NEW YORK ( Real Money -- Was I rude today when I asked a question about how BATS, the exchange company that canceled its IPO last Friday because of a glitch in its own software, helps the little guy?I grilled Joe Ratterman, the CEO, on "Squawk on the Street," about how BATS benefits mom-and-pop investors, because I believe that high-frequency trading -- the genesis of the business of BATS -- is profoundly antithetical to the individual investor's confidence in the system. The fact that BATS, which controls more than 11% of American trading, had to cancel its own IPO because it couldn't get its own system to work, is a blow against confidence. Any system that allows its first trade to be at $16 and the next one to trade at pennies, is not one I want to put my life savings into. Nor do I trust a system that causes Apple ( AAPL) to drop 9% on a 100-share trade that BATS executed, something that also happened on Friday. Apple's a half-a-trillion-dollar company, for heaven's sake. I think that one of the reasons this occurred is that electronic trading is flawed. A big institution might understand these flaws and excuse them. But an individual investor just says, "Who the heck needs this nonsense?" It just reminds them of the horrendous "flash crash" day where stocks went down huge in minutes because of another software glitch. What bothers me is that everyone claims to be helping the little guy. The BATS CEO came with the usual "liquidity" blather about how his company helps the little guy. He mentioned the time-honored narrowing of spreads between prices as something that his company helps bring about. First, I think the spreads between prices were going to go down anyway because of the decision by exchanges to switch to decimal trading. Second, by bidding and then pulling bids in a lightning-fast fashion, I think BATS and similar outfits like them actually suck out the liquidity. Third, I wouldn't be so angry if the CEO simply said, "Look, we have nothing to do with helping the little guy. We are about high-frequency institutional trading, we help those traders -- not small investors. We aren't about helping the mom-and-pop investors. Not at all. We are about doing what's right for a different set of clients irrespective of the little guy."
That's fine. I get that. Finally, the success of BATS (the company) and the failure of BATS (the trading firm) to do its IPO and trade Apple correctly are two sides of the same bad-news coin. They symbolize how the SEC has lost control of the trading process. The government has allowed the regular investor to be sacrificed upon the altar of speed that is unnecessary for all but these high-frequency traders. The government doesn't even seem to care that the individual investor has lost faith in the markets. Meanwhile investors continue to leave stocks as a class precisely because of a lack of confidence that the stock market even works, let alone works against them. Our government needs to start thinking about leveling the playing field between individuals and fast-trading institutions. It needs to rethink its approach to approving every innovation regardless of the impact on individual investors. It needs to accept the mandate of helping the small guy more. Without that mandate, the moms and pops are at the mercy of the BATS of the world. Why don't they see that? Why does that elude them? Beats the heck out of me. Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer' co-manages as a charitable trust, is long AAPL.