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How Algorithms Have Changed the Face of Wall Street

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Wall Street High Frequency Trading HFT

How Algorithms Have Changed the Face of Wall Street

In these modern times, it feels as if everything (and sometimes, everyone) is being replaced by electronics and computers. The financial industry is no exception. Algorithms have changed the way investors are trading on the stock market and it has made the process incredibly efficient. However, in addition to the benefits of technology in trading, there have been many problems that have come to light.

Through the increased capabilities of advanced computers and algorithms, high frequency trading (HFT) is made possible. High frequency trading is the rapid trade of stock and securities through use of advanced computer tools and algorithms.

While proponents of HFT would argue that they provide liquidity to the market and decrease overall costs, it has also arguably put mom and pop investors at a disadvantage when competing with investment banks and hedge funds. Quite simply, individual investors do not have the technological resources or the proximity to keep up with the speed their larger counterparts trade at.

Financial journalist, Michael Lewis, recently released an expose book, Flash Boys, which focuses on HFT in the American equity market. Mr. Lewis’ book suggests that “the market is rigged” and that stock fraud is rampant through the illegal practice of insider trading.

In the wake of the media storm surrounding the release of the book, the FBI, US Department of Justice, and the New York Attorney General’s office have all launched investigations into HFT practices. The New York Stock Exchange was even fined $4.5 million for charges related to Lewis’ book.

In one famous case of Virtu Financial, the HFT firm lost money on only one day of 1,238 days of trading. With instances like this, retail investors have to ask themselves who is really making the big bucks in the market.

Original infographic from: QuantConnect.com

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Investor Education

How MSCI Builds Thematic Indexes: A Step-by-Step Guide

From developing an index objective to choosing relevant stocks, this graphic breaks down how MSCI builds thematic indexes using examples.

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Title text says “How MSCI builds thematic indexes” and funnel is pictured with the following labels from top to bottom: global parent universe, relevance filter, and false positive control.

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The following content is sponsored by MSCI

How MSCI Builds Thematic Indexes: A Step-by-Step Guide

Have you ever wondered how MSCI builds its thematic indexes?

To capture long-term, structural trends that could drive business performance in the future, the company follows a systematic approach. This graphic from MSCI breaks down each step in the process used to create its thematic indexes.

Step 1: Develop an Index Objective

MSCI first builds a broad statement of what the theme aims to capture based on extensive research and insights from industry experts.

Steps 2 and 3: List Sub-Themes, Generate Keyword List

Together with experts, MSCI creates a list of sub-themes or “seedwords” to identify aligned business activities. 

The team then assembles a collection of suitable documents describing the theme. Natural language processing efficiently analyzes word frequency and relevance to generate a more detailed set of keywords contextually similar to the seedwords.

Step 4: Find Relevant Companies

By analyzing financial reports, MSCI picks companies relevant to the theme using two methods:

  1. Direct approach: Revenue from a company’s business segment is considered 100% relevant if the segment name matches a theme keyword. Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes from these directly-matched segments make up the eligible SIC code list used in the indirect approach.
  2. Indirect approach: If a segment name doesn’t match theme keywords, MSCI will:
    • Analyze the density of theme keywords mentioned in the company’s description. A minimum of two unique keywords is required.
    • The keyword density determines a “discount factor” to reflect lower certainty in theme alignment.
    • Revenue from business segments with an eligible SIC code, regardless of how they are named, is scaled down by the discount factor.

The total percentage of revenue applicable to the theme from both approaches determines a company’s relevance score.

Step 5: Select the Stocks

Finally, MSCI narrows down the stocks that will be included:

  • Global parent universe: The ACWI Investable Market Index (IMI) is the starting point for standard thematic indexes.
  • Relevance filter: The universe is filtered for companies with a relevance score of at least 25%.
  • False positive control: Eligible companies that are mapped to un-related GICS sub-industries are removed.

Companies with higher relevance scores and market caps have a higher weighting in the index, with the maximum weighting for any one issuer capped at 5%. The final selected stocks span various sectors. 

MSCI Thematic Indexes: Regularly Updated and Rules-Based

Once an index is built, it is reviewed semi-annually and updated based on:

  • Changes to the parent index
  • Changes at individual companies
  • Theme developments based on expert input

Theme keywords are reviewed yearly in May. Overall, MSCI’s thematic index construction process is objective, scalable, and flexible. The process can be customized based on the theme(s) you want to capture.

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Learn more about MSCI’s thematic indexes.

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