Schroders’ Head of Asian Trading, Jacqueline Loh, shares her thoughts on trading in Asia, offering comments on which markets are primed for change, how to find value in dark pools and whether unbundling is as useful as people say it is.
Fragmentation arising from multiple sources of liquidity is a necessary step in the evolution of best execution and in the long term, fragmentation will increase the quality of trade executions in Asia. What it means for the buy-side is investment in infrastructure spending to develop new order routers and the like, so we can electronically seek out and have exposure to multiple liquidity sources. For the sell-side, it means acceptance that there will be more competition for the same block of business in the marketplace. It means different things for different buy-side firms as well.
When I think about the investor ID markets in Asia, I am not sure any model is particularly productive because ID markets make it administratively more difficult to trade. IDs can make best execution very difficult to implement, especially if cash and stock checking is the primary consideration. Some of the ID markets, namely Taiwan and Korea, allow trading through omnibus accounts and that seems to be the way it is evolving. The ID markets are slowly going away, but having said that, the most productive example is probably China because the brokers seem to have a handle on exactly how much cash and stock you have in your account, and therefore how much you can sell and buy. You cannot overspend or oversell, and it is relatively easy to take part in IPOs.
Trade allocation used to be a problem with investor IDs; for example, explaining to compliance and regulators why the prices are not exactly the same between accounts. In these cases the use of omnibus accounts really help. Executing through omnibus ID means you know exactly what is in an account and do not experience many of the issues associated with overselling or settlement. It is a lot cleaner.
With retail-heavy markets, anonymity is the primary consideration for us. We tend to trade more using electronic means and make use of dark pools in retail-heavy markets. In addition to that, the algos we use will be more price-specific, rather than volume-participation models, which are more price impacting.
Best Execution, in the Dark?
You would think that dark pools would have more success in markets where spreads are currently wide and there is a need to be anonymous, which would imply ASEAN markets. In practice, however, it has had more success in Hong Kong, and that is because there are more users of electronic trading there. Perhaps the users are a little more sophisticated as well insofar as they are willing to take accountability for their executions. Which is, in fact, what defines electronic trading.
In our experience, dark pools make a difference in terms of liquidity, however, the question is what creates that difference? Is it the electronic trading system feeding through the dark pool that provides the benefit or is it the dark pool, itself? I would say it is the former, but that may depend on each user. routers. I hope the Securities and Exchange Board of India will consider further change including allowing stock crossings and clarifying the rules regarding P-Notes.
Brian Ross of FIX Flyer talks to Buy- and Sell-side presenting the latest lessons on high frequency trading and algorithms from the Indian market.
India’s capital markets are experiencing increased interest from local and global firms and new rules are set to attract high frequency trading (HFT).
The capital markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the exchanges, brokers and many investors are in favor of abolishing Securities Transaction Tax (STT). Eliminating STT will have a positive impact on market turnover, will help high frequency traders to be more profitable and, at the same time, narrow spreads should drive up trading volumes.
STT has been levied for all trades, domestic or foreign, on all transactions in either equities or derivatives markets since 2004. At the time, the purpose was to generate tax revenue and to protect market integrity by slowing down the pace of technological advancements of a few, well-funded players. Revenue generated by STT amounted to around USD 1.5bn in 2011.
It is widely expected that STT will be eliminated this spring, bringing new opportunities for HFT in one of the world’s biggest and fastest growingcapital markets.
To better understand the situation, we asked five panelists who are leading the charge in HFT in India, to share their insights with us.
You never forget your first algo. When you first got involved in algorithmic trading, what problem were you trying to solve? What was your decision process, and what technologies did you use?
Sanjay Rawal, Open Futures: We started off using algos for trading purposes and the first one we built was for a specific type of arbitrage that was getting difficult to run using manual input. We used third party software for the exchange connectivity and wrote our algo in C#.
Vishal Rana, IIFL Capital: My first experience with HFT was trying to create a straight-arb model on a real-time basis. Although it was a simple model, the most difficult thing was to clean the data. We got the data dumps and it took a lot of effort to clean it. Most of the coding was done using C++.
Rohit Dhundele, Edelweiss: At the onset of the project, the easiest yet most important task was gathering the business intelligence to be subsequently converted to algorithms. Some of the more intricate decisions were the selection of order, execution and risk management systems to ensure a stable back-bone to the platform. Other equally important criteria were a flexible programming environment and a friendly interface for users. To achieve these objectives, we had to decide whether to build or buy this technology.
