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Free Lunch! Arbitrage Opportunities in the Foreign Exchange Markets

  • Takatoshi Ito
  • Kenta Yamada
  • Misako Takayasu
  • Hideki Takayasu

Using the "firm" quotes obtained from the tick-by-tick EBS (electronic broking system that is a major trading platform for foreign exchanges) data, it is found that risk-free arbitrage opportunities--free lunch--do occur in the foreign exchange markets, but it typically last only a few seconds. "Free lunch" is in the form of (a) negative spreads in a currency pair and (b) triangular arbitrage relationship involving three currency pairs. The latter occur much more often than the former. Such arbitrage opportunities tend to occur when the markets are active and volatile. Over the 12-year, tick-data samples, the number of free lunch opportunities has dramatically declined and the probability of the opportunities disappearing within one second has steadily increased. The size of expected profits is higher than transaction costs; trades that simultaneously take place on both sides of ask and bid (or three currency trades in case of triangular arbitrage) occur more often when free lunch appeared one second earlier than otherwise, suggesting that free lunch opportunities are actively taken. The probability of its disappearance within one second was less than 50% in 1999, but increased to about 90% by 2009. Less frequent occurrence and quicker disappearance in recent years are attributable to changes in trading microstructure: an introduction and proliferation of the Primary Customer system (weaker banks can use stronger banks' credit lines) and of direct connection of traders' programmed computers to the EBS computer.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18541.

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Date of creation: Nov 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18541
Note: AP IFM
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  1. Ito, Takatoshi & Hashimoto, Yuko, 2006. "Intraday seasonality in activities of the foreign exchange markets: Evidence from the electronic broking system," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 637-664, December.
  2. Akram, Q. Farooq & Rime, Dagfinn & Sarno, Lucio, 2006. "Arbitrage in the Foreign Exchange Market: Turning on the Microscope," SIFR Research Report Series 42, Institute for Financial Research.
  3. Aiba, Yukihiro & Hatano, Naomichi, 2006. "A microscopic model of triangular arbitrage," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 371(2), pages 572-584.
  4. Y. Aiba & N. Hatano, 2006. "A microscopic model of triangular arbitrage," Papers physics/0602171,
  5. Goodhart, Charles A. E. & Payne, Richard G., 1996. "Microstructural dynamics in a foreign exchange electronic broking system," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 15(6), pages 829-852, December.
  6. Charles Goodhart & Takatoshi Ito & Richard Payne, 1996. "One Day in June 1993: A Study of the Working of the Reuters 2000-2 Electronic Foreign Exchange Trading System," NBER Chapters, in: The Microstructure of Foreign Exchange Markets, pages 107-182 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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