Tag Archives: payment for order flow

payment-for-order-flow-rebates

Yale University Wonks Blast Exchanges’ Payment-For-Order-Flow Schemes

In a July 18 NYT op-ed piece “Wall Street Profits by Putting Investors in the Slow Lane” submitted by Jonathan Macey, a professor at Yale Law School and David Swensen, the chief investment officer of Yale University, the spirit debate topic of payment-for-order-flow schemes, aka rebates paid by the various stock exchanges to retail brokers that route orders to those platforms is once again brought to a public forum. MarketsMuse curators and editors have profiled this issue more than once during the past years, and each of those posts have earned us lots of visitor traffic from Washington DC outlets, academics and a multitude of sell-side firms that are loathe to let it be known they are getting paid a kickback for routing orders to exchanges, but not feeling obliged to share those rebates with their retail customers.

Mssrs. Macey and Swensen frame the issue in what is arguably a clear, crisp and straight forward manner:

Institutional brokers are legally obliged to execute trades on the exchange that offers the most favorable terms for their clients, including the best price and likelihood of executing the trade. The 12 exchanges, most of which are owned by New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and Better Alternative Trade System (BATS), along with the Chicago Stock Exchange and the Investors Exchange (IEX), are supposed to compete to offer the best opportunities.

But that’s not what is happening. Instead, brokers routinely take kickbacks, euphemistically referred to as “rebates,” for routing orders to a particular exchange. As a result, the brokers produce worse outcomes for their institutional investor clients — and therefore, for individual pension beneficiaries, mutual fund investors and insurance policy holders — and ill-gotten gains for the brokers.

Although the harm suffered on each trade is minuscule — fractions of a cent per share — the aggregate kickbacks amount to billions of dollars a year. The diffuse harm to individuals and the concentrated benefit to Wall Street create yet another way in which the system is rigged, justifiably eroding public confidence in the fairness of the financial system.

That said, MarketsMuse takes this view: The regulation of “market structure” falls on the SEC. Well before anyone even envisioned the notion nightmare of a Trump-led US Government administration, it has always been the SEC’s mandate to ensure PUBLIC investors are treated fairly and properly. Somewhere along the line, the moral compass got lost by the boy scouts and girl scouts at the SEC, or maybe they never had one considering the legacy of that failed agency. After all, it was  Joe Kennedy, Sr. who was appointed to be the first person appointed to run that agency when it was established in 1934. But, whether or not Kennedy Sr.’s  DNA was stuck to the walls of that venerable institution and has permeated ever since, the fact is that the securities industry and its lobbyists have served as the Oz Behind the Curtain for decades.

If you’ve got a hot insider tip, a bright idea, or if you’d like to get visibility for your brand through MarketsMuse via subliminal content marketing, advertorial, blatant shout-out, spotlight article, news release etc., please reach out to our Senior Editor  or email: cmo@marketsmuse.com.

As technology evolved and ‘innovation’ came to the stock markets, brokerage firms found themselves suffering from having to offer increasingly lower commission schemes in a ‘race to zero’. Whenever industries evolve to point where services provided become nothing more than a commodity, it should be no wonder to anyone that creative folks will step in and figure out how to remake those business models and monetize new models. Hence, the existing payment-for-order-flow market structure that permeates throughout the US equities markets (and now emulated by players in other product areas) should be of no surprise to anyone. After all, few who work within the financial services sector could not survive if they don’t embrace Gordon Gekko’s decree that Greed is Good. Don’t believe that? Well, this ‘blog post’ would extend for tens of thousands of words and hundreds of links to news articles profiling the travails of financial industry gurus that got ‘busted’ for playing hide the banana with their customers. Tens of Billions of Dollars in Fine Payments have been made by the Industry for misleading, duping, defrauding and cheating customers–many of whom were innocent, unsuspecting and not completely stupid; they were simply cheated by folks who are too slick for their socks. (Editor note: To Donald Trump, Jr.–this article didn’t envision referencing you, but that last comment seemed applicable, if only as a metaphor.)

It boggles the mind of this industry veteran when observing that the topic profiled by Yale’s Macey and Swensen has yet to be addressed by regulators. In fact, those regulators have consistently enabled the ever-more-sophisticated schemes that its industry constituents have devised. (Can you spell M-a-d-o-f-f?)

In an informal survey of 100 retail investors conducted by MarketsMuse, 70% of those individuals had ‘no clue’ that their brokers were receiving kickbacks from industry platforms that pay those brokers to receive the respective customers’ order flow. The remaining 30%  were “somewhat aware” and when the issue was framed for them, they were unanimously vexed by the fact the brokers charged them a commission and also earned a kickback from someone else.  When asked to review statements, those same folks took out a magnifying lens and located the small print, but all asked rhetorically, “Why don’t I get a piece of that kickback? After all, its MY order!”

