One of the primary themes in my new book Dark Pools is embedded in the title–the market is dark. It’s dark to regular investors, to institutional traders, to fund managers, to exchange operators, and to regulators. There are many reasons for this, but primarily it is due to the massive number of orders flooding the system from high-frequency firms and the complexity of how those orders interact with other orders inside exchanges and dark pools. Essentially, the market has become too complex, and too fast, for the human mind to follow or even remotely understand.
That’s a problem–a big problem. Because retail investors are starting to realize that no one is watching. Even Mary Schapiro, chairman of the SEC, has told Congress that her agency doesn’t have the ability to track what’s going on in the stock market (and just forget options). So who can know? Who can reassure the investing public that the market, despite many signs to the contrary, really isn’t rigged?
No one can.
The SEC has proposed building a computer system to track the market, the consolidated audit trail, which I wrote about for The Wall Street Journal last September. But there’s been little word of progress on the so-called CAT. Until there is, investors are going to remain in the dark.