At Edelweiss, we realized relatively quickly that there is a sweet spot between the two extremes of in-house vs. outsourced solutions. We have since been following this model – combining the best of both worlds, which has helped us deliver customized solutions within acceptable turnaround times, whilst still protecting our IP.
Sanjay Awasthi, Eastspring Investments (Singapore) Limited: In the Indian markets, propelled as they are by rapid information dissemination systems, anonymity becomes a key factor in determining efficient trading. It was this need for anonymity that propelled us towards algorithmic trading. Continued use and familiarity lead to further benefits by way of better execution control. Algorithmic trading has thus become an important part of our execution arsenal.
Chetan Pandya, Kotak Securities:
The first algo I worked upon and put in production was calendar rolls for derivatives. Our trading desk had huge positions to roll from the current month to the next and manual execution was leading to slippages and erroneous executions at times. Using the 2 legged order of NSE we created a simple algorithm which would roll the position at desired spread.
My first observation regarding algorithmic trading was to appreciate the difference between an individual trading manually versus a machine trading automatically. There are so many things that come naturally to a human being but needs to be told to the machine. Sometimes I wonder whether an algorithm can fully replace a human being ever. There are those nuances of the market and events that lead to erratic market behaviour that cannot be fully programmed for reaction.
Also, I had to ensure that there is no room for error when you are trading using an algo platform, primarily because of the sheer number of orders that it can process in a single second and also the inability to spot something going awry with the naked eye given the sheer speed. Hence, I had to also think of risk management capabilities of the Algorithmic platform while needing to ensure that risk management does not lead to inefficient execution due to latency.
In terms of technology, we were limited to applications that conformed to our market regulations. Once we had the base framework and architecture ready, we integrated it rapidly with our existing applications for order routing and downstream workflows.
Richard Nelson, Head of EMEA Trading for AllianceBernstein, shares his perspectives on navigating volatility, prospects for developing exchanges, new regulation and the balance between transparency and best execution.
FIXGlobal: How much does volatility affect the way that you trade and what are you using to measure volatility on the desk?
Richard Nelson, AllianceBernstein: We use an implementation shortfall benchmark, so the longer we take to execute an order, the wider the range of possible execution outcomes. Volatility, in particular intraday volatility, increases that potential range, so you could see very good or very poor execution outcomes as a result. In reaction to that, we take a more conservative execution strategy or stretch the order out over a longer time period. And, for instance, if we get a hit on a block crossing network, we will not go in with as large a quantity as we would in a less volatile market. In that way we try to dampen down the potential effects that volatility might have on the execution outcome.
FG: How is AllianceBernstein using technology to improve performance and cut costs on the trading desk?
RN: It plays quite an important part and has done so for quite a while. We are pretty lucky in that we have a team of quant trading analysts. Most of them are in New York, but we have one here on the desk in London, and they help us to analyze the changing market environment and recommend the best ways we can adapt to it. Our usage of electronic trading has increased in the last year, we benefit from the quant trading analysts looking at the results we are achieving with our customized algorithms. We are more confident about getting good consistent execution outcomes because they are monitoring the process and making the necessary changes to ensure the results are what we are expecting. This, in turn, increases the productivity of the traders I have on the desk. They can place their suitable orders into these algorithms and let them run which allows us to focus on trying to get better outcomes on our larger, more liquidity-demanding orders.
On top of that, as market liquidity has dropped significantly, we are trying to make sure we reach as much potential liquidity as possible, and ideally we want to do that under our own name rather than go to a broker who then goes to another venue. We believe that going directly into a pool of liquidity is better done under your own name rather than via a broker because we can then access the ‘meaty’ bits of the pool rather than the ‘froth’. We are looking into ways of doing that but one of the problems is that, potentially, you get a lot of executions from a number of different venues, which results in multiple tickets for settlement. Our goal is to access all these potential liquidity pools, yet also control our ticketing costs, which are a drag on performance for clients.
FG: Was it an intentional change to increase electronic trading or was it a byproduct?
RN: It was a little of both. Our quant trader has been with us for two years and when he first arrived he had to sort out the data issues that exist in Europe and to clean things up. Once the data integrity was sorted out, we looked at different ways of employing quantitative analyses. Having somebody here who is constantly monitoring the execution outcomes means we can proceed down this path with real confidence. As a London firm, we were a little behind in our adoption of electronic trading, but now we are in the middle of the pack in terms of usage. It makes sense from a business and productivity perspective that there are many orders that do not need human oversight, which are best done in algorithms.
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.
RCM’s Head of Asia Pacific Trading, Kent Rossiter, points out some of the good and bad of Indian SOR and reflects on Hong Kong market structure.