OK, those same individuals did acknowledge that commission rates for executing stock orders have come down sharply during the past 10 years. “Hoorah to that ‘progress'” say those who love Schwab, Fidelity, eTrade and TD for offering “Only $5.99 to trade 1000 shares!”,  but when pendulums swing so far, something is awry. Then again, when the likes of FB, LinkedIn and the thousands of other platforms that offer something for seemingly nothing are chastised for ‘selling customer data to advertisers’, perhaps the guiding principle should be- If its too good to be true, it isn’t.

Continue reading

cboe-bats-merger-rumor

Options Mart CBOE Rumored to Merge with BATS Exchange

Following a decade of new exchange launches, which led to a series of aggressive fee competition to attract order flow and elevated the ‘pay-for-order-flow’ game, the more current trend towards consolidation, fueled by an industry-wide race to zero fees and commissions is sparking rumors that the CBOE and BATS are planning to marry..This on the heels of the still uncompleted deal between Deutsche Boerse and London Stock Exchange (LSE), a transaction that according to one MarketsMuse “has been put on hold pending further impact analysis” of this late summer’s BREXIT vote.”

(Traders Magazine)-CBOE Holdings’ reported talks to acquire Bats Global Markets would be the latest in a long line of exchange tie-ups, with one common denominator: the drive to have more trades execute under the same roof.

“Exchanges are a scale game,” said Brad Bailey, research director at Celent’s securities and investments practice. “Running exchanges in a regulatory, market-structure-complex world is tough. There is tremendous operational leverage available to bigger, more complex exchanges.”

Yesterday, Bloomberg News reported merger talks between CBOE and Bats, citing people familiar with the situation. A deal could be announced within weeks, thought it still may not happen, according to the report.

If you’ve got a hot tip, a bright idea, or if you’d like to get visibility for your firm through MarketsMuse via subliminal content marketing, advertorial, blatant shout-out, spotlight article, etc., please reach out via this link

CBOE’s eponymous options exchange is the largest of 14 in the U.S., with market share of 26.5% this month, according to OCC data. Chicago-based CBOE has a virtual stranglehold in the index-options business via its dominant CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) product.

Bats, which purchased rival exchange operator Direct Edge in 2014 and itself went public earlier this year, runs the BZX and EDGX options exchanges, which have a combined market share of about 12%. Bats also operates four of the 13 U.S. equity exchanges, with a combined market share of about 20%.

Equity and options exchange operator Nasdaq bought options bourse International Securities Exchange earlier this year. In the equities space, IntercontinentalExchange bought New York Stock Exchange in 2013. In Europe, Deutsche Boerse and London Stock Exchange are planning to merge. And there have been a host of exchange mergers over the past half-decade that have been discussed or proposed but ultimately didn’t happen.

“Think about the size and scale across asset classes of most exchanges,” Bailey told Markets Media. “ICE gobbled up NYSE, DB/LSE are attempting a marriage despite the complexities that Brexit has added to that equation.”

MarketsMuse editors are gearing up to profile ‘What’s Next?’ Anti-Trust Fever Sweeps Regulators as Exchanges Consolidate to Revert To Predatory Pricing Model..” To read the entire story CBOE Rumored to Merge with BATS Exchange from Traders Mag, click here

doj-investigates-citadel-griffin-

Citadel and KCG Targets of DOJ

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal authorities investigating the market-making arms of the $25bil hedge fund Citadel LLC and broker KCG Holdings Inc, are looking into the possibility that the two giants of electronic trading are giving small investors a poor deal when executing stock transactions on their behalf.

The Justice Department has subpoenaed information from Citadel and KCG (formerly known as Knight Capital Group) related to the firms’ execution of stock trades on behalf of clients, according to people familiar with the investigation. FBI Director Jim Comey, the top cop for the US DOJ will ultimately oversee the investigation, as he does for all other DOJ matters. Prior to his current role as FBI Director,  Comey worked as the General Counsel to Westport, CT-based Bridgewater Associates,  the world’s largest hedge fund with $150bil (RAUM) and owned mostly by the firm’s Founder Ray Dalio, a trading guru who is known to have a particularly intense personality. But, that comes with the territory if you’ve built a personal fortune estimated at $15bil.  Chicago-based Citadel is steered by billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, whose estimated net worth of  $7bil is half of what Dalio purportedly has, but does include multiple luxury residences, whose total value is nearly $500 mil, and includes a $200mil NYC penthouse that he purchased in Q3 2015.

