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Fired Barclays trader testifies about use of FX algos

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A London court has heard testimony from a fired Barclays FX trader about his use of the bank’s FX algorithmic trading system in his bid to win his job back, reports Bloomberg.

David Fotheringhame was dismissed by Barclays in the wake of an investigation by a New York financial regulator into the bank’s FX trading practices.

The  New York Department of Financial Services fined Barclays $150m and ordered it to dismiss Fotheringhame over the banks’ use of a ‘last look’ tool. The controversial practice of ‘last look’ is embedded into most bank’s electronic FX trading systems. It introduces an automatic delay when a counterparty requests a trade allowing the bank to cancel that trade should it exceed a certain threshold.

In theory the practice is designed to protect the bank from so-called toxic or predatory orders from high-frequency traders operating with high-speed trading algorithms that enable them to see market movements in advance of the banks. However, regulators have grown concerned that ‘last look’ is instead used to block valid orders from non-toxic traders that could be commercially disadvantageous for the bank.

Such is the concern over last look that the FX industry recently devised a voluntary code of conduct, the FX Global Code, that prohibited anyone from trading activity that uses client information shown in that last look window.

Fotheringhame, formerly Barclays’ head of automated trading for electronic fixed income, currencies and commodities, is arguing that his use of last look was a “long standing and very widespread practice in electronic trading” while Barclays says that he was fired due to a “genuine belief” in his misconduct, according to court filings.

The case is set to continue this week and will feature testimony from a range of bank executives.

It is likely to throw a public spotlight on a number of controversal electronic trading practices and reopen the debate on whether the development of high spoeed trading technology has helped to make marekts more efficient or, conversely, has weakened the markets’ integrity and created more opportunity for ordinary traders to be exploited either by competing traders with faster algorithms or market making banks abusing their positions of power.

 

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