Are Smart Order Routers (SORs) in India working well?
SORs sure are working in India. I am not sure what is more of a raging success in the Asian equity SOR world, India or Japan, but the cost savings estimate numbers we are hearing are evidence enough to suggest that Indian SOR development is a big plus.
For ages, there have been two meaningfully big markets; the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and National Stock Exchange (NSE). Up until a year ago, when Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) opened the playing field up, investors who wanted the liquidity of both had to do so by manually monitoring their screens. This was painfully labor intensive and with the thin displayed liquidity of bids and offers, difficult to actually execute. You would often find fills from one exchange or another being executed at inferior prices to the other as a dealer had their eyes off the ball. Those executions were inevitably followed by a conversation with a dozen excuses. I would be told what I was seeing on my screen was not the real situation, but a latency delayed picture.
For the most part we are only using brokers with SOR for our Indian executions, and these brokers co-locate servers so latency is no longer a concern. We are getting fills at the best prices available and from two pools of liquidity where we may have only had one in the past. Only if the order is really small would we limit ourselves to one exchange in an effort to save on ticketing charges.
SOR is just the most recent visible step in the broader trend of the evolution of markets. Accordingly, the buy-side and sell-side traders have to educate themselves and keep up.
What are the issues with Indian SOR?
It is the lack of interoperability at the post-trade clearing level that has limited the true savings many investors would have benefited from otherwise. This is a challenge that SEBI continues to address. The lack a central clearing counterparty for the NSE and the BSE causes settlement costs to be about twice what they would be if only one exchange were used, and this is a consideration for most institutions when deciding whether or not to use two exchanges. If the exchanges and SEBI could reach a solution in terms of interoperability arrangements for SORs, the cost savings and benefits of SOR usage could be passed to the end users. Until then, its true potential remains yet to be uncovered.
When I accepted a job in the Indian financial markets six months ago, my thinking was simple. First, I believed (and still believe) that India has an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pull away from the pack and establish itself as the largest and most dynamic financial market in Asia. Second, I thought I could contribute to the efforts of my new employer to compete more effectively and grow its business.
I expected to draw on my experience working at and for exchanges in the US and Asia for more than two decades. I also expected to draw upon my training in finance and economics. What I did not expect, was that I would find myself regularly reaching back to wisdom and inspiration from books I had read in college – particularly the inspiration and observations of US revolutionaries and civil rights heroes. Let me explain.
From most perspectives, the opportunity in Indian financial markets today is spectacular. There is the confluence of factors that – unless some or all of them are seriously derailed – will allow Mumbai to emerge as a major global financial center.
First, India has the virtue of a large domestic market. In Asia, this gives China and India, a big advantage over Singapore and Hong Kong, today’s front-runners in the race to become Asian Financial Centers.
Second, the Indian economy is growing rapidly and this growth, because of India’s early stage of development, is likely to continue in the 6-8% range, and quite possibly the 8-10% range, for the next decade. Even if the size of India’s financial sector relative to GDP stays constant, it will double in absolute terms over the next decade, assuming 7% growth. A much more likely scenario, however, is that we will see dramatic financial deepening in India over this time period.
Third, India already has much of the basic financial market infrastructure in place. Admittedly, there are a few gaps – such as a vibrant “Stock Borrowing and Lending” market. And there is always room for improvement – especially when it comes to coming more into line with global best practices and standards. But, most would agree that India’s financial market “plumbing” is working well. In terms of trade processing in the equities market, for example, Indian exchanges match, clear and settle a phenomenal number of transactions each day – putting both BSE and NSE easily in the top ten globally.
Fourth, India has a reasonably effective and transparent regulatory environment – focused on investor protection and market development. Regulators are appropriately cautious in some areas. The focus has been on risk management and the gradual introduction of new products. This has generated some frustration at times for market participants who want regulatory changes to come more quickly. But, by and large regulations are evolving well, taking into account the views of the market, international practices and Indian ground realities.
Fifth, Indian financial markets are quite open to foreign participation. While there are some notable impediments — for example, restrictions on foreign retail investors – it remains true that offshore participation by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) is substantial. More significantly, if a foreign securities firm wishes to come “onshore” in India, it is to a very large extent free to compete with domestic firms. The benefits from this foreign participation, in my view, have been substantial, bringing global practices, global talent (much of it Indians working at foreign firms), and global competition into the market.
Sixth — and most relevant to my comments here – India has a competitive exchange environment that will be a critical factor in lowering trading costs, increasing liquidity and driving the development of the markets through innovation.