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Dark Pools Scott Patterson Ebook Download



This report examines the confluence of factors that led to the rise of dark pools; the potential benefits and costs of such trading; some regulatory and congressional concerns over dark pools; recent regulatory developments by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which oversees broker-dealers; and some recent lawsuits and enforcement actions garnering significant media attention. These include a 2014 civil suit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against the securities firm Barclays for its dark pool operations. A central allegation was that in marketing materials for prospective investors, Barclays misrepresented the extent and nature of the high-frequency trading in its pool. The report also examines steps regulators in Canada and Australia have taken to address any reduction in price transparency from dark pool trading.




dark pools scott patterson ebook download



The term "dark pools" generally refers to electronic stock trading platforms in which pre-trade bids and offers are not published and price information about the trade is only made public after the trade has been executed. This differs from trading in so-called "lit" venues, such as traditional stock exchanges, which provide pre-trade bids and offers publicly into the consolidated quote stream widely used to price stocks.


Dark pools arose partly due to demand from institutional investors seeking to buy or sell big blocks of shares without sparking large price movements. The volume of trading on dark pools has climbed significantly in recent years, from about 4% of overall trading volume in 2008 to about 15% in 2013. While dark pools reportedly have lower trading fees, their lack of price transparency has sparked concerns about the continued accuracy of consolidated stock price information. In addition, fairness concerns have surfaced in recent regulatory and enforcement actions, in the press, and in Michael Lewis's book Flash Boys over allegations that dark pool operators may have facilitated front-running of large institutional investors by high-frequency traders, in exchange for payment, and misrepresented the nature of high-frequency trading in the dark pools.


In an effort to increase market transparency, FINRA in 2014 began requiring dark pools to report their aggregate weekly volume of transactions and the number of trades executed in each security. In June 2014, White asked SEC staff to draft recommendations for expanding the scope of operational disclosures that dark pools would have to provide to the SEC and the public. The SEC also announced a pilot project dubbed the "trade-at" rule, in which off-exchange trading venues, including dark pools, could execute orders only if they provided a significant price improvement or size improvement over "lit" venues. Both Canada and Australia saw significant reductions in dark pool trades after adopting such trade-at rules. Critics of the trade at rule include brokerage firms, some of whom own dark pools. Congress has examined regulatory concerns over dark pools in a number of 2014 hearings on high-frequency trading as part of its oversight over the SEC.


Traditionally, the exclusive locales for stock trades were exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the American Stock Exchange (AMEX), and NASDAQ. In recent decades, cheaper and more powerful computer-based technology and at least two Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations helped give rise to an array of alternative trading venues, including a new type called "dark pools."


Although it is sinister sounding to some, the "dark" appellation simply means that dark pools do not publicly display traders' buy and sell interests (quotes) as the traditional "lit" platforms do. This opacity attracted institutional investors (such as pensions and mutual funds), which became the pools' initial clients. Concerned about potentially harmful, market-moving information leaks about their intended trades, these big investors believed that the dark pools' concealed quotes helped reduce the riskiness of their trades.1


Securities regulators and state officials have raised policy concerns about the pools, as have Members of Congress in various committee oversight hearings. Such concerns include the impact of the pools on market quality, their lack of pre-trade transparency, transparency about whether the pools allow high-frequency trading (HFT), and to what extent they do so.2 This report explains what dark pools are, outlines recent developments of significance to the pools (including public policy and regulatory developments), and examines various current public policy concerns.


Alternative trading systems (ATSs) can be subdivided into electronic communication networks (ECNs) and dark pools. ATSs broadly are broker-dealer firms that match the orders of multiple buyers and sellers according to established, non-discretionary methods. They have been around since the late 1960s and grew in popularity in the mid-1990s as technological developments made it easier for broker-dealers to match buy and sell orders. Their growth also benefitted from the SEC's 1998 adoption of a new regulatory framework, Regulation ATS (Reg ATS). Reg ATS sought to reduce barriers to entry for such systems while also promoting competition and innovation and regulating the exchange functions that they performed.3


Another kind of ATS, "dark pools," do not provide quotes into the pre-trade public quote stream as is generally required of trades on the NASDAQ, the stock exchanges, and ECNs. They publish trade data only after transactions occur. Some argue that post-trade disclosure is more informative. Generally, dark pools are said to merely indicate that the trade was executed off an exchange and do not identify themselves as the pool that executed the trade.4 Also, unlike NASDAQ and the exchanges, dark pools do not guarantee trade execution, which means that orders sometimes go unfilled.5


More specifically, when an investor places an order to buy or sell on a "lit" trading venue, the venue typically makes that quote available to the public. Within dark pools, however, traders often become aware of the existence of potential trading counterparties only after they have submitted their orders. Alternatively, a trader may signal to a limited number of traders who are also clients of a dark pool of their interest in either buying or selling a security. These "indications of interest" in dark pools are similar to the conventional quote on the lit exchanges but may display fewer elements of the trading interest.


This pre-trade opacity initially attracted institutional investors that wanted to anonymously trade blocks of shares without triggering unfavorable price movements. There is a widely held view that rules adopted by the SEC in 2005, Regulation National Market System (Reg NMS),6 boosted the growth of the dark pools. Reg NMS was aimed at fostering competition among individual markets and among individual orders by promoting efficient and fair price formation across securities markets.7


Dark pools have also enabled the brokers who own them to charge traders a fee for access to the order flow in the dark pools. This practice is sometimes referred to as indirect internalization.12 In his book Flash Boys, Michael Lewis describes instances in which HFT firms that paid for access to dark pools preyed upon the pool's retail order flow, sometimes by front-running those orders.13 Front-running refers to the practice of trading ahead of a large order to benefit from the anticipated price movement that the large order will create. The most common example of front-running is when an individual trader buys shares of a stock just before a large institutional order to buy, which may cause a rapid, small increase in the stock's price. The trader can later sell the order back to the institutional investor or to the market at the slightly higher price. While certain forms of front-running are illegal, the legality depends on the circumstances of the situation.14


Economists perceive a mix of non-regulatory and regulatory factors to have played roles in boosting the popularity of dark pools, which reportedly grew from a share of about 4% of overall trading volume in 2008 to about 15% in 2013.18 Several of them are described below.


A 2010 report issued by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), a global association of securities regulators, noted, "While dark pools and dark orders may meet a demand in the market, they may raise regulatory issues that merit examination."32 Several such potential dark pool regulatory concerns are examined below, some of which are also discussed in the IOSCO report.


Some believe that the stock market has become excessively fragmented with a proliferation of trading. This fragmentation has many potential causes, though Reg NMS is frequently cited. Some consider the multiplicity of dark pools to be a symptom rather than a cause. Still, the dark pools are an integral part of this fragmentation, and their opacity arguably exacerbates the potential pitfalls of fragmentation.


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