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Flash Boys face off: Michael Lewis on CNBC

April 1, 2014: 3:50 PM ET

Michael Lewis talks HFT on CNBC.

High-frequency trading is the talk of Wall Street this week, but it turned to high-frequency blows today when Michael Lewis went on CNBC to discuss his controversial new book "Flash Boys".

Lewis appeared with Brad Katsuyama, one of the few heroes in his book, to discuss the issues with rapid trading and whether the stock market is "rigged".

Things got a little heated when the president of BATS Global Markets, a stock exchange that is popular with high-frequency traders, came on the scene.

William O'Brien started by saying Lewis and Katsuyama should be "ashamed" for launching false accusations. Then O'Brien alleged the book was using fear to promote IEX, the alternative trading platform Katsuyama helped create to counter what many see as the unfair advantage high-speed traders enjoy.

Katsuyama was asked if he believes the markets are rigged, as he and Lewis have suggested in the book. Before he could fully respond, O'Brien lashed out at Katsuyama saying "it's disgusting that you're trying to parse your words now."

Clearly taken aback, Katsuyama tried to get a word in edgewise. But after it became clear that polite conversation had ended, he started to push back. "You want to do this, let's do this," he told O'Brien, eliciting cheers from the traders watching on the floor of the stock exchange.

It was a surprisingly personal debate, considering the topic of "market structure" is not something most people get worked up about. But traders are a different breed. There was a noticeable pause in market activity during the episode, according to CNBC.

Then again, the heated argument seemed to captivate even non-financial types.

There was plenty of yelling, but O'Brien was by far the loudest.

Strangely, the BATS IPO did not come up during the discussion. In 2012, BATS withdrew its initial public offering after the exchange operator was forced to halt trading in several stocks, including its own, due to "technical issues."

For some, the lively exchange brought back memories of an epic spat between Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman over Herbalife, which played out on CNBC last year.

It was a tough act to follow. CNBC cut to a U.S. Senator immediately after the yelling stopped, leaving some viewers cold.

Given the spirit of the debate, perhaps fake wrestling would have been a better segue.

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Ben Rooney
Ben Rooney
Staff writer, CNNMoney

Ben Rooney is a staff writer for CNNMoney. He covers the European debt crisis and other international finance stories, in addition to writing about stocks, bonds, investing and other Wall Street-related news. Follow Ben on Twitter: @ben_rooney

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