Are the financial markets rigged? Do some speculators have unfair advantages that assure their success at your expense? Celebrated author Michael Lewis thinks so. In the run-up to his new book, Flash Boys he has declared “high-frequency trading” to be just that.
Lewis calls such trading “legalized front running” and his description is apt. As the author explains, the advantage held by the highly capitalized institutions playing this game allows them to see what investors wish to buy, jump ahead of them to buy it first, and then sell it to them at a higher price. This amounts to a very lucrative scam that fleeces investors out of billions of dollars.
Of course, Lewis’ new book explores only one of many ways that the average investor is prey to a ravenous financial industry. As I have written previously, the related problems of conflicts-of-interest and asymmetric information almost guarantee that investors will be disadvantaged in their forays into the financial marketplace. My forthcoming book, Negotiating Your Investments devotes several chapters to the problems that make for such an unlevel playing field and what you can do to minimize the disadvantage.
In any event, the acts of trading, speculating, or trying to beat the pros on financial markets are the hallmarks of a loser’s game. In light of this, what should an investor do?
The answer is to eschew trading, forget speculation, and don’t even think about trying to “outsmart” financial market players. Banish the ideas of market timing, hot tips, stock research, and clever moves. Accept and acknowledge that we are talking about an unfair game. In short, the financial markets are not an arena you should be entering for any reason involving short-term goals, strategies, or tactics.
This is not to say that you should pass up those investments that one accesses through the financial markets. Far from it. Diversified stocks are probably the wisest investments available over very long periods. I will write more about that soon. For now, though, the focus is on avoiding being played for a chump. Stocks for the short run? Forgetaboutit!