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April 3, 2008

Dark Pools Eye Retail Flow

By Nina Mehta

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  • Dark Pools Eye Retail Flow
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Large broker-dealers that operate dark pools are falling over themselves to attract retail flow. Because retail-size orders are now larger than the average executed order in the market, their presence in dark pools is coveted. The scramble for retail flow is also enabling some dark pools to boost their executed volume at a time of increased dark-pool competition.

Credit Suisse in December launched what it calls its CrossFinder Retail Network, an initiative to accumulate and pass retail flow through CrossFinder, the broker's ATS, to match up against resting institutional orders. Credit Suisse has about a dozen retail brokerage clients, according to Dan Mathisson, head of the firm's Advanced Execution Services group.

Citi, Knight, UBS and others are also stepping up efforts to pull retail orders into their dark pools. The retail flow streaming through these pools is typically en route to the market.

For Credit Suisse, what's behind this newfound interest in retail flow is size. The average size of a retail order is now larger than the average institutional "child" order, since institutions often spray big orders into the market via algorithms that seek liquidity as invisibly as possible. The retail flow Credit Suisse currently sees averages close to 600 shares per order, compared to an average execution size of just over 220 shares in the market, Mathisson said.

Another benefit is the attractiveness of retail flow. Institutions would "rather trade versus Grandma in Peoria than versus Mr. Quant Hedge Fund," Mathisson said. CrossFinder's average daily volume in February was 105 million, up from 85 million in January and 60 million in December. Some of the increase is the result of higher overall market volume, but retail flow "certainly had an effect," Mathisson said.

Citi, which re-launched its internal dark pool based on technology and clients gained from its Automated Trading Desk acquisition last October, also stresses retail flow. Its newly transformed (and renamed) pool, Citi Match, enables institutions and Citi algorithms to match up against retail flow from Smith Barney clients as well as 130 retail broker-dealers acquired through the ATD purchase, said Dan Keegan, head of global electronic trading sales at Citi.

Keegan expects Citi Match's expanded customer base to increase its executions. "We've created a mechanism whereby all ATD flow and Citi flow--Smith Barney, Lava, Citi's various desks and algos--can wash through one box," Keegan said. He added that Citi represents 13 percent of consolidated NMS volume.

UBS's Jatin Suryawanshi, head of U.S. algorithmic trading, also views retail orders as a magnet for institutional flow. "Institutional clients come to PIN [UBS's Price Improvement Network] for the retail flow," he said. "Institutions can benefit from full spread capture and can interact with less-toxic liquidity. And this helps retail clients, because there's no market impact."

According to Suryawanshi, half of the 450 million to 500 million shares that pass through PIN daily are retail flow from broker-dealers and from the bank's giant wealth management unit. That flow has a "significant emphasis" on small-cap and mid-cap stocks, which helps institutions and UBS's algos get executions in less liquid names, he said.