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April 1, 2002

The Nastiest Frontier?

By John A. Byrne Editor

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  • The Nastiest Frontier?

The speed at which modern securities transactions can be executed is at the center of a fascinating debate. The debate concerns the Intermarket Trading System. That's a system which links the NYSE and the other national securities exchanges, as well as Nasdaq, making possible the routing of listed stock orders. Earlier this year, the exchanges started a pilot program that reduces to 30 seconds, the maximum time allowed for participants to respond to orders coming from others on the ITS. Before that, exchanges had as long as 60 seconds to respond. Either way, the length of time is arbitrary since many participants could respond immediately, certainly within seconds, on many orders. However, things are not that simple on Wall Street.

The ITS is important right now to outfits such as the Archipelago Exchange and Island ECN. Island hopes to follow Archipelago's lead in becoming a securities exchange. Exchange status provides a direct line to the ITS (as well as a direct line to the National Consolidated Quote System which broadcasts members' best prices in listed stocks). Archipelago thinks 30 seconds is an eternity in modern securities transactions. Island argues that half a minute is similarly slow for an ECN like itself which can execute orders in split seconds. Those 30 seconds - about the length of time it takes to quaff a bottle of beer in between sessions at a securities industry conference - seems too long. Other agree with Archipelago and Island that the 30 second rule is flawed. Those who believe that the ITS has a case of the slows include Instinet and the New York Stock Exchange. The latter has publicly stated it would be happy to leave the ITS. So why not force a more real-time approach? Why not scrap the ITS? "The traditional market participants, who have the greatest say in the governance of the ITS, probably don't relish the thought of the electronic marketplace gaining significant market share," said Andrew Goldman, a spokesman for Island. "The electronic marketplace has about a seven percent market share of listed business compared with one out of every two trades executed right now on Nasdaq, where competition has been good for investors."