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Humans Strike Back Against Stock Market Robots

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Machines may be taking over the world, but in at least one corner of the markets humans are beating back the robots.

Sales traders like Citigroup Inc.’s Samantha Huggins are in demand because they are proving more adept than computer programs at trading big chunks of stock, dubbed block trades. While finding a buyer or seller and completing a transaction by phone is more expensive up front, Huggins says her 18 years spent navigating the markets gives her an edge in avoiding the pitfalls of letting some software slice the trade into tiny tranches over hours or an entire day.

“Ultimately sales trading reduces their trading costs,” Huggins, a managing director at the bank, said in a conference room on Citigroup’s Canary Wharf trading floor. “If it didn’t reduce investors’ trading costs, we’d be a bunch of dinosaurs.”

So far, their niche is resurging amid an onslaught of technological evolution. In Europe, sales-trader execution of single stocks rose to about 51 percent — the first increase this decade, according to Greenwich Associates. In the U.S., the number is 55 percent. And their ranks are swelling. Banks have been ramping up hiring of high touch sales traders in the last six to eight months, says recruitment firm Armstrong International. That’s especially notable when banks in the U.S. and across Europe have slashed tens of thousands of jobs in the last few years alone.- READ MORE

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