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May 25, 2007

ESpeed's Block Venture

By Nina Mehta

ESpeed will spin off its equities direct market access business and a new crossing platform into a firm called Aqua. The 20-person unit will be run by Kevin Foley, former president of eSpeed, the electronic trading company that once was a subsidiary of broker-dealer Cantor Fitzgerald. ESpeed and Cantor will own the firm.

The alternative trading system will form the heart of the new venture. Aqua will provide executions for buyside and sellside customers within the national best bid and offer. "We're not a dark pool per se," Foley says. "We're not transparent to everyone, the way an electronic communication network is, but things become transparent within the system as you participate."

Although the exec declined to provide specifics about how the system will work, customers are not expected to be able to negotiate for size and price. The three-year-old eSpeed Equities direct market access platform will function more as "a companion piece to the block trading ATS," Foley adds, enabling customers to execute the unfilled portion of block orders. Foley joined eSpeed in 2004 from Bloomberg, where he was the founder and chief executive of Bloomberg Tradebook.

ESpeed, primarily a bond-trading firm, launched its low-touch equities business in late 2003. Daily volume has grown steadily, but is still only about a few million shares. That contrasts with the approximately 30 million shares per day Cantor's equity trading unit reported handling in 2006.