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January 21, 2010

SEC Proposal: Some Doubt IOI Rules Will Yield More Quoting

By Peter Chapman and Nina Mehta

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  • SEC Proposal: Some Doubt IOI Rules Will Yield More Quoting
  • Page 2

A Securities and Exchange Commission proposal intended to limit brokers' off-board trading is unlikely to drive more orders to the public markets, industry officials contend.

As part of the SEC's "Regulation of Non-Public Trading Interest" proposal, issued in mid-November, the regulator is suggesting two new rules that could sharply curtail brokers' use of so-called "actionable" indications of interest. That, it hopes, would force the brokers to convert the IOIs into orders and send them to the exchanges.

The SEC is primarily targeting operators of dark pool alternative trading systems who transmit trading messages electronically to other dark pools and hidden sources of liquidity. But any rule changes would also affect exchanges and over-the-counter market makers. The regulator says it has identified 11 of 29 dark pool ATSs that use actionable IOIs.

While many brokers agree on the need for rules governing actionable IOIs, they don't think the changes will lead to more quoting in the public markets. That's because the messages are used to service clients seeking anonymity and to avoid costly exchange fees.

"Anyone who believes these new rules will result in new information being made public is kidding himself," said Kevin Foley, chief executive of Aqua, an operator of a dark pool ATS. "Behavior will simply change." (Aqua transmits "orders," but not actionable IOIs, Foley explained, and is therefore not subject to the proposed rule changes.)

Kevin Foley, Aqua

The SEC is proposing changes to Regulation NMS and Regulation ATS. It wants to amend Rule 602 of Reg NMS, best known as the Quote Rule, to add actionable IOIs to the definition of bids and offers. If the regulator succeeds in reclassifying actionable IOIs as quotes, then certain brokers sending the IOIs to a limited group of recipients would be required to display them to the entire marketplace.

The SEC also wants to amend Rule 301 of Reg ATS to force those ATSs who distribute order information to more than one party to make that information public. Under current rules, ATSs trading more than 5 percent of a security's volume must report that information to the Consolidated Quotation System. Under the proposed rules, the threshold is lowered to 0.25 percent, thereby roping in much more ATS trading.

Importantly, the proposed changes to Reg NMS and Reg ATS exclude actionable IOIs transmitted on behalf of orders with values equal to $200,000 or more.

Liquidnet Holdings is one such operator of dark pool ATSs that would be affected by any new rules, albeit to a limited extent. While most of its orders exceed $200,000 in value, its H2O system transmits actionable IOIs to certain parties on behalf of smaller orders as well. Liquidnet executive Jay Biancamano said his firm has already made changes to its system to reflect any changes to the rules.