Intermission from news flash: For followers of Showtime’s drama-parody of the world where hedge funds cross paths with regulators aka Billions, you’ll get the joke. Meaning, the notion that a guy who first appeared as a rising federal prosecutor, working all the way up to White House level roles, then, by virtue of administration revolving doors, he finds his way down the yellow brick road into the private sector, where he manages to land a sweet job at a defense contractor and takes in $6mil after 5 years and then,  he finds Jesus [in Westport CT],  who is located at the peak of Hedge Fund Mountain. This is where  he makes nearly $10mil –pretty good pay for a former Elliot Ness–in less than three years as top lawyer to of all folks, the world’s biggest and most secretive hedge running $150bil (RAUM) for institutions and sovereign governments.  Wait! Now flash forward two seasons; that same guy is now the FBI Head who, in Season 2, Episode 1 goes after Apple Inc and threatens to waterboard Tim Cook unless he pries open the back of an iPhone belonging to a self-acclaimed follower of Daesh .  And now, Season 2, Episode 2,  our top cop is now going after a billionaire hedge fund manager who happens to swim in the same “billionated” pool of HF sharks as his former partner!  Memo To: Andrew Ross Sorkin–Are you writing this sh*t down?? P.S. New phrase above ie. ‘billionated’,  also pronounced billion-ated. Means: to be full of billions, to be inflated with material possessions that cost billions, to have your brain inflated with thoughts of self aggrandizement   because you are full of billions. Not to be confused with “Billionator”, which is the finance industry equivalent to “Terminator”…but we digress… back to the main story…citadel-fbi-marketsmuse

Authorities are examining internal data concerning the firms’ routing of customer stock orders through exchanges and other trading systems, to see whether they are giving customers unfavorable prices on trades in order to capture more profit on the transact

openbondx-maker-taker-rebate

e-Bond ATS “OpenBondX” Promotes Maker-Taker Rebates

Start-up corporate bond trading system OpenBondX is hoping to pull a rabbit out of its hat and jump start activity by emulating what the universe of equities-centric electronic exchanges and ATS platforms do in order to attract order flow to their respective venues: pay broker-dealers for orders given to them buy customers (retail and institutional) and offer a Chinese menu of kickbacks for those who ‘make’ liquidity and those who ‘take’ liquidity, otherwise known as maker-taker rebates.

Before dissecting the proposal by OpenBondX, which is open to buy-siders and sell-siders alike, for those following the ongoing discussions with regard to maker-taker rebates offered by exchanges and the assortment of ATS (alternative trading systems), you already know that the topic has increasingly become a big issue with regulators and buy-side investment managers, who are somehow just beginning to understand the implications within the context of fiduciary obligations and the ever-evolving definition of ‘best execution.’

That said, electronifying the corporate bond market so that buyers and sellers can transact in the secondary market in a way similar to how equities are traded has been a holy grail quest going back more than 20 years, starting with a platform known as “BondNet”, which started its life in 1995 as an inter-dealer-broker (IDB) system and soon thereafter, was acquired by Bank of New York Mellon, with the vision to roll out the platform as an ATS and invite institutional corporate bond traders to have direct access to the dealer market place.  When that acquisition, along with BNY’s strategy was announced the biggest banks on Wall Street, along with many of the nearly 90 regional BDs subscribing to that platform put BondNet in the penalty box and pulled the plug on the computers to protest BNY “disintermediating” the relationships those banks and brokers had with the buy-side firms, and more importantly to punish BNY for even contemplating that buy-siders should be able to see wholesale pricing that was available only within the inter-dealer marketplace.

The challenges encountered by the close on 40 different initiatives, 98% of which have failed within 12 months of their respective launch are a matter of historical record. Other than cultural and political issues, the most important obstacles can be found in the fact that “bonds are sold and stocks are bought.” Meaning: institutional investors rely on sell-side institutional sales people to sell them on a particular bond,  simply because buy-side portfolio managers don’t have the time or resources to filter through the many thousands of bonds that have been floated and now trade in the secondary market, each with different terms and conditions, different structures, different ratings and assortment of other criteria that goes into calculating the ingredients for a corporate bond portfolio.

The other big item that has been lost on the assortment of “Wall Street electronic trading veterans” and the many entrepreneurs who have attempted to create a robust and liquid electronic trading market for bonds is the simple fact that buy-side managers are most often interested in being on the same side of a trade as their peers; they don’t tend to take each other out of positions. Which is where Wall Street dealer desks had, until the past few years, always played an integral role. Alas, tose big banks have been legislated out of the market-making business courtesy of post financial crisis regs that prohibit banks from holding any significant inventories that can be sold to buy-siders, and hence, they are not able to purchase any significant amounts from institutions unless they have a buyer for those bonds in hand.  Today, 98% of corporate bonds are held by institutional investors and the notion of creating a system by which they could trade among each other is still a pipe dream that has passed along from one generation of electronifiers to the next. But, OpenBondX thinks they can be different. Here’s the news release issued this week:

OpenBondX Electronic Trading Platform Rolls Out New Rebate/Fee Structure For Fixed-Income Trading

Recently-launched electronic bond-trading venue OpenBondX, LLC (www.openbondx.com) is implementing an innovative pricing strategy that previously has helped transform other markets.

Alistair-Brown-openbondx
Alistair Brown, CEO OpenBondX

A twist on the “Maker-taker” rebate pricing model that propelled the successful electronification of markets in other asset classes, OpenBondX (OBX) will incentivize initiators of order flow with rebates that are built into the trade’s settlement.  Dealers whose streaming prices result in executed trades on OpenBondX are also eligible for rebates.

