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A rush into algorithmic trading is setting up a concentration of faith in computerized investment, a trend that could backfire in intensified volatility and lowered returns.

What's going on: By 2025, Wall Street firms are expected to shed 10% of their work force — 230,000 jobs — as they embrace intelligent algorithms, trading that relies on crunching mountains of data and sometimes anticipating the actions of human traders (see chart, below), according to the financial consultancy Opimas.

Expand chart
Data: Opimas; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios
  • Such trading is soaring: Quantitative hedge funds, or quants, doubled their share of U.S. stock trades to 27% from 2013 to 2016, and are now just under the 29% carried out by individual investors, the WSJ reports.
  • The leading edge of this movement uses machine learning, programs that write their own algorithms for use in trading. Humans continue to play a role in all of these trades.
  • But results can tend to decay: Programs inadvertently converge on the same strategies, engaging in algorithmic group think. When that happens, returns fall.

These trends are visible in other data: A recent J.P. Morgan analysis showed that 60% of all equity assets are now owned by passive investors (think index and exchange-traded funds) or quantitative funds, double the less than 30% that they held 10 years ago.

Why to worry: There is evidence that as more and more algorithms are employed to find inefficiencies in the market, their tendency to arrive at similar conclusions puts the market at risk of dangerous swings in asset prices.

  • Humans strike back: Though the returns for traditional Wall Street methods like the analysis of corporate fundamentals and economic trends are falling, asset managers are finding ways to adapt. Big hedge funds like SAC Capital and Tudor Investment have been hiring algorithmic trading experts, while startups like financial-data platform Elsen are offering services that help smaller money managers do traditional data crunching more efficiently and take advantage of machine learning technology to supplement their insights.

Go deeper

Trump pressures Barr to release so-called Durham report

Bill Barr. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump and his allies are piling extreme pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to release a report that Trump believes could hurt perceived Obama-era enemies — and view Barr's designation of John Durham as special counsel as a stall tactic, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Speculation over Barr's fate grew on Tuesday, with just 49 days remaining in Trump's presidency, after Barr gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.

CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

A health care worker oversees cars as people arrive to get tested for coronavirus at a testing site in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
3 hours ago - Health

CDC panel: COVID vaccines should go to health workers, long-term care residents first

Hospital staff work in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Houston. Photo: Go Nakamura via Getty

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines in the United States once they’re cleared and available for public use, an independent CDC panel recommended in a 13-1 emergency vote on Tuesday, per CNBC.

Why it matters: Recent developments in COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the timeline for distribution as vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna undergo the federal approval process. States are preparing to begin distributing as soon as two weeks from now.