If we define every transaction in an account as a trade then we can start a conversation about the basics of trade execution.
Some people may believe that trading is executed through a primary stock market. If we keep this article specific about Canada, the primary exchanges are Toronto Stock Exchange and the TSX Venture Exchange (for small and medium sized companies). Both of these exchanges have trading hours between 9:30 am and 4:00 pm eastern time, Monday to Friday, with the exception of certain holidays. In British Columbia, this means the primary exchanges close at 1:00 pm.
Over the last decade new marketplaces have emerged in Canada, these have been referred to as Alternative Trading Systems (or ATS). These systems at first grew in popularity because brokers were able to avoid paying the exchange trading fee. Also, an ATS may have different hours of operations than the primary exchanges. The Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) regulates the above noted primary exchanges and the following ATSs: Canadian Securities Exchange, Alpha Exchange, Bloomberg Tradebook, Chi-X Canada, CX2 Canada ATS, Instinet Canada Cross Limited, Liquidnet Canada Inc., Lynx ATS, MATCH Now, Omega ATS, and TMX Select.
When an advisor enters an order it may be executed on the primary exchanges, an ATS, or a combination of both. The main factors effecting where the trade is ultimately filled is best available price, historical liquidity, and likelihood of execution. If a Canadian trade is executed on just one exchange then your confirmation slip would have a message something like “AS AGENTS, WE TODAY CONFIRM THE FOLLOWING BUY/SALE FOR YOUR ACCOUNT ON THE TORONTO STOCK EXCHANGE/CANADIAN VENTURE EXCHANGE/ALPHA/OMEGA/ etc.” If the Canadian security transaction was executed by a combination of exchanges/ATS then the message on the confirmation slip would reflect this by stating something like “AS AGENTS, WE TODAY CONFIRM THE FOLLOWING BUY/SALE FOR YOUR ACCOUNT ON ONE OR MORE MARKETPLACES OR MARKETS. AVERAGE PRICE SHOWN