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Background: I recently explained to an amateur trader (who happens to be a family member) about the basics of the bid-ask spread and how market makers make money from the spread. As an offhand remark, I mentioned that market making firms are probably the best traders, and mentioned Virtu Financial's disclosure of having only one losing day in 1,278 trading days between 2009-01-01 and 2014-02-28 (source: Form S-1/A, page 2). This made her visibly excited, and she asked me whether or not market making firms such as Citadel, Virtu, and Jane Street are publicly listed companies. Virtu Financial is publicly listed (NASDAQ: VIRT).

I have the feeling that I have done something irresponsible, as she is likely going to buy stock in Virtu Financial after this. She thinks: "if you can't beat them, join them", and she wants to "invest in the best trader". I seem to have accidentally given her an irresponsible stock tip.

As you may know, market making is a risky business. How should I explain the risks to an amateur trader in a situation described above? (I am thinking of using the case of Knight Capital Group as a cautionary tale).


Forgive me if this is more of a personal interaction question than a personal finance question; this is the first stock tip I have ever given in my life, and I don't know how I should explain the risks to a person who can only think of profits. It is just unfortunate that I know too many easily-excitable gambler-speculators who don't know that they are gambling.

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    Ticker VIRT has a debt-to-equity ratio of 128 and belongs to a class of businesses that use continuous short-term borrowings to produce revenue. That's why the P/E ratio is less than 10. Also, the company depends on a big number for the VIX but the VIX is currently and historically low. The company has expanded into other business operations with mergers but understanding those business operations is difficult. Probably the biggest problem is that VIRT is near 52-week highs. – S Spring Apr 17 at 17:24
  • Did you tell her that you did not meant this as an advice? – Bernhard Döbler Apr 17 at 17:32
  • @Spring, all good info, but I think it slightly misses the OP's point about asking how to give people advice on investing when they themselves are still new to it. Everything you cite is good technical analysis, btw. I agree with your point (to some degree) about the stock being near 52-week high, but the same could be said about much of the market right now, eh? – RiverNet Apr 17 at 17:34
  • does she know the words "priced in"? – user253751 Apr 19 at 9:47
  • @user253751 Possibly, but how would I construct a coherent explanation around the words "priced in"? Look at all the questions related to the words "priced in" on this site; far from conclusively explaining the point, I think a beginner may have even more questions! – Flux Apr 19 at 10:48
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Just because you share your personal opinions or insights about a company that causes someone else to go and make a potentially reckless trade without doing their own homework is not something that should cause you angst.

I don't know you were actually giving someone a "stock tip" in this case - you pointed out what they could easily figure out on their own if they so choose.

I agree with your concern that your family member may not know enough of what they're doing to make trades on their own without more professional input, but the fact you explained why one group of companies might pose a better investment opportunity (in your opinion) than others doesn't constitute a "tip" per se. It is simply explaining the mechanics of the market and how some companies might more consistently benefit from market activity than others.

It wouldn't hurt to give your family member some advice that it's okay to be excited about the potential of something, but that shouldn't be a replacement for doing good old-fashioned homework of understanding the companies they're considering (such as reading news, financial highlights, understanding the industry the company works in, how it stacks up against its competitors, what are the forecasts from analysts, both for the company and the sector, and so on) before actually investing money into it. If they aren't willing to do that, or they don't know enough to figure out how to go about it, then maybe they should be advised to invest in a mutual fund or some other vehicle that takes part in the sector overall and is managed by professionals rather than trying to pick individual stocks themselves. That's about all you can do, and what they do from there is entirely up to them.

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  • Thank you for the insightful response. What does "good old-fashioned homework" consist of? – Flux Apr 17 at 16:59
  • @flux, sarcasm? (grin) I mean people need to understand the companies they think about investing in, such as reading news, looking at filings, understanding what the company does, how it makes money, how it stacks up against competitors, and so on. Need I really explain it to YOU of all people??? (laugh) I'll edit my answer, and thanks for pointing it out. I do appreciate your commentary (no sarcasm intended!). – RiverNet Apr 17 at 17:02
  • "Need I really explain it to YOU of all people???" I am wondering: what's so special about me? :-) If I understand correctly, you are a veteran of the industry. I am just an amateur who started learning not too long ago. I assume that the typical industry professional does their homework differently than the typical member of the retail crowd. I asked about the components of "good old-fashioned homework" to make sure that I understand "homework" exactly as you do. I am constantly surrounded by gambler-speculator-investors who seem to have a different definition of "homework". – Flux Apr 17 at 17:27
  • @flux, good point. I don't speculate. I look into the companies I buy individual issues on, mainly because I've found that everyone has their own reasons for falling in love with a stock, and their objectives are different than mine. My comment about "you" is the fact I've read MANY of your posts/comments elsewhere, and you give pretty sage advice, so your statement seemed a bit deliberately naive. (grin) I said it all in good fun, though. I do enjoy reading your comments! – RiverNet Apr 17 at 17:31

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