Quant Hedge Funds Seek a Technology Edge

April 25, 2011

Residents may have noticed the deep trenches being dug along Upper Thames Street recently, near the City, the financial center of London. But the trenchers weren’t for gas, water or electrical cables. Instead, one of London’s top hedge funds, the Man Group, was intent on adding to their bandwidth in an attempt to get even more of an edge in trading.

The Man Group is the world’s second-largest hedge fund, according to an article in the Financial Times, and about to move into gleaming new headquarters near Upper Thames Street. Man Group is also one of many hedge funds that now dominate the world of quant or black box investing, using complex algorithms and ever more powerful computers to place thousands of trades per minute.

It has lead to what some call a “hedge fund technology arms race” between quant funds to beef up their ability to place those trades. Hence, the new, presumably fiber-optic cable running into Man Group’s new headquarters.

London’s quant funds are pouring money into developing their trading models and bandwidth. Top firms such as Man Group, AHL, Winton, Aspect and Bluetrend, employ hundreds of PhD mathematicians and computer scientists to help refine their trading models.

Much of their research efforts, according to the Times, focus on enhancing their ability to execute trades. In other words, the speed and efficiency at which a hedge fund can feed large trades into the market without these trades being detected by competitors, and without incurring huge fees.

They’ll spend hundreds of hours of research to shave a few fractions of a percentage off their trading costs. But when you multiply that small improvement by the vast number of transactions they’re putting through the system, pretty soon you’re talking big money.

Other top quant funds worth checking out for background on the sector: Renaissance Technologies, D. E. Shaw, Citadel, AQR Capital, Two Sigma Investments, and Highbridge. Other lesser-known firms include Getco and RG Niederhoffer Capital. Millennium & SAC reportedly have large quant teams as well.

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