Someone Will Always Have the Data First

I’m going to keep this short and sweet.  Scott Patterson writes in the Wall Street Journal:
“Some fast-moving computer-driven investment firms are getting an edge by trading on market data before it gets to other investors, according to market players and researchers who have studied the trading.
The firms gain that advantage by buying data from stock exchanges and feeding it into supercomputers that calculate stock prices a fraction of a second before most other investors see the numbers.”
Listen up now – someone will always have the data first, and someone will always have the data before you.  It’s a fact of, well, data transmission.  The guy in San Fran will get the data a little later than the guy in Chicago.  The guy in midtown Manhattan will get the data a little later than the guy in downtown Manhattan.  The guy on a DSL connection will get the data a little later than the guy on the fiber connection.  The guy next door to the stock exchange will get the data a little later than the guy who is co-located at the data center.  The guy using the internet will get the data a lot later than all of them.
Again, the important fact is that this data is open to anyone who is willing to make the investment in it  – not just a secret cool kids club that requires you to work for a specific blue blooded Wall Street firm.  Anyone can do it – if they are willing to invest in the business.  
The “Hey – it’s not fair – he’s getting the data first and reacting to it faster than I can” argument is total baloney.  
EDIT – as I mentioned in the comments: also notice that 15 years ago the sophisticated market participants had real time pricing information, while retail schmucks were left calling an automated phone system and punching in their tickers to get 20 minute delayed quotes (come on – I know I’m not the only one who remembers that).  Today, less sophisticated investors have easy ample access to “real time” quotes which are in fact seen 100 MILLISECONDS after they are published, and thus 100 ms after the fastest market participants. So the retail data availability time lag has been decreased from 20 minutes to a number of milliseconds.  Sounds like improvement to me. 


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