Can you describe the SFC’s recent regulatory initiative on electronic trading? There’s a huge amount of work and thought being put into the regulatory approach to electronic trading internationally, and this effort has been underway for some time.
In Hong Kong, we published our new rules in March after a public consultation.
The initiatives are intended to provide much needed clarity to intermediaries and traders and, in common with much post-financial crisis regulation, are about safety, soundness and transparency. The rules are broadly in line with regulations across other major international markets and the principles published by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).
In essence, the rules apply to internet trading, Direct Market Access (DMA) and algorithmic trading, and are aimed at ensuring that undue risks are not borne by investors.
What are the comments of the industry on the new SFC regime of electronic trading? Feedback was pretty open and honest. There was no significant resistance to the proposals; it is pretty evident that sensible regulation is necessarily about system safety, testing, internal controls and the risks of DMA.
Of course some comments focused on the ever present tension between the extent of safety measures required to minimise risk to an acceptable level and the costs of those measures to the industry – and to end users.
For example, smaller firms were concerned about the extent they have to employ resources to check out an electronic system that is bought off-the-shelf. The answer is that you absolutely need to check it out – because if you don’t, the risks you are taking on are unknowable; you would be flying blind.
Although the new requirements will inevitably increase operating costs, we believe that the framework will actually facilitate the long-term growth of electronic trading in our market; electronic trading is here to stay and the regime ensures that investors are informed and can be confident. One thing we are very conscious of in Hong Kong is that we deal with a vast range of financial institutions from the very big to the very small. The impact of regulation on them, including electronic trading, can therefore vary, and that’s something we have to be sensitive to. Clearly, large firms may be better able to absorb additional costs than smaller firms.
With that in mind, the new regime will become effective on 1 January 2014 to allow sufficient time for all firms to implement internal control policies and procedures, as well as to make changes to their electronic trading and record keeping systems.
How are you examining dark liquidity? Fundamentally, with dark pools and dark liquidity, we are talking about trading off-exchange on platforms that do not offer pre-trade price transparency. Since the imposition of mandatory flagging of reported dark pool transactions by the Hong Kong stock exchange last year, the reported volume of trades executed in dark pools in Hong Kong has increased steadily, accounting for 2.2% to 2.5% of monthly turnover. This, of course, is very small compared to markets that have actively embraced alternative venues – and are now struggling with how to regulate them and find an optimal balance between the roles of “lit” and “dark” trading platforms.
We have identified a set of key issues concerning dark liquidity – clarity to users as to how a dark pool operates; involvement of retail investors; who within a financial institution can see what’s occurring in a dark pool; what ‘best execution’ means within dark pools; and proprietary orders within dark pools – e.g. the priority of proprietary orders versus genuine client orders.
So, unlike the new electronic trading rules – which are about firms operating between a trading platform and a client, this is a separate topic about the platforms themselves.
We’ve already come across some problems with existing dark pools. They have different configurations and different target clients, and of course they were originally developed to facilitate large trades by large institutions – but have moved on from this to deal with smaller trades. Those banks or brokers who operate their own “internal” dark pools tend to say that they are simply a benign electronic overlay to traditional brokerage operations. Exchanges counter this by saying that all trading needs to have pre-trade price and order book transparency and what the dark pools operators are doing is operating alternative exchanges, free riding on lit market pricing. To address these issues, we have actively discussed the situation with existing dark pool operators with a view to imposing carefully calibrated licensing conditions.
We will also consult the market later this year about codifying our stance to ensure a consistent, level playing field for all operators.
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.