Morgan Stanley Polices its Dark Pool
Traders Magazine Online News, March 29, 2012
Morgan Stanley is taking steps to ferret out the bad actors in its dark pool.
In response to customer concerns over trading counterparties, the big broker is tracking the behavior of the participants in its MS Pool and the performance of the stocks they trade.
The goal is to improve the quality of executions for all participants by eliminating what the firm considers abusive behavior. The oversight is not biased toward any single group, executives say. They are scrutinizing all traders, including money managers, broker-dealers and market making firms.
Still, the initiatives stem from concerns on the buyside that trades done in dark pools can result in information leakage that negatively impacts the final price at which they trade. The buyside often blames its problems in dark pools on professional traders, particularly the high-frequency variety.
Many of the major dark pool operators have taken steps in the past couple of years to categorize the players in their pools and allow their customers to bypass those they believe are dangerous. But monitoring traders behavior is a relatively new trend. Besides Morgan Stanley, Barclays is also tracking trader behavior. Both bulge brackets have been doing so since last year.
We have built an analytical framework and reporting infrastructure around MS Pool that allows us to be proactive in monitoring how the participants are behaving, Brad Johmann, head of research in Morgan Stanleys electronic trading group, said of the brokers pool. If we do see a participant exhibiting certain behaviors, then we can take appropriate action.
Morgan Stanley started tracking behavior in its dark pool last April shortly after Johmann rejoined the brokers electronic trading group. Johmann had previously worked in equities at Morgan Stanley but left briefly for a stint in the firms foreign exchange department.
The marketplace has been inundated with discussions about toxicity and venue performance, Johmann said. We are providing a level of transparency as to how we monitor behaviors that exists within our pool.
Morgan Stanley is looking at a number of variables in order to determine what is good behavior and what is not. Chief among them is monitoring the prices in the marketplace after a participant completes a trade in MS Pool. If the firm determines that prices consistently move in the traders behavior after it completes a trade--and to the detriment of its counterparties --Morgan Stanley will have a chat with that firm.
It will also consult with participants it considers aggressive takers of liquidity. A not unusual occurrence is for a trading firm to hit bids or lift offers in a dark pool and then do the same in the public markets with such speed and in such quantities that they move the price. Contra-parties in a dark pool could suffer an immediate loss from this type of behavior. Morgan Stanley focuses on a pattern of this behavior to maintain the integrity of MS POOL. Certain types of activity are not healthy for our pool or our clients, Johmann said.
Consistency is a key factor when judging the behavior of a particular participant, Morgan Stanley execs say. A trader that consistently provides good liquidity will score high in the firms monthly surveys. One that consistently provides bad liquidity will score low.
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