Currently live with high-yield and investment-grade U.S. corporate bonds, the OBX Alternative Trading System (ATS) now offers the following rebate/fee structure for liquidity providers and seekers:

  • Order initiators of an RFFQ® (Request for Firm Quote®) will be rebated 2 basis points of the notional value per trade (or $200 per million).
  • Order responders will be charged only 2.5 basis points of the notional value per trade (or $250 per million).
  • Post trade, the rebate or fee is applied to the net settlement value, i.e., the initiators’ cost is adjusted by the rebate of $200 per million dollars and the responders’ cost is adjusted by the fee of $250 per million dollars.
  • No additional ticket, transactional or monthly terminal access fees are incurred. This is less than half the typical pricing at electronic venues.
  • As OpenBondX is an “all-to-all” platform (open to both buy- and sell-side traders), any subscriber can earn rebates by initiating an RFFQ.  And access to the platform is free for all.

BATS Exchange Goes Bats Again;Pay For Orders, Now Pay For ETF Issuer Listings

MarketsMuse ETF Curators debated on the title to this story, and first suggested the headline “Has BATS Gone Bats?!” While market structure experts continue to debate the topic of pay-to-play, i.e. payment for order flow schemes, BATS Global Markets, the youngest and arguably, now one of the largest electronic exchanges in the global marketplace based on trade volume across equities, ETFs and options is proving again Donald Trump’s moto: “Controversy Sells!”

According to the firm’s announcement last night, BATS is upending the traditional fee model for companies to list on an exchange-one that had Issuers paying the Exchange for the privilege of listing the company’s securities in consideration for the respective exchange’s brand integrity and financial ecosystem integrity. Instead, BATS, in effort to capture a lead role in the Exchange-Traded Fund space is now offering to reverse the business model and will pay ETF Issuers to list their products on the BATS exchange platform.

The way in which ETF products trade has recently come under close scrutiny by market regulators and institutional investors in the wake of both disconnected NAV prices of the cash product v. the underlying constituents during volatile periods and in connection with leveraged ETF products performing in unanticipated ways v. the way in which respective marketing materials proclaim those products can be expected to perform.

As noted in today’s WSJ story by Bradley Hope and Leslie Josephs..

The Lenexa, Kan.-based exchange operator on Thursday plans to launch what it calls the BATS ETF Marketplace, which will pay ETF providers as much as $400,000 a year to list on BATS. Payments will vary depending on average daily volume.

Traditionally, ETF providers have paid between $5,000 and $55,000 a year to list on a stock exchange. BATS previously offered firms the option to list on its exchange for free. Besides the monetary incentive, the marketplace is also changing the way it rewards market makers for continuously offering to buy or sell ETFs, a move it said will help reduce volatility.

“We are redefining the relationship between ETF sponsors, investors and market makers,” CEO Chris Concannon said in an interview.

ETFs have come under greater scrutiny after they faced trading issues on Aug. 24, including prices of ETFs being far out of whack compared with the prices of the underlying holdings. Exchanges, market makers and ETF sponsor firms are in discussions about how to make wider changes to rules to help prevent similar problems from happening.

“August 24 obviously makes us go back and say: ‘Are our decisions the right ones?’ ” said William Belden, managing director of ETF strategies at Guggenheim Investments LLC.

For the full coverage from the WSJ, please click here

payment for order flow eaton vance

Eaton Vance Ups ETMF Ante; Payment For Order Flow: Bounties For BrokerDealers

MarketsMuse ETF update profiles a novel “payment-for-order-flow” approach on the part of ETF issuers who vie to whoo broker-dealers to promote their products to investors. Eaton Vance Corp. said Thursday it may help brokerages foot the bill to make its new type of actively managed exchange-traded products, called NextShares, available to their clients. Below extract is courtesy of Reuters’ Jessica Toonkel reporting

In an unprecedented move, Eaton Vance Corp will offer to help some brokerages pay their technology costs to make the fund company’s new breed of exchange-traded managed funds (ETMFs) available to investors, Tom Faust, Eaton’s chief executive officer, told Reuters this week. ETMFs are a hybrid between actively managed mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.

The Boston-based company also plans to pay brokerage firms a share of the revenues from the sale of the funds, which Faust hopes will be available by year-end.

BrokerDealer.com maintains the world’s largest database of broker-dealers and encompasses brokerdealer firms based in nearly 3 dozen countries

Tom Faust, Eaton Vance
Tom Faust, Eaton Vance

Big-name firms like Fidelity Investments and TD Ameritrade told Reuters they will not sell the funds until they see demand.

Helping to cover technology costs of distributors is new, but so are the Eaton Vance products, which require brokerages to take a new kind of order from investors, experts said.

“This is the first time I have ever heard of a firm offering to pay some brokerage costs for a new product,” said Ben Johnson, an ETF analyst at Morningstar.

