How the SEC Helps Speedy Traders

42 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2014 Last revised: 2 Dec 2014

Robert J. Jackson Jr.

Columbia Law School

Joshua Mitts

Columbia Law School; Columbia University - Columbia Business School

Date Written: November 6, 2014

Abstract

We show that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s system for disseminating market-moving information in securities filings gives some investors an advantage over others. We describe two systems — the SEC’s file transfer protocol (FTP) server and public dissemination service (PDS) — that give certain investors access to securities filings before the general public. While contemporaneous work on this issue is limited to insider filings, we show that both the FTP and PDS gaps are pervasive across all types of filings, including Form 8-K, which includes market-moving information such as corporate earnings. We show that FTP access gives investors a mean (median) 85 (11)-second lead time, and PDS gives investors a mean (median) 77 (10)-second lead time, before the filing is available on the SEC’s website.

We also provide evidence suggesting that investors had the opportunity to take advantage of this lead time to earn trading profits. In particular, we show that traders could earn economically and statistically significant returns by trading on either the FTP or PDS gaps. Moreover, even investors who waited as long as ninety seconds to execute trades on the FTP or PDS gaps could earn meaningful returns using this strategy. We also identify abnormal trading volume in the moments after PDS subscribers receive SEC filings.

Finally, our direct access to both FTP and PDS also allow us to document the changes to those systems that the SEC implemented after the public revelation of this issue in October 2014. We show that the SEC imposed a significant delay on the PDS service after the existence of the informational advantage was revealed. We also, however, show that, as of November 2014, PDS subscribers still receive some 37% of filings before the general public. We argue that lawmakers should consider reforms that would help the SEC develop a centralized information-dissemination system that is better suited for the high-speed dynamics of modern markets.

Keywords: securities law, high-frequency trading, information dissemination

Suggested Citation

Jackson, Robert J. and Mitts, Joshua, How the SEC Helps Speedy Traders (November 6, 2014). Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 501. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2520105 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2520105

Robert J. Jackson Jr. (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Joshua Mitts

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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