Prof. Jayanth R. Varma’s Financial Markets Blog

A blog on financial markets and their regulation

Electronic Trading

There was a time not so long ago when equities traded on electronic exchanges and everything else traded on OTC markets. We used to hear people argue vehemently that electronic trading would not work outside of the equities world. The belief was that the central order book could not handle large trade sizes. Algorithmic and high frequency trading changed all that. We learned that large trades could be sliced and diced into smaller orders that the central order book could handle easily. With exchanges offering lower and lower latency trading, a big order could be broken into pieces and fully executed faster than a block trade could be worked out upstairs in the old style.

Slowly the new paradigm is expanding into new asset classes. The 2013 triennial survey shows that electronic trading has virtually taken over spot foreign exchange trading and is dominant in other parts of the foreign exchange market as well (Dagfinn Rime and Andreas Schrimpf, “The anatomy of the global FX market through the lens of the 2013 Triennial Survey”, BIS Quarterly Review, December 2013). The foreign exchange market has ceased to be an inter bank market with hedge funds and other non bank financial entities becoming the biggest players in the market. As Rime and Schrimp explain:

Technological change has increased the connectivity of participants, bringing down search costs. A new form of “hot potato” trading has emerged where dealers no longer play an exclusive role.

The next battle ground is corporate bonds. Post Dodd Frank, the traditional market makers are less willing to provide liquidity and people are looking for alternatives including the previously maligned electronic trading idea. McKinsey and Greenwich Associates have produced a report on Corporate Bond E-Trading which discusses the emerging trends but is pessimistic about equities style electronic trading. I am not so pessimistic because in my view if you can get hedge funds and HFTs to trade something, then it will do fine on a central order book.


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