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October 3, 2011

New Rules Could Hinder Dark Pools in Canada

By John D'Antona Jr.

Also in this article

  • New Rules Could Hinder Dark Pools in Canada

Canada's nascent dark trading market is about to see more regulation that could limit its growth and possibly drive business across the border, into the U.S.

The pending regulations and rule changes, proposed by Canadian regulators to govern dark liquidity in Canada, are likely to have a negative impact on the Canadian equities markets, said Doug Clark, head of market structure at ITG Canada.

"I'm surprised the regulators are going in this direction with more regulation," Clark said. "The rest of the world is not. The U.S., U.K. and Mexican markets are moving towards fewer rules around dark orders and the dark markets."

Doug Clark, ITG Canada

Comments on the new proposals are due Oct. 27, with a final ruling and implementation expected six to nine months after that.

Canadian thinking goes that Northern investors are better served when trading occurs in the public or lit markets, rather than in dark venues. Regulators worry that if too much trading occurred off-board, price discovery would be hampered and investors harmed.

According to the latest data from the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, total dark pool volume in Canada is roughly 3 percent of total daily volume. In the U.S., dark pools see about 14 percent of average daily volume.

At the end of July, IIROC and the Canadian Securities Administrators jointly issued a notice titled "Regulatory Approach to Dark Liquidity in the Canadian Market." In the report, the regulators proposed minimum sizes and price improvement for dark orders. They also commented that an order should go first to lit venues before being sent to dark ones.

In particular, the notice suggested that a minimum size for passive dark orders should be no less than 50 board lots (5,000 shares) or C$100,000 in value. Also, orders deemed small-under 50 board lots or C$100,000 in value-should only be allowed to interact with dark orders if they receive price improvement of at least one tick, or half a tick if the spread is only a single tick. The price improvement does not consider any maker/taker pricing economics, meaning the real price improvement might be considerably less.

Clark expects the rule changes to have a profound impact on existing Canadian market structure, significantly differentiating the landscape there from other international markets, particularly the U.S. market. He said these new rules only look at child orders and not the entire parent order, so if an order is sent to several marketplaces, the rules are misapplied.