August 19, 2009
Richard Ney on the Role of the Specialist
“The story is told that after he had been deported to Italy, Lucky Luciano granted an interview in which he described a visit to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. When the operations of floor specialists had been explained to him, he said, ‘A terrible thing happened. I realized I’d joined the wrong mob’” (1Ney, 8).
It was with these words that Richard Ney began his first of three books on the nature of the New York Stock Exchange. Ney wrote over 20 years ago, a time when a 750 Dow was high and today’s volumes were beyond imagining. Some of his material is dated, and must be read in the light in which it was written. But the main premise of his books is still true: that the specialist exists not to ensure the free and orderly trade of stock in a particular company, but to fatten upon the innocence and ignorance of the small investor.
The New York Stock Exchange is not an auction market (2Ney, 86), though many investors still hold onto that image. It is a rigged market. Volume is an effect of price. Prices are controlled absolutely by the specialists, the ‘market makers’ in individual stocks. It was this discovery that led Mr. Ney to eventually give us small investors a priceless gift: enlightenment.
“Studying the transactions in each stock, I became immediately conscious that, on too many occasion to be a coincidence, a stock would advance from its morning low and then, often during the afternoon, would show an up-tick of a half-point or more on a large block of anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 or more shares. This transaction seemed to herald a transformation in what was taking place, for immediately thereafter the stock would begin to drop like Newton’s apple. Before I could find out what caused this, another question presented itself: What caused the same thing to happen at the low point in that stock’s decline? For it was also apparent that a block of stock of the same size often appeared on a down-tick of a half-point or more, after which the stock quickly rallied. Together these two facts seemed to give a stock’s pattern continuity. At the end of several days of investigation, I discovered that these transactions at the top and bottom of a stock’s price pattern were for the specialist’s own account. … Clod that I was, I had at last recognized that, although the study of human nature may not be fashionable among economists, it is never out of season” (2Ney, 9).
The specialist is part of a system. First, he is part of that rare fraternity of men who are all specialists in an exchange. It is a small private club, to whose membership one can only be born. The specialists of the Dow 30 exhibit the spirit of ‘all for one, and one for all’. If one of the 30 is having problems, the other 29 wait for him, before they move onto their next agreed upon campaign (2Ney, 172). The rest of the specialists take their lead from watching the Dow 30.