Asia’s market structure creates demand for increasingly granular trading information – as Kent Rossiter, Head of Asia Pacific Trading Allianz Global Investors and Michael Corcoran, Managing Director ITG discuss, FIX can help.
Asia Pacific faces different liquidity challenges to other regions, particularly given that spreads are often much wider and are therefore an even more significant contributing factor to overall trading costs (See Chart). As the trading environment evolves in the region and the focus on managing costs grows, the requirements for transparency and feedback on trading increases. This is happening in parallel with the evolution of new trading venues in the region, particularly dark pools. Buy-side traders now want a greater level of detail on their dark pool fills to help them understand the behavior of their orders and manage their execution venues proactively to get the best trading result.
Kent Rossiter heads up the Asia Pacific trading desk of Allianz Global Investors, and is constantly looking for ways to improve the efficiency of their process and minimise the costs of trading. From his perspective, while post-trade TCA is now well-established, a particular growth area is the requirement for more detailed data on a shorter timeframe. He explains “We as buy-side traders are now trading an increasing amount of our orders ourselves using the electronic tools available, and when we do so we want more granularity and data fed back to us: which venues are our orders being executed in, at what price, and how aggressively. We want information that helps us adjust strategies on the fly for better trading outcomes, or quickly review the results so we can manage our future performance.”
One result of this is new demand in the region for analysis of maker/taker indicators on orders so that a trader can identify how often they are crossing the spread to find liquidity. Allianz Global Investors has been working with ITG and other brokers in the region to implement support of maker/taker analysis to help the trading desks improve their insight into market conditions and get more transparency into the behavior of their orders in dark venues.
Understanding Maker/Taker Understanding whether an order is making or taking liquidity is important, particularly in wide-spread environments such as many of the Asian markets. Michael Corcoran, Managing Director of ITG, says “Traders want to know instantly whether they are providing liquidity or taking it, instead of retrospectively needing to compare fills and timestamps manually against what the market was trading at. This can be very useful information to help them adjust the trading strategy in real-time to the market conditions and the liquidity available. It can also help determine what kind of ‘throttle’ they should put on their strategy or their algo to find the right level of aggressiveness for the orders they are working. In addition to that it can also be a very valuable tool for sell-side firms, helping to refine the development and rules of algorithmic strategies and improve strategic ideas that will work for certain clients or order types.”
This is of growing relevance in a multi-venue environment, for example in Asia where over the past few years a lot more broker dark pools have been developed. Many buy-side firms now choose to use a dark aggregator to help improve their efficiency in accessing multiple venues, and here some kind of maker/taker liquidity analysis can be a helpful data point for assessing the type of outcome a trader is getting in those pools. Corcoran explains “Both ITG as a dark aggregator, and our buy-side clients themselves, want to understand whether orders are consistently making or taking liquidity in a specific dark venue so that the impact can be assessed – for example if our client’s orders always take liquidity in a certain venue we would review that to understand why. If we can pass that data directly back to the clients they can then make a decision about whether they want to be removed from that venue or change the distribution of their order flow across different pools. Likewise, if we see orders taking liquidity then see an unexpected change in the stock’s trading profile, this can be a useful warning indicator about the participants in a specific pool.”
FIX Tag 851 – a Potential Solution A specific FIX Tag, 851, or Last Liquidity Indicator, has been developed by FIX Protocol Ltd (FPL) as an identifier of maker/taker behavior. The US appears to have the most established support of liquidity-indicating tags with exchanges able to pass the data back to brokers and most of those brokers able to pass that on to clients. In Europe, likewise the large exchanges and brokers can support this, although there is less among the mid and smaller brokers.
However, in Asia the tag is sparsely supported, if it all, by the exchanges, alternative lit trading venues and many of the broker dark pools. Firms therefore have to come up with interpretive solutions and workarounds to give their buy-side clients a higher level of detail and transparency on their trading, particularly in dark pool aggregation.
Rossiter would prefer an industry-wide approach to improving transparency and the availability of maker/taker data which includes vendors, brokers, and most importantly the exchanges “Typically the actual FIX tag for this information is supposed to be generated by the exchange or trading venue, and it is passed to the brokers who need to be able to identify and accept that tag and then pass it into the vendor EMS or OMS platform that the client is using. So there are a number of parties within the workflow who are affected and they need to collaborate to bring in changes. An industry-wide adoption of the relevant FIX tag would definitely be a good solution”.
RCM’s Head of Asia Pacific Trading, Kent Rossiter, unmasks the Asian trading scene, sharing insights into how RCM navigates the unlit landscape, identifying the effects of dark liquidity and highlighting ways brokers can facilitate better buy-side decision making.
FIXGlobal: What are the main benefits of dark liquidity in Asia?
Kent Rossiter, RCM: One of the major challenges in Asia has always been accessing liquidity without other parties in the market taking advantage of your position and your need to complete the order. In cases where liquidity is scarce, knowledge that a relatively large order is being worked can expose investors to various risks. In such situations, it is advantageous for knowledge of the deal whilst it is being worked to be discreet until the order is filled. In dark pools run by brokers we can get priority on our orders through queue-jumping.
Dark pools support such an approach as they allow large block orders to be worked without showing size. In this way, trading in dark pools allows a trader to access a broker’s own internal order flow, without being gamed by the market that would otherwise risk non-fulfillment or less efficient pricing. As a result, size trading becomes the norm in dark pools and a trader gets to see blocks that may never have been available otherwise. With no information leakage we are not disadvantaged by the fading you see on lit venue quotes. From a personal perspective, the challenges that arise from dealing across a number of venues and the resulting increased use of technology make the role more exciting and satisfying.
FG: How do you limit information leakage in dark pools?
KR: With the exception of broker internalization engines, the trade sizes found in dark pools are often multiple of what they are on the exchange. So having fewer, but larger prints reduces information leakage, and in many cases we can get done on our size right away. Minimizing the number of times a print hits the tape reduces the chance of this footprint being picked up and working against the balance of your order. That said, broker internalization engines do their part well, keeping any spread savings among the two broker’s clients instead of giving it up to the general market.
FG: If you decide to seek dark liquidity, how do you decide between broker internalizers and block crossing networks?
KR: The type of dark venues being used for various trades (i.e. between block crossing networks and brokers) are different. As I mentioned, brokers for the most part are matching up little prints that otherwise would have been time-sliced in the general market, and when using these venues the goal is often to save a few basis points along the way while you work an order. You are not often micro-managing each fill, but through the process we are getting spread capture and price improvement. The type of stock you are often trading in these internalization engines are often larger, more liquid stocks; the type of orders often worked by algos.
Block crossing networks on the other hand, while still matching up electronically, are probably more confidential, and take up the function of what brokers still do upstairs - putting blocks together - so size is the real focus here. Both types of dark pools use the primary market for price sourcing since the vast majority of trades get printed at or within the best bid and offer. As the primary markets become too thin, it can cause price formation problems.
While it is not specific to the consideration of dark pools as an extra execution venue, we have to consider potential increased book out costs if we do use dark pools (except via aggregators, since we would only be using one counterparty), just as we have had to for years when deciding whether to execute a block with a single broker versus multiple counterparties. As dark pools proliferate there is an increased chance that we may not have part of our order in that pool at just the right time to take advantage of flow that may be parked there. Dark pool aggregators are aiming to provide the buy-side solutions to this.