He said the cost of gearing up to sell the product has been a sticking point for brokers. However, a number of executives at brokerage firms and industry consultants told Reuters that questions about whether there will be investor demand, and how they will get compensated to sell the new products, are even bigger issues that could keep them from selling the funds even with the Eaton Vance offer on the table.

Faust said figuring out the economic incentives and getting the systems up and running is top of mind for Eaton Vance.

“The biggest challenge we see at this stage of the game is getting broker dealers,” Faust said. “If we are looking to launch before the end of the year, we need the broker dealers to start making systems changes and otherwise preparing themselves to offer this to clients.”

Eight outside fund managers, including Mario J. Gabelli’s GAMCO Investors Inc., have licensed the right to sell NextShares. But large broker-dealers have not yet indicated that they’re taking the steps to offer them to financial advisers.

Investors will need to be informed by broker-dealers of the unique qualities of the funds when they trade, and they will place exchange orders in a way that differs from stocks or ETFs.

For the full article from Reuters, please click here

Is KCG Cracking Up? More Key Executives Quit ETF Trading Behemoth

As reported by various news outlets on Friday, KCG, the firm that was created last year via a “take-under” of former Knight Capital by HFT market-maker Getco Securities after Knight suffered a $460 million trading loss attributed to a technology snafu,  and whose business model somehow continues to pass the smell test by combining proprietary trading with “agency-only” execution of institutional orders that are directed to the firm courtesy of payment-for-order flow schemes, is suffering from more executive departures.

In a news release issued by the company, which was once considered to be a leading market-maker in ETFs, it was announced that Steven Bisgay, the firm’s CFO Richard Herr had left the firm. Two other senior executives have also apparently left during recent days, including Richard Herr, the firm’s head of corporate strategy and Andy Greenstein, the firm’s deputy general counsel. All three of these senior executives had come from Knight Capital when the 2 firms were combined in a $1.6 billion transaction.

According to one industry source, who is not authorized to speak on behalf of his firm stated, “The combination of the two cultures, one that is essentially an opportunistic trading shop and the other, which has been trying to justify its role as both a fiduciary broker and a prop trader is no doubt creating internal dysfunction.”

Finra Steps Up Investigation Of Broker-Dealer Order Routing Rebate Schemes; Conflict of Interest Endemic to Current Market Structure

NYSE CEO Says “Not Good” while appearing before Senate on the topic of equities market structure and Maker-Taker Rebate Schemes.

Bowing to increasing pressure from regulators, law makers and law enforcement officials, Finra, the securities industry “watchdog” has launched its own probe into how retail brokers route customer orders to exchanges, according to recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal’s Scott Patterson.  In particular, through the use of “sweep letters” targeting various broker-dealers, Finra is purportedly focused on whether rebates associated with schemes that brokers receive when directing their orders to specific venues is a violation of conflict of interest rules, given that customers presume they are receiving best price execution when in fact, they often do not.

MarketsMuse, the securities industry blog that has long reported about payment-for-order-flow and the unsavory practice in which customer orders are “sold” by custodians and prime brokers to “preferenced liquidity providers,” who then trade against those customers and profit from price aberrations between multiple exchange venues and dark pools, takes pride in pioneering the coverage of this topic.

Now that main stream media journalists are beginning to “get it”,  a growing number of those following this story hope that WSJ’s Patterson and other journalists will shine light on the even more unsavory practice in which these same brokers imposing egregious fees on customers who wish to “step out” aka “trade away” and direct their orders to agency-only execution firms, whose role as agent is to objectively canvass the assortment of marketplaces and market-makers in order to secure truly better price executions for their institutional and investment advisory clients. Continue reading

Wall St Execs Do The Flip-Flop While Being Grilled In Washington; Payment For Order Flow Exposed

wsl

Conflict of Interest is Of Interest to Senate Panel Members “just learning about” industry-rampant Payment For Order Flow Schemes . Market Structure To Be Re-Structured?

Excerpts below courtesy of The Wall Street Letter’s on the spot coverage of the U.S. Senate investigation of Wall Street’s affection for high-frequency trading aka HFT, and with specific focus on order routing and execution practices, particularly with regard to kick-back inspired payment for order flow schemes, “maker-taker” rebate schemes and likely conflict-of-interest issues within the context of brokers such as Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade (among others) failing to ensure so-called “best execution,” a role that necessarily precludes receiving payment for directing customer orders to any counter-party other than the one offering the best available price for that sized order at that point in time.

Here’s the WSL story as of 8 pm EST on the first day of testimony from members of the securities industry; no surprise to note certain executives take the ‘walk backwards’ and no longer defending the practices that have enriched their business models:

Market participants commenting in front of Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing into ‘Conflicts of Interest, Investor Loss of Confidence, and High Speed Trading in U.S. Stock Markets’ noted that the SEC needs to re-examine or dismiss the maker taker rule and subsequent rebates as they’ve harmed consumer confidence and efforts to provide best execution.

