Thomson Reuters offers select customers the University of Michigan's market-moving consumer-confidence data two seconds before its other clients, according to a document obtained by CNBC.
The monthly statistic is posted on the Internet for the general public at 10 a.m. on the day it's released. But Thomson Reuters is allowed to distribute some of the main numbers to its paying clients at 9:55 a.m.
And Reuters' agreement with the university lets subscribers to Thomson Reuters high-speed data feed (the "ultra-low latency distribution platform") get the data in a "specialized format tailor-made for computer-driven algorithmic trading at 9:54:58.000," CNBC reports.
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At times these customers may even get the information earlier. They are allowed a 500- millisecond margin of error. That, of course, is an eternity for high-speed algorithm traders.
Not everyone sees the arrangement as kosher.
"I worry that there's both a fairness and a disclosure issue," former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt told CNBC.
"If I'm paying a lot of money, I should know whether I have the best deal possible. If there was no disclosure of the tiered structure, that would be a serious problem."
Reuters offered the following statement to CNBC: "Through an agreement with University of Michigan, Thomson Reuters is the exclusive distributor of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers to its clients through various subscription services as well as to the general public via a press release.
"Details of the tiered release of this data are provided openly to Thomson Reuters customers and the wider public and anyone wishing to trade on this data can pay for the service that best meets their data needs."
Many experts are worried about the dangers of high-speed trading.
A paper published last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago suggests changing the structure that permits continuous streams of trades to one that executes orders only every half-second, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"Within the last 10 years, financial markets have decided to abandon the premise that financial markets should be oriented toward human beings," John McPartland, the paper's author, told The Journal.
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