Tag Archives: agency execution


Buy-Side Managers Say: Hooray for High-Touch

High-Touch or High-Tech? That is The Question.. Virtually any industry professional will acknowledge the now two-decade evolution of financial markets whereby the electronification of equity, options, currency and even fixed income markets has been the primary catapult for business models wrapped in high-tech trading services, trading software applications and niche offerings advanced by trade execution providers throughout the global financial markets. As a consequence, “button-pushing” has displaced a myriad of traditional “high-touch” broker-dealers whose value-add had been completely dependent on human capital; professional traders who are experts at navigating markets and skilled at sourcing liquidity via networks of embedded relationships throughout the trading market ecosystem. One need only count the number of sell-side traders who have been “put out to the dinosaur pasture” to appreciate the impact of ‘progress.’ But, any industry trading technology wonk who insists they can hear the fat lady singing  “the last nail is about to be placed in the coffin of high-touch trade execution”, a recent survey conducted by Consultancy Aite Groupe suggests that a significant number of buy-side managers greatly prefer high-touch to high-tech. Aite’s study is based on an online survey of 42 buyside firms throughout the second half of last year, with the majority of firms managing assets of more than $50bn.

Below excerpt from latest MarketsMedia.com story “High-Touch Hangs On in Equities” by Shanny Basar frames the story..

Fund managers still prefer high-touch, rather than electronic execution for more than a third of US cash equities and non-US cash equities according to new research.

Consultancy Aite Group said in a report Buy-Side Front-Office Trends: The ABCs of Trading Behavior that it is “mildly surprising” that high-touch execution styles are still preferred by investors for as much as 38% of US cash equities and 41% of non-US cash despite equities having the longest history of electronic trading and the earliest adoption of algorithms.

High-touch typically involves agency execution with discretion, principal/capital commitment and investors requesting a direct quote over the phone from a sales trader or passing an agency order for them to work.

“This may partially be explained by the increasing complexity associated with market fragmentation in the US equities market and the proliferation of dark pools and exchanges, all competing for order flow,” added Aite. “Average trade sizes have shrunk to less than 200 shares per trade, typically a small fraction of total order size. And at the same time, there continues to be challenges with sourcing liquidity for mid- and small-cap stocks.”

“As a result, sales traders remain relevant in assisting with trade facilitation and intermediating an agency block trade between two buyside customers with opposite sides of an equities trade.”

Sales traders are also sometimes asked to intervene in algorithmic orders, although intervention or suspension are both very rare. For example, human intervention may be required if intraday market conditions, such as extreme volatility, affect an algorithm’s performance.

However, the study also found that electronic trading continues to gain its footing across all asset classes at a steady pace across the globe. Therefore investors investors need to continue in invest in upgrading technology to find new sources of alpha, comply with new regulations, cut costs and increase efficiency. “The days of phone-based or plain vanilla chat-enabled trading are numbered,” added Aite.

Matt Villarreal, Mischler Financial Group


However many broker-dealers have failed to keep up and have since gone the way of the Ford Pinto,  there is a cadre of always-forward-thinking sell-side desks who refrained from making “all-in high tech” bets, and instead, embraced the proposition of combining the best of both high-touch and high-tech applications. According to Matt Villarreal, the head of global equities for agency-execution firm and boutique broker-dealer Mischler Financial Group, “Most thoughtful fund managers understand that risk-reward analysis applies not only to the underlying investment style or strategy, but also when mapping out execution strategies, and whenever “best execution” is a component that has to be weighed.” Added Villarreal, “Because “best execution” has become a ubiquitous phrase, every manager has their own opinion as to the meaning, often boiling down to “the right price at the right time when considering all of the factors.” The institutional managers we work with truly embrace the value of our combining bespoke, high-touch capabilities that extend across US domestic as well as international stocks, with best-in-class trading technologies in order to achieve their view of true best execution.”

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Bloomberg ETF RFQ Tool For Blocks: A Blockbuster

Bloomberg LP’s agency broker Bloomberg Tradebook is continuing to grab market share in the ETF execution space thanks to introducing a blockbuster approach that has proven to work across a universe of hard-to-trade financial instruments: RFQ (“Request For Quote”). The “Bloomberg ETF RFQ” tool, which, according to a statement issued by Bloomberg LP,  has triggered “a 3-fold increase in ETF volume compared to the same quarter in 2015” for the agency broker, is one that enables traders to source block trade liquidity from across a universe of liquidity providers who specialize in US-listed exchange-traded funds as well as ETFs listed in Europe, the latter of which are typically more difficult to secure tight markets for when using screen-based services that display actionable bids and offers.