Tom Farley, president of NYSE, noted to Senators Carl Levin, John McCain, and Ron Johnson that the maker taker model has led to a proliferation of sell-side broker dealers executing orders on exchanges that are offering induced rebates to create liquidity, rather than sending orders that offer the best execution. Continue reading

HFT Chapter 3: U.S. Senate To Hear About Payment-For-Order-Flow, Conflicts of Interest and Best Execution

MarketsMuse Editor Note: Finally, the topic of payment for order flow, the questionable practice in which large brokerage firms literally sell their customers’ orders to “preferenced liquidity providers”, who in turn execute those orders by trading against those customers orders ( using arbitrage strategies that effectively guarantee a trading profit with no risk) will now be scrutinized by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in hearings scheduled for this morning.

The first paragraph of this morning’s NY Times story by William Alden regarding today’s Senate hearings frames the issue nicely: “..To the average investor with a brokerage account, the process of buying and selling shares of stock seems straightforward. But the back end of these systems, governing how billions of shares are traded, remains opaque to many customers…Behind the sleek trading interfaces of brokerage firms like TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab and Merrill Lynch lie a web of business relationships with relatively obscure firms that make trades happen..”

MarketsMuse has spotlighted this issue repeatedly over the past several years, including citing long-time trading industry veterans who have lamented (albeit anonymously) that the notion of selling customer orders is a practice that not only reeks of conflict of interest, it is an anathema to those who embrace the concept of best execution. Their request for anonymity has been driven less by “not authorized to speak on behalf of the firm” and more by a common fear of “being put in the penalty box” by large retail brokerage firms who embrace the practice of double-dipping (charging a commission to a customer while also receiving a kickback from designated liquidity providers) simply because these firm deliver the bulk of orders to Wall Street trading desks for execution.

Throughout the same period that this publication has profiled the topic, we have repeatedly encouraged leading business news journalists from major outlets to bring this story to the forefront. In every instance other than one, journalists and editors have suggested the topic is “too complex for our readers” and many have indicated that its a story that their “major advertisers (the industry’s largest retail brokerage firms and ‘custodians’) would be offended by.”

NY Times reporter William Alden described the issue in a manner that is perfectly clear and simple to comprehend; whether the issue of “conflict of interest” is clear enough or simple enough for U.S. Senators to grasp is a completely different story.

The following extracts from Alden’s reporting summarize the issue brilliantly; link to the full article is below: Continue reading

[Another] Institutional Broker Laments Payment-For-Order-Flow; Is There a Trend Developing?

tabb forum logoTabbForum, a publication that caters to the institutional investment community and works towards spotlighting the relevant issues of the day, has just published a comment letter submitted to the SEC by institutional [agency-only] broker Themis Trading re: topic of wider tick sizes for small cap stocks. While readers of this blog are most-focused on ETFs, options and macro strategies (and less on small caps), the Jan 27 submission letter included a comment from Themis execs that more than a few industry members might consider “incendiary,” as it challenges the core business models of the largest retail brokerage platforms and the assortment of “exchanges” who profit from today’s market fragmentation.   On the other hand, the lens that agency-only brokers peer through is different from the colored glasses that those with inherent conflicts use. Here’s the quote:

“..we believe that if the order routing and execution process were not distorted by payment-for-order-flow, then the price discovery process would be cleaner, and displayed limit orders would be encouraged, and not disadvantaged..”

Click on the above TabbForum logo to read the full article (subscription required, but registration is free!)

Nasdaq Sets Q2 Launch for ETF Market-Maker Incentives

tradersmag  Courtesy of Tom Steinert-Threkeld

Nasdaq OMX Group said Wednesday that it will be able to launch its planned program for paying market makers to trade in particular exchange-traded funds.

The Market Quality Program will launch by the end of June, Nasdaq OMX said Wednesday. The Securities and Exchange Commission in March approved the plan on a pilot basis.

Under the program, sponsors of exchange-traded funds will be able to contribute funds to Nasdaq, which in turn can be used to pay market makers to incent them to handle particular funds.

The sponsor will pay Nasdaq OMX an annual fee of $50,000 to $100,000 per ETF, in addition to standard listing fees. The market quality program fee can get rebated, under certain circumstances. Rebates will be made quarterly.

Payments, according to a note to traders, will be made if a market marker:

  • Maintains quotes at or better than the National Bid and Best Offer (NBBO) for 25% of the trading day for 500 shares;
  • Posts a market with a bid no less than 2% away from the best bid and an offer that is no greater than 2% away from the best offer 90% of the trading day; and
  • Provides an aggregate of 2,500 shares of displayed liquidity on the bid side and an aggregate of 2,500 shares of displayed liquidity on the offer side.

