US regulatory body Finra is currently investigating 170 separate instances of potential market abuse by algorithmic trading firms.
The numbers were revealed by Richard Ketchum, chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, at Finra's annual conference.
In a speech
on restoring investor trust in the capital markets, Ketchum highlighted the data-driven work currently underway at Finra as the body seeks to hone in on abusive behaviour and risks in high-speed markets.
The regulatory authority is currently putting together plans to introduce a new 'birds-eye surveillance' programme dubbed Cards (Comprehensive Automated Risk Data System).
Finra's initial concept release of the programme, which will assemble and dissect trading information submitted by market participants, was met with a furious response by firms who were concerned about security issues and implementation costs. Ketchum says Finra received over 800 comment letters on the proposals and has revised some aspects in response to market concerns.
Nonetheless, the work will go ahead under a phased implementation. "We are convinced that Cards will revolutionise securities regulation and help us drive out activities that harm investors," he says. "And we are equally convinced that without initiatives like Cards, the markets will continue to face a crisis of confidence."
This is evidenced in the uproar following the publication of Michael Lewis' Flash Boys expose, and in the number of market abuse probes currently underway. While the US Attorney General declares all-out-war on high-frequency trading abuses, Ketchum says that Finra also has more than 170 investigations open concerning "abusive algorithms, inadequate supervision of algorithms and deficient order controls".
Cards may be revolutionary, but is not the only data gathering exercise on the horizon. A bigger game changer will come with the later release of the Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT), which will collect, identify and link orders, trades and quotes in equities and options from all market participants in real-time, each flagged with a unique identifier.
"With CAT, regulators will have a detailed, microscopic view of the market in order to detect trading abuses that are imperceptible today," says Ketchum. "And this is the view we need to restore investor confidence in the fairness and transparency of the markets, regardless of whether that confidence has been shaken by real or perceived harms."