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Revisiting the Transaction Tax

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The other side of the discussion emerges.

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We strive to see both sides in the 'Ville and believe, as a matter of course, that the friction between opinions is where true education is found.

Over the last few days, I've weighed in on the proposed transaction tax overseas, which has suddenly morphed into a hot-button topic for free-market enthusiasts around the world. Out of respect for your time, I'll revisit my opinions here:

This stream of consciousness triggered a healthy exchange of emails with numerous market participants, some of whom made the case that High Frequency Trading (HFT) -- which is what the transaction tax would impact most -- isn't the cause of the out-sized volatility but rather a convenient culprit in a finger-wagging world.

Intrigued, I delved a bit deeper. If there's anything I know for sure it's that in certain regards, I know very little.

A persistent point about HFT that is largely misunderstood and lost in translation, according to one of my sources, is that spreads (between the bid and ask) are now lower than they've ever been and as a result, transaction costs have never been more customer friendly.

"The market has always been a mix of investors with different time horizons -- from years (mutual funds) to months (hedge funds) to days (risk arbitrage) to market makers, flippers, and day traders (minutes)," says another trusted source, "It's just happening faster now. In fact, most mutual and hedge funds are themselves employing HFT strategies as they implement their investment decisions."

I agree with these points but offered an analogy to demonstrate my concern. "I look at it as the blood alcohol content of HFT vs. average daily volume," I said. "There is a healthy level of computer driven programs where the market can "legally" drive without being dangerous to others. It seems to me, and this is one man's opinion, that the alcohol level and the blood level have switched ratios."

(See also: Thoughts on High-Frequency Trading, Investor Psychology, and Market Volatility)

I am in violent agreement with those who believe that folks are looking to place blame and point fingers -- that's endemic of the broader social mood shift -- and indeed, few would care if The Flash Crash or Slow-Motion Slash (this summer) worked to the upside (or put another way, they didn't care when it did.)

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

Todd Harrison is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Minyanville. Prior to his current role, Mr. Harrison was President and head trader at a $400 million dollar New York-based hedge fund. Todd welcomes your comments and/or feedback at todd@minyanville.com.

The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.

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