HFTs Hampering Trade in ETFs? SEC Wants to Know.

As reported by Reuters, U.S. securities regulators have widened their inquiry into the trillion-dollar market for exchange-traded funds, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Prompted by a delay in a big trade at a popular ETF, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is taking a closer look at a possible connection between high-frequency traders and hedge funds jumping in and out of ETFs, and instances where ETF trades fail to settle on time, this person said.

The SEC’s inquiry is part of a wider probe that began last year and focused on complex ETFs that allow investors to magnify returns or bet against stock indexes.

U.S. and UK regulators are concerned that so-called settlement fails – when trades are not completed on time – could contribute to volatility and systemic risk in financial markets.

The probe’s main focus is on illiquid ETFs, but regulators are now also examining popular ETFs and failed trades, according to the person.

An SEC spokesman confirmed that the agency is looking into failed trades and ETFs, but declined to elaborate.

That said, the SEC might be barking up on the wrong tree, as many ETF experts discount criticism of the impact ETFs might have on trade settlement processes. In a recent report, State Street Corp, a Boston asset manager that created the first ETF in 1993, said that “short interest theoretically should have no impact on an ETF’s performance.”

ETF industry leaders say the data on ETF trade failures does not account for the fact that market-makers, the firms that do the bulk of ETF trading, have seven days to clear trades. The data assumes that all market participants must clear in four days, and any trade that settles later is counted as a failed trade by the National Securities Clearing Corp, a trade processing subsidiary of the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.