An ETF is no longer in the program when trading achieves average volume of 1 million shares a day for three months in a now. Continue reading

SEC OKs Payments on Nasdaq for Making Markets in Some ETFs; Potential For Distorted Prices?

bloombergCourtesy of Bloomberg LP reporter Nina Mehta

2013-03-22 22:29:10.364 GMT

U.S. regulators approved Nasdaq Stock Market’s request to allow the sponsors of some exchange- traded funds to offer payments to market makers.     The Securities and Exchange Commission decision loosens a ban on the compensation that has been in place since 1997.

Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., which plans to begin the program as a one-year pilot, argued along with NYSE Euronext before Congress in 2011 that payments to market makers may increase liquidity and improve prices to investors in less-active securities.   Approval of the program comes amid concern that stocks with lighter volume are suffering in America’s computerized equity markets because they are less attractive to automated traders.

NYSE Arca, an all-electronic venue that competes with Nasdaq, submitted a request to the SEC yesterday for its own initiative. Payments for market making in smaller companies is allowed in some European countries.

“It will incentivize market makers to collect revenue by posting bids and offers at the exchange,” Chris Hempstead, director of ETF execution at broker WallachBeth Capital LLC in New York, said in a phone interview. “Market makers will compete with one another to capture that revenue stream and drive the bid-ask spread to a tighter band.” Continue reading

Taker-Maker Cupcake Baker- Nasdaq BX Options Fee Scheme Takes Hold

 

Courtesy of Peter Chapman/TradersMagazine

The launch of the Nasdaq OMX BX options exchange, at the end of June, marked not only the debut of the industry’s 10th exchange, but an expansion of the use of taker-maker pricing.

In contrast to the conventional maker-taker pricing model whereby exchanges pay liquidity providers and charge liquidity takers, BX Options will pay liquidity takers and charge liquidity suppliers. While the scheme is relatively common in the cash equities business, its usage has been limited in options.

Nasdaq has said it expects BX Options to appeal to broker-dealers who are big takers of liquidity and may not be receiving payment for their order flow from intermediaries; or they may be unsure if they are being adequately compensated by their intermediaries. BX Options will not otherwise facilitate payment for order flow.

Professional traders who trade directly on the exchanges rather than go through an intermediary are expected to benefit. So too are some retail brokerages that deliver mostly market, or liquidity-taking, orders to intermediaries.

“Competitively speaking, this is a positive,” said Gary Sjostedt, director of order routing and sales at TD Ameritrade. “It keeps the exchanges on their toes price-wise.”

The BOX Options Exchange actually pioneered the taker-maker pricing strategy in the options market in 2009, but was the only exchange using it until this year. Then, in early June, the International Securities Exchange switched 25 options classes to taker-maker pricing.

BX Options instituted taker-maker pricing on July 2, becoming the third exchange to do so. There are differences among the three offerings. In contrast to the ISE, BX Options will offer taker-maker pricing in all options traded in penny increments. In contrast to BOX, Nasdaq will limit the rebate strategy to customers only.

For most of the BX names, Nasdaq will pay 32 cents per contract on customer orders that take liquidity. That compares with 22 cents for BOX’s “regular” market and 30 cents for trades in its auction. ISE also pays 32 cents per contract. Continue reading

SEC Punts on Payments to ETF Market Makers

Courtesy of Rosalyn Retkwa

 

The Securities and Exchange Commission has decided not to decide yet whether to approve proposals by Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange to pay market makers to make better markets in thinly traded ETFs. The proposals would require an exemption from a current prohibition against such payments.

Rather than approving or rejecting the idea, the SEC decided last Wednesday, July 11, to seek another round of comments on pilot projects put forth by Nasdaq and NYSE Arca (the electronic exhange formerly known as Archipelago). In its 83-page order instituting proceedings to determine whether to approve or disapprove the proposed pilots — posted on the SEC’s web site last Thursday — the SEC listed 27 questions asking for more input on specific points. “They’re keying up the issues,” said a source who asked not to be named.

Under the law, the SEC has 45 days to respond to these kinds of regulatory filings by the exchanges, with an automatic right to extend the initial deadline by another 45 days.

July 11 was the 90-day mark for the Nasdaq’s proposal, and while the SEC had until August 14 to respond to NYSE Arca, it decided to consider both proposals with a joint order — a suggestion made by Vanguard, the mutual fund and ETF sponsor headquartered in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, which filed separate comment letters on both proposals. Continue reading

Exchanges Duel With Newcomers Over Trading Transparency; Payment for Order Flow Debate

 

June 26, By Nathaniel Popper

MarketsMuse Editor Note: In what might prove to be the catalyst for even greater scrutiny of securities industry practices re market transparency, below extracts of article from front page of NY Times June 26 Business Section i.e. profile “lit” v. “dark” liquidity centers–and the nuances by which investor order flow is administered, and the impact on market integrity makes for a good read.

While most people trading stocks at home imagine their orders zipping from their brokers onto one of the nation’s stock exchanges, almost none of the trades go anywhere near those public markets.

