Opening Cross: Market Data at the Movies

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They say art imitates life. But does the art form of movie-making imitate data?

With movies about corporate espionage and greedy tycoons ever-popular—from the high-flying antics of The Wolf of Wall Street to the grimy dealings of Boiler Room—the average Joe’s understanding of market data and trading floor technologies comes from the big screen rather than the Bloomberg screen.

But that may not be the case for much longer. Not only are online tools for strictly retail investors more sophisticated than those available to Michael Douglas’ character Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie Wall Street, but data services at all levels are gradually being revamped with more focus on search and navigation than on clunky interfaces and hard-to-remember ticker symbols and keyboard shortcuts. As a journalist, I was taught the benchmark of “the intelligent 12-year-old,” which stipulates that no matter how complex the subject matter, your writing should be straightforward enough that even Tom Hanks’ character in Big could understand it.

In Trading Places, Eddie Murphy—transformed from beggar to commodities broker at the whim of wealthy siblings—quickly grasps the concept of “buy low, sell high” and directs his mentors on trading pork belly contracts as prices tumble on their antiquated screen. This scene demonstrates that some people have a gut feeling—albeit supported by hard data—that allows them to understand human behavior about money when under pressure. It’s this talent that startup Nous is hoping to tap into, by capturing investor activity from its mobile trading game and turning this into a feed of sentiment indicators that banks and hedge funds can use to gauge market sentiment and predict price movements.

Now, you wouldn’t want a 12-year-old (even an intelligent one)—or in this day and age, a hacker—having access to your trading systems, so security is a big issue. In Working Girl, Melanie Griffith learns that Sigourney Weaver has stolen her M&A proposal when she sees it on Weaver’s computer. So how do we keep our stolen secrets safe? Check out Solarflare’s upcoming SolarLockdown, which protects servers carrying everything from client portfolio data to streaming market data and trading servers from anyone wishing to steal sensitive data or even potentially place bad trades in your name, as villain Bane does in The Dark Night Rises to bankrupt Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne.

Of course, this isn’t the only way malicious activity can adversely affect investments: In the Wall Street sequel Money Never Sleeps, Shia LaBeouf wipes millions of dollars off the value of a rival’s investment by starting a rumor with a fake message over his trading terminal. His ability to spread market-moving chatter in this way depends on terminals with interconnected messaging networks, such as Bloomberg’s Instant Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters’ Eikon Messenger, and Markit’s new Federated Chat initiative, not to mention the AOL and Yahoo IM networks still favored by commodities traders. But this may get harder in future if Bloomberg changes the process by which its users interact with other messaging platforms. Some see the move as an attempt to ring-fence the exclusivity of its network and make it harder for users to participate in Markit’s competing initiative, though it may also make it harder for users to engage in—or at least, easier for firms to spot and audit—any nefarious activity, such as price-fixing of benchmark rates.

But while one network may be becoming more closed, another is becoming more open—specifically, the network of participation in the Market Model Typology, which new “owner” FIX Trading Community plans to expand by leveraging FIX’s existing end-user members and by engaging the European Securities and Markets Authority in development and adoption of the standard. After all—as movies ranging from oldies like The Wizard of Oz and Ocean’s Eleven to modern classics like Star Wars and Lethal Weapon can attest—great things happen when people come together.

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