Friday, April 04, 2014

Flash Boys--Massive Fraud and Racketeering On Wall Street

If you are an investor in the U.S. stock markets, you need to read Michael Lewis's latest book, Flash Boys:  A Wall Street Revolt.

Revolt is right--you will be revolted by the utter greed and criminality of a small band of Wall Street gangsters who have rigged the market to skim off hundreds of billions of dollars that properly belong to investors.

In some ways, this is nothing new--shysters on Wall Street have been rigging up similar schemes for as long as stock markets have existed.  Still, it makes you sick what these guys have been up to.

Basically, Lewis shows how a group of high frequency traders (HFT's) have, since 2007, rigged the market so that their computers can skim a penny or two off every trade.  That may not sound like much, but in a market that trades trillions of dollars every year, it amounts to hundreds or billions of dollars in ill gotten gains.

What makes you really sick is the complicity of the large banks that place the trades, supposedly on behalf of the investors.  The large banks (like Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse) got their "cut" of the action, and so, just as they did in the mortgage crisis, they screwed the people they were supposed to represent.

In typical Lewis style, the story is told through the eyes of a few key participants, a band of heroes that rebelled against the system that everyone else went along with.  The story moves along at a good clip, and is even fun at times.  It leaves you wondering about the complete misdirection of scientific and technical talent into what is essentially a vast criminal enterprise.

Will justice be done?  Doubtful--no one went to jail over the mortgage crisis, and, as Lewis notes, the only person to go to jail so far in this sordid episode is a poor Russian programmer who became a pawn of the powers that be at Goldman Sachs.  It makes you really wonder--is the U.S. justice system really rigged to protect the rich?

At a minimum, the Justice Department should launch a criminal investigation, while also considering a civil racketeering lawsuit to capture the billions in illicit profits ripped off by this gang of hoodlums.