In reality, most trades placed through online brokers like TD Ameritrade and Scottrade are sold to Wall Street firms, which accumulate and trade against tens of millions of these shares a day, rather than send them to a regulated exchange like Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. The Wall Street firms then quickly flip them and turn an easy profit because they have more resources and market knowledge than mom-and-pop investors.

The trading, which takes place away from the gaze of regulators and the public in what are known as the dark markets, has taken off in recent years and steadily eaten into the portion of all stock trading that takes place on the public exchanges. Now, though, the exchanges are fighting back by looking to create dark markets of their own.

NYSE Euronext, the company that owns the exchange, is asking regulators to approve a new platform that would attract orders from ordinary investors and then divert them away from the normal exchange with the aim of getting the investor a better price. Nasdaq and the exchange company Direct Edge said they have similar plans in the works.

The proposal looks like a technical tweak to help ordinary investors. But it has become the front line in a battle over what the nation’s stock markets should look like after nearly a decade of fragmentation has resulted in over a third of all stock trades occurring in the dark, up from 15 percent in 2008, according to Rosenblatt Securities, a brokerage firm.

In the past, the exchanges have pushed regulators to force the dark markets to become better lit, but James Allen, the head of capital markets policy for the CFA Institute, said that with the new proposals the exchanges are acknowledging “that if you can’t beat them, join them.”

The practice [payment for order flow] took off after a series of regulatory changes over the last decade made it easier to trade off exchanges and more expensive to trade on exchanges. Today, four firms — Knight Capital Group, UBS, Citigroup and Citadel — have made a business out of paying for retail trades and trading against them. These firms generally pay retail brokers 15 cents for every 100 shares they are sent to trade against, industry experts say.

“…The retail brokers contend that the internalizers allow them to get the quickest and best execution for their customers…” Continue reading

New Rules: NASDAQ Options Exchange (NasdaqBx) To PAY Takers of Liquidity

Courtesy of Peter Chapman

TRADERS Magazine interview with Nasdaq OMX EVP Eric Noll unveils a new tact in the ever-changing world of major exchange strategies to attract order flow.

In this case, NasdaqBx is up-ending the current industry “make-take” fee model whereby exchanges pay rebates to market-makers who improve prevailing bids/offers, and charge fees to those who ‘take’ liquidity [by ‘hitting’ existing bids or ‘lifting’ prevailing offers].  Instead of rewarding liquidity providers who traditionally tighten up prevailing screen quotes, NasdaqBx is proposing to reward liquidity takers and will pay rebates to those who act on existing bids and offers.

Here’s a partial excerpt from TRADERS Magazine interview with Noll:

>>On the need for the new Bx exchange
Customer orders are highly price sensitive and [the retail brokers] aggressively seek rebates to [offset] their shrinking payment-for-order-flow pools. So they’re looking to replace with other functionality and other sources of income that what they were getting directly in terms of payment for order flow. So they are aggressive rebate seekers.

Eric Noll, NasdaqOMX SVP

>>On the new BX as a solution for the decline in payment for order flow
[Nasdaq Bx] gives us a chance to be the first options exchange to offer a model that pays takers of liquidity as opposed to makers of liquidity. Payment for order flow has become increasingly opaque. It has become increasingly difficult for earners of payment for order flow to know what they’re getting paid and how they’re getting paid. [Nasdaq Bx] is a model that actually makes their rebate for taking liquidity transparent, competitive and certain. And we think that has real value to them. So every other market model that operates out there operates primarily for the benefit of the provider of liquidity. This is going to be the first model out there that operates to the benefit of the taker of liquidity.

For the full interview, click here:

new rules

NASDAQ New Rule: ETF Issuers Can Pay Market-Makers Quoting “Thinly-Traded” products

 

As duly noted by industry expert TABB Forum, ETFs with little-known or illiquid underlying securities are a hard sell without liquidity.  “Whether you loved or hated them, major exchange specialists (including this blogger) played a vital role to help nurture small listings, and the problem of how to incent liquidity provision is an ongoing industry debate. Without an extra incentive, market makers don’t consider it worth the risk..”

NASDAQ apparently understands this challenge. As reported by TABB, and in a rule filing submitted to the SEC, the exchange that will soon be home to Facebook proposes to put ETF issuers in the driver’s seat by facilitating issuer payments to market-makers in consideration for those traders quoting and trading those pesky, “hard-to-trade” aka “illiquid” ETF products that seem to trade by appointment only.

According to the TABB piece, “..The rule filing is waiting to be ‘noticed’ by the SEC, which will start turning the wheels of the rule filing and formal commentary process. If ultimately approved, the writing is on the wall for equities.There is little on the regulatory table at the moment to improve market quality, but prior success of a similar program abroad and political concern over how to improve the lot of smaller securities at least gives this proposal a decent chance of making it to the pilot…”

Not everyone fully agrees. At least one former ETF market-maker who was invited by NASDAQ to help formulate their new proposal believes it could open Pandora’s box (even if some think the Genie is already out of the bottle..) Continue reading