, and the moment things get a little dicey those participants disappear into the ether. The electronic execution revolution, and the development of more and more sophisticated trading algorithms in recent years, has now created a perverse situation: trading volumes continue to grow, a greater choice of trading venues is available, bid-offer spreads have narrowed to the thinnest of margins, and yet liquidity in the FX market has become more brittle, less transparent, and less customer-friendly.

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