* U.S. data dump could increase volatility algos thrive on
* Debt standoff, central bank cash has curbed price swings
* Lift in activity may be temporary, limited by year-end
By Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Anirban Nag
LONDON, Oct 18 Some financial traders stand to
profit from the end of the U.S. government shutdown as a backlog
of economic data to be released in the coming week churns market
price volatility to the benefit of their computer-driven models.
With the issue of about a dozen potentially market-moving
indicators postponed during the 16-day closure of federal
offices, the rush of overdue numbers may help offset a drop in
trading volumes during the shutdown, which ended on Thursday.
However, the week's opportunities are likely to be limited
by caution ahead of year-end accounts and, longer term, many
think the political wrangling in Washington means the Federal
Reserve will maintain liquidity that has held down volatility.
Tuesday brings the employment report, delayed from Oct. 4.
As well as data on the world's biggest economy, European and
Asian numbers during the week may cause sharp swings in stock,
bond and currency prices as investors parse the figures.
That will benefit high-frequency, or "algo", traders, whose
algorithms rapidly pump out a large number of small computerised
orders to exploit price moves.
"There may be some surprises as the market catches up to the
data. This implies heightened volatility, which is good for many
systematic strategies," said Aaron Smith, managing director at
hedge fund Pecora Capital, which specialises in such trading.
"Our reaction during October was to dramatically reduce
exposure to our momentum systems as price action was compressed
and the market adopted a 'wait and see' attitude."
Also known as momentum trading, such computerised dealings
at high speed can inject further choppiness into markets, which
in turn helps high-frequency accounts generate profits.
Over the years, they have formed a sizeable portion of daily
trades in the foreign exchange and stock markets. Boston-based
research firm Aite Group estimates high-frequency trading
accounts for about 40 percent of spot trading in currencies, up
from 3 percent a decade ago.
In the U.S. equities markets last year, it accounted for 49
percent of volume, according to the TABB Group, another research
firm. But that was down from a peak of 61 percent in 2009. In
Europe it was 28 percent, down from 38 percent.
Lower market volatility in recent years explains some of the
relative decline in computerised trading, which has also been
subject to concern from regulators who fear machines could cause
damagingly extreme price movements.
While the deluge of data will trigger short-term
opportunities for algorithmic traders, it is unlikely to lead to
a significant longer-term pick-up in activity given most seek to
preserve accrued profits in the later part of the year.
Price swings may also be subdued by expectations that
Washington's debt wrangle has clouded the outlook for the U.S.
economy and that the Fed will keep its monetary stimulus intact
into 2014. In recent years, massive liquidity injections by the
world's major central banks have crushed volatility by driving
asset prices across the board higher, or lower, in lock-step.
Volatility in the currency market has tumbled in recent
days; one-month dollar/yen implied volatility, or vol - a gauge
of how choppy a currency rate will be - hit a nine-month low
Euro/dollar implied vols have also fallen to their
lowest in a month, suggesting major currencies are likely to
trade in a narrow range in the coming weeks.
While the one-week euro/dollar implied volatility
has risen, it remains well below recent peaks.
The VIX index, known as the "fear gauge" for Wall
Street, has fallen sharply from a four-month high of 21.34 on
Oct. 9 to 13.38 on Thursday. A level above 20 indicates
expectations that stocks would remain choppy and lose ground.
"Volumes are low anyway and algos are not trading much,"
said Mankash Jain, head of FX and investment management at hedge
fund Solo Capital. "November is a time for preservation, so it's
unlikely we will see them coming back in a big way."