The wolf really may be coming to Wall Street.
Although Hollywood has a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the “wolf,” the real one may not be the trader but rather a regulator.
Indeed, 2014 could be a very interesting year on the Street.
How interesting? Let’s have a look:
Someone BIG is getting steel bracelets
In 2013 the world of finance was rocked by high-profile cases against JPMorgan Chase and SAC Capital that highlighted a year of aggressive enforcement from regulators. But while the targeted firms paid billions in penalties and suffered public shame, there were precious few high-profile arrests.
Look for that to change.
During a fairly stunning presentation at the Delivering Alpha conference in July, Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and main sheriff of Wall Street these days, rebuffed the notion that anyone is beyond prosecution. His remarks at the assembly of prolific investors—presented by CNBC andInstitutional Investor—seemed at the least to be a shot across the bow.
(Read more: No one is too big to jail, Wall Street cop says)
With Wall Street banks facing more than $100 billion in fines and legal costs associated with their behavior leading up to the financial crisis, it almost seems a fait accompli that criminal charges for a major player aren’t far behind.
I don’t know who, but I’m betting someone huge goes down.
HFT in the crosshairs
High-frequency trading has been blamed for everything from low trading volumes to the melting of the polar ice caps but has thus far gone relatively unscathed.
That changes in 2014, when all the talk about walking back the decimalization of Wall Street trading commences.
Major exchanges are getting nearer to a test program in which small-cap stocks won’t trade in penny increments but rather nickels—and perhaps even dimes and quarters. Switching from fractions to pennies helped open the door to high-frequency traders and their lightning-fast algorithms that allow them to capture gains on minuscule price moves and with marginal downside risk.
(Read more: This could be a game-changer for small-cap stocks)
HFTs thrive in the world of smaller, less-liquid companies, so if the tick size is changed, that means the potential for losses escalates.
It’s a game-changer.
The taper, and then the un-taper
Since the dark days of the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve and Wall Street have been best of friends. The central bank has supplied nearly $4 trillion of liquidity, which has been put to use in boosting stock prices.
That cozy relationship threatens to fray if the Fed comes through with its telegraphed message to begin reducing the pace of its $85 billion in monthly asset purchases.
The tapering moment seems as good a reason as any for the stock market to deliver its long-awaited correction.
(Read more: Poll: Advisors keeping clients on course)
If selling gets out of hand—and there’s reason to believe it could, considering the market’s meteoric rise during the current bull run—the tapering will become undone. Remember, the Fed promised with its last round of quantitative easing that the purchases would be “open-ended,” meaning they will be decreased or increased at the Open Markets Committee’s discretion.
In the end, Wall Street will get its way. It always does.
—By CNBC’s Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.