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Latency: Why Care?

Citihub’s Paul Chew and Richard Donaldson lay out the latest in Asia Pacific latency reduction and discuss how firms should prioritize their technology investments.
Paul Chew Jun11No one in AsiaPac used to care much about latency. However, when the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) launched arrowhead in 2010 reducing their matching engine latency from 1 second to 5 milliseconds (a 200 fold improvement) it created a paradigm shift in the trading landscape by eliminating the exchange as the chief cause of latency and shifting the focus back onto market participants.
What’s more, this was not an isolated event – August 2011 will see the culmination of a US $200m investment by the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) to create the world’s fastest matching engine (SGX REACH) with average response times of 90 microseconds. The Australia Stock Exchange (ASX) invested US $35m to drive down their latency from 30 milliseconds to 300 microseconds; at the end of this year the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx) is expected to launch its new matching engine reducing average order response times from  130 milliseconds to 9 milliseconds (a 15 fold improvement).
At the same time, volumes are rising. TSE’s daily average equity order volume jumped 22% to 8.239 million orders in 2010 after the launch of arrowhead. Even before the proposed latency improvements by HKEx, they recorded a 41% increase in volume during the same period.So how will increased volumes and a reduction in exchange matching latency impact buy/sell-side firms? Surely it’s a benefit to doing business? Actually, with market participants now contributing to the majority of order processing latency, it creates both a challenge and an opportunity.
Increased stress will be placed on market participants’  trading systems because message volumes are growing and the time interval between messages from the exchange is falling. Conversely, market participants that can support growing volumes and drive down their own latency will create a competitive advantage. So what will this really mean for market participants and where should they target their limited investment dollars?
eTrading Platform MaturityRichard Donaldson
Our industry experience in Asia Pacific across buy/sell-side firms and vendors indicates a broad range of capability and focus. This is evident from contrasting client feedback and has given rise to what we have termed eTrading Platform Maturity:

  • Tier One: Platform Stability – “We care about stability, availability and reliability, not latency.”
  • Tier Two:  Instrumentation – “We care about platform latency but we need to improve the way we measure and analyze it.”
  • Tier Three: Platform Optimization – “We don’t care about absolute latency as long as we’re first on the order book.”

Fundamentally, latency is one of the key barometers of system health. Significant increases in measured latency are indicative of a stressed platform which can lead to outages impacting reputation and resulting in lost revenue.
We believe all firms should first establish a reliable platform that copes with daily business demands with predictable and consistent levels of latency before chasing the next tier of eTrading Platform Maturity.
Of course this is all a balancing act, often  requiring business and technology teams to prioritize stability over new product development and increased functionality. Smart investment in platform stability can be achieved through simple measurement and analysis of latency to target improvements providing these are supported with the appropriate post-implementation controls.

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