Total notional value traded also tripled in European ETFs as the number of investors actively using the ETF RFQ service grew by more than 50 percent, according to a company press statement.

After launching over two years ago, Bloomberg has managed to extend its services to over 250 firms.

Market volatility and the demand for block liquidity in ETFs drove the value of the total ETF market last year. Research firm ETFGI reports that assets in global ETFs topped $3 trillion at the end of 2015.

“Institutions are finding new and increasingly strategic applications for ETFs, with 77 percent of them using ETFs to obtain Core Exposures,” said Andrew McCullum, a consultant for Greenwich Associates and author of Institutional Investment in ETFs: Versatility Fuels Growth.

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One of the stimuli behind the growth in this sector was the increase in ETF trading in the US throughout 2016. During Q1 2016, ETF assets climbed by 2.4% QoQ to $2.3 trillion in the US, which was fueled by retail channels, as calculated by Broadridge’s Fund Distribution Intelligence. In parallel to this trend, market volatility and the demand for block liquidity in ETFs also drove the value of the total ETF market to new highs over the same period.

In particular, its recent volumes have undergone a three-fold increase YoY in Q1 2016, relative to Q1 2015. In addition, Bloomberg Tradebook’s total notional value traded also tripled in terms of European ETFs, fueled in large part by the number of investors utilizing the ETF RFQ service grew – users of the service also swelled by over 50% YoY in Q1 2016.

Kiran Pingali, Bloomberg Tradebook

According to Kiran Pingali, Head of ETF Product Development at Bloomberg Tradebook, in a recent statement on the business’ performance, “Bloomberg Tradebook developed its ETF RFQ service to address the unique challenges facing ETF investors in the United States and Europe, while also meeting client demand for direct access to liquidity in a greater variety of ETF products.”

“In the United States, liquidity is concentrated in the top 150 ETFs by AUM, with more than 90 percent of them trading less than a million shares per day. Europe faces its own challenges in sourcing ETF liquidity because of market fragmentation and low transparency due to deficiencies in trade reporting,” Pingali reiterated.

Europe ETF RFQ Demo from Bloomberg Tradebook:


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.”

Vanguard’s CIO Gus Sauter: Agency Execution is our Preference

  Courtesy of  Gregory Bresiger.. Excerpts from Part 3 of a series of interviews with Vanguard Chief Investment Officer Gus Sauter

How does Vanguard Funds,’ famous for Fred Mertz like trading economy, go about finding the lowest possible costs? The process is detailed in Part Three of Traders Magazine’s Q&A with Vanguard chief investment officer Gus Sauter.

Traders Magazine: Why have you and your company launched this campaign to change what you perceive as an overpriced market structure?
Gus Sauter: I think transaction costs are surprisingly high.

Traders Magazine: You said in an interview that “a large part of indexing is actually being a trader.”  Does mean that, as with most traders, you’re using algos and using agency traders like ITG or Instinet. How does it work out for Vanguard?
Gus Sauter: We do most of our trading through agency brokerage. We will use brokers’ algos as well if we think that is appropriate for trading. We monitor the transaction costs on a broker by broker basis.

Traders Magazine: Even index fund managers need the same trading skills as though who are actively managing funds?
Gus Sauter: Yes, it really is important that our portfolio managers understand how to trade, how to execute, how to find the right strategies and venues. Should it be an algo or something they are using a dark pool.

Traders Magazine: Higher than most investors think?
Gus Sauter: Yes, a lot of people don’t realize how much money you could spend on transactions if you’re not careful. In other words, we trade hundreds of billions of dollars a year. If you lose , just a half a percent, you’re losing a billion dollars.

Traders Magazine: The implication of what you’re saying is the industry, especially in good times, is incredibly sloppy. Is it because it is other people’s money?
Gus Sauter: Yea, hard for me to tell you. Historically, people have never had respect for the magnitude of transaction costs. They really felt they provided so much alpha in their actively managed funds that they really didn’t have to worry about transaction costs.

Traders Magazine: Not over the past decade…
Gus Sauter: Yes, in a lower return environment people really recognize how much costs are.  And they are devoting more time to how they trade.


Full article: http://www.tradersmagazine.com/news/vanguard-sauter-brokers-capital-110393-1.html?zkPrintable=true