Trade Talk Blog


Welcome to the official blog of Trading Technologies, your source for professional futures trading software.

Visual Programming: Cooking the Spaghetti

As further indication that Chicago is becoming increasingly recognized as a legitimate hub for tech talent in the U.S., the GOTO international software conference came to Chicago for the first time this week. The conference included speakers from many top names in the industry discussing the latest advancements in the software development community. Trading Technologies was proud to be a sponsor of the inaugural GOTO Chicago conference, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to give a talk on visual programming languages (VPLs), and how TT has managed to utilize this technology in the algorithmic trading community with our ADL™ (Algo Design Lab).
Using visual programming, TT’s ADL allows traders and programmers alike to rapidly
 design, test and deploy automated trading programs without writing a single line of code.

Applying visual programming to professional industries has proven difficult; the fundamental tenets of VPLs (approachability and ease-of-use) tend to belie the goal of providing a usable platform for getting “real work” done. As educational tools for children or first-time programmers, VPLs often shine, but applying them to very specific domains (like low-latency trade development) often ends in frustration and something that looks more like spaghetti than anything else.

As I discussed in my GOTO talk, the way in which ADL has overcome these challenges—and a good model to follow when applying a VPL to any domain—is by adhering to three important characteristics:

  1. Domain specificity
    The fundamental building blocks in ADL are modeled with the automated trader in mind, utilizing concepts and vocabulary that come naturally to participants in this industry, without exposing complexity that is unnecessary to the business needs. If not domain specific, general-purpose VPLs tend to be cumbersome when trying to build something of business value.
  2. Hiding the “dirty stuff”
    As most any algorithmic trading developer will admit, managing tasks like “in-flight orders” and exchange-specific nuances add complexity to any automated strategy. What makes matters worse is that these complexities don’t offer the opportunity to differentiate your strategy from others. In other words, there is no value to be gained by solving these problems, so why spend time worrying about them? ADL aims to hide these “dirty” details to let you focus on what matters most: designing your trade quickly and safely.
  3. Mitigating the “Deutsch Limit” 
    Any development framework is only as good as its ability to provide unlimited flexibility without sacrificing maintainability; the larger and more complex your strategy becomes, the more you rely on your development environment to help you navigate your code. This should be no different for a visual development environment, and ADL strives to give you a rich set of tools that helps you manage even the most complex algos. With the proper tools in place, the Deutsch Limit is no longer a factor when it comes to managing visual complexity.

I wrapped up my talk at GOTO Chicago by explaining that I never intended to build a visual programming language. However, after realizing our industry lacked the tools which could provide a safe, robust environment for developing low-latency trading strategies, and which could empower every trader—regardless of technical know-how—to compete in the world of automated trading, ADL was the inevitable result.


A special thanks to the GOTO team for putting together such a fantastic few days of programming discourse.
Trade Globally From Anywhere At Any Time

Mexico, The Emerging Latin American Powerhouse

For the past few years, coverage of Mexico in the U.S. media has largely been dominated by stories of violence stemming from the country’s drug cartels. Lately though, the media have increasingly been turning their attention to the story of Mexico’s booming economy, and new president Enrique Peña Nieto’s bold moves to radically reshape it. This robust growth in Mexico looks set to continue for some time, which has led the Financial Times to label Mexico as the “Aztec Tiger.”1

MexDer, the nation’s only futures exchange, has been taking steps to ensure that it grows apace with the nation’s economy by making substantial upgrades to its matching engine, while continuing to make it easier for foreign investors to access the market. As a result of these changes, as of yesterday, April 14, north-to-south routing to MexDer via CME Group’s Globex® platform is available on TT. You can read the details in the news release that we published today.

The Aztec Tiger 

A perfect storm of positive influences is coming together to make Mexico one of the world’s emerging economic powerhouses. Mexico has a young and growing population, low levels of government debt and low inflation. The country is developing into a leading exporter due in part to widespread implementation of new manufacturing processes, but also due to the fact that Mexico has free trade pacts with 44 countries—more than any other nation on earth.

These forces have combined to make Mexico’s economy one of the few bright spots in a global economy still working off the hangover resulting from the credit bubble. Mexico’s economy grew at around four percent in 2012, quadruple the growth rate of Latin America’s largest economy, Brazil.2 The Mexican peso hit a 19-month high against the U.S. dollar in March, and has outpaced 16 other major world currencies over the last month.3

With its growth track record and favorable conditions for growth to continue, a Nomura Equity Research report in July 2012 predicted that Mexico would overtake Brazil to become the largest Latin American economy within the next decade.4 In addition, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch have indicated that in the near future, they are likely to upgrade Mexico’s debt, which is already investment grade.5

A Pact for Mexico, An Open Door for Growth 

Much of the optimism for Mexico’s future can be traced back to its new president, Enrique Peña Nieto. He hails from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico uninterrupted for 71 years and was identified with corruption and inefficient bureaucracy. That being said, President Nieto is quickly making himself known as a risk taker, willing to take on fights in which none of his predecessors seemed willing to engage.

Within two days of his swearing-in last December, Nieto’s PRI signed a “Pact for Mexico”6 with the opposition National Action Party (PAN). This pact outlines 95 proposals to modernize and liberalize Mexico’s economy. Nieto began by taking on the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, by announcing plans to foster competition in the telecommunication and television industries, which are currently dominated by monopolies. Later this year, Nieto is expected to propose his most significant change, opening up Mexico’s energy market and allowing the state-run oil concern Pemex to work with the world’s largest oil companies. It’s expected that these reforms, once enacted, will increase Mexico’s GDP growth from four percent to six percent a year.7

Making MoNeT 

In parallel, MexDer and the Mexican government have done quite a bit to attract foreign investors, and to make it easy for them to access the market. Perhaps one of the most significant changes has been the development of the MoNeT matching engine, which went live on Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV), the equities segment, last fall.

The MoNeT matching engine was designed to attract high-frequency traders, mainly from the U.S. and Europe. It boasts internal latencies of 90 microseconds, which is faster than the 110 microseconds of NASDAQ or 125 microseconds at the London Stock Exchange.8 BMV volumes have increased 30 percent to 40 percent since the launch of the new matching engine.9

For international traders and investors, accessing MexDer is straightforward. The north-to-south routing available via CME Globex allows any TT customer with an existing CME infrastructure to route orders to MexDer’s matching engine. MexDer is also accessible now in TT’s MultiBroker environment, which is currently available in beta. Additional information regarding how CME users can access MexDer is posted on the CME website.

There are a number of other reasons why doing business in Mexico is easier than most other Latin American countries. Unlike Brazil, there is no withholding tax of any kind on foreign investment. The Mexican peso is a freely traded and easily convertible currency, and MexDer’s clearing house, Asigna, accepts U.S. dollar-denominated collateral.

La Oportunidad Está En Todas Partes 

Owing to the fact that the U.S. does $1.5 billion per day in trade with Mexico,10 the Mexican markets are, predictably, highly correlated with America’s. North-to-south customers trading MexDer via Globex have access to a number of financial futures that allow for arbitrage opportunities against their American counterparts.

MexDer lists the IPC index of the BMV, which in general tracks closely to the S&P 500. The full Mexican yield curve is available on MexDer, from one-month bills to 30-year bonds, and it converges with the U.S. yield curve. Finally, MexDer lists a Mexican peso/U.S. dollar FX future, one of the 20 biggest FX futures contracts in the world by volume, which sets up arbitrage opportunities with the CME’s equally liquid peso/U.S. dollar future. In a recent MarketsWiki interview, MexDer CEO Jorge Alegria indicated that going forward, the exchange would likely look to list commodity futures linked to similar contracts listed on CME Group. 

The ascent of the Aztec Tiger is no sure thing. There is always the danger of President Nieto’s PRI party losing its appetite for reform and returning to its old ways. There’s the chance that the hiccups in the U.S. economic recovery may impact Mexico, given that 30 percent of the Mexican economy is tied to U.S. exports. There may even be signs that Mexico’s economy is stalling already, which led the central bank to reduce interest rates for the first time since March 2009. Either way, TT users now have the ability to participate in one of today’s most interesting markets.

Thomson, Adam. “Mexico: Aztec tiger.” Financial Times. January 30, 2013.
Rathbone, John-Paul. “Mexico’s reform plan lifts hopes for greater prosperity.” Financial Times. March 20, 2013
Kwan Yuk, Pan. “Mexican peso hits 19 month high”. Financial Times. March 14, 2013. 
“Mexico could pass Brazil as top LatAm economy in 10 years-Nomura.” Reuters. August 8, 2012.
Bases, Daniel. “S&P revises Mexico sovereign credit outlook to positive.” March 12, 2013 
“With a little help from my friends.” The Economist. December 8, 2012.
Thomson, Adam. “Mexico: next stop, a rating upgrade?” Financial Times. March 12, 2013.
Thomson, Adam. “Homegrown software fuels Mexican exchange’s efficiency.” Financial Times. October 3, 2012.
Kledaris, George. “Down Mexico way.” Advanced Trading. February 26, 2013.
10 Friedman, Thomas. “How Mexico got back in the game.” New York Times. February 23, 2013.

The History of Automated Trading at TT

Ever wonder what Autospreader® used to look like before today? Find out in this slideshow on the history of automated trading at TT. This slideshow revisits key historical events in the evolution of AutospreaderAutotrader™ and ADL™, which comprise TT’s suite of front-end automated trading applications. You will also find a sneak preview of concepts that are being explored for future releases.

What’s next? Stay tuned to Trade Talk and our website. There’s much more to follow.

Game On

Jim Kharouf commented recently in the John Lothian Newsletter that the potential impact of TT’s MultiBroker solution was not due to anything remarkable about TT’s technology, but rather the unique position that TT occupies in the futures industry. As product manager for MultiBroker, I spend a lot of time talking to customers about its features and benefits, things like innovative trading tools and APIs, our award-winning ADL™ visual programming platform, world-class performance, FIX integration, etc. But these features are also well established in our current single-broker offering (a.k.a. the “7x platform”). I, too, find it hard to single out any new breakthrough technology that is the enabler for MultiBroker.

In bringing MultiBroker to market, we did make a number of key changes within the foundation of our 7x platform, but by and large it is still basically 7x architecture. I confess that I find the re-use of familiar software slightly unsettling at times. Since TT is a software company, we should be producing software, and the more software we write, the better the end result, right? Not necessarily. TT’s first attempts at multi-broker functionality required a lot of new code including additional special-purpose servers, complex configurations and/or significant additional investment in server hardware. The proliferation of new moving parts caused each of these previous attempts to collapse under its own weight.

In contrast, the value of our current approach to MultiBroker is that it is an overall simplification of the TT system. By subtracting duplicative infrastructure, configuration and yes, even screens, from the trading experience, life gets a lot simpler for the traders, administrators and operational staff. In this case, the new whole is greater than the sum of the (far, far fewer) parts. Addition by subtraction works.

Such changes to the foundation of a global software platform do take considerable time, and during that time, the natural inclination of engineers is to cook up even more interesting new “features” to make end users “happy.” James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, called it “the spiral of complexity.”

“You might think, then, that companies could avoid feature creep by just paying attention to what customers really want. But that’s where the trouble begins, because although consumers find overloaded gadgets unmanageable, they also find them attractive.”

The story of MultiBroker during its development has been one of a constant battle against feature creep. I think the lack of obvious new whiz-bang technology speaks somewhat to our success at keeping the feature-creep beast at bay. That still doesn’t answer the basic question: “If not the technology, then what is all the fuss about?” Can a new product offering like MultiBroker be both evolutionary and revolutionary at the same time?

The breakthrough is the network

Our situation reminds me of Sun Microsystems’ slogan: “The network is the computer.” But in TT’s case, one might say: “The breakthrough is the network.” The strength of TT’s network, in terms of technology, physical distribution and especially business relationships, is what is making people sit up and take notice. TT is on the verge of taking the TT trading experience from end to end into a new environment that maximizes relationships for both buy-side and FCM participants. The combination of a broker-neutral solution, 100 percent direct-to-market order routing and a majority of the industry-leading brokers as day-one participants is a powerful one and, I believe, one that is unique to TT. Bringing a critical mass of end users into a growing and diverse pool increases choices and options for all, with benefits accruing to both sides of the fence.

One last point about technology: Just because we haven’t changed the game for now, that doesn’t mean we’re not actively cooking up the next steps. Real creativity starts with a sense of play, and that sense of play is alive and well at TT. It may be counterintuitive that the fastest route to solving hard problems often starts unintentionally with someone “just playing around.” It turns out that there are different ways to approach play that actually increase the likelihood of a creative result. John Cleese talks about the interaction between play and creativity in his lectures on the topic:

“This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If you just keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.”

So in spite of its familiarity, MultiBroker is breaking new ground for TT in many ways. We believe that the launch of MultiBroker puts TT on the threshold of even bigger things to come. And as for changing the game, we’re looking forward to a lot of work play ahead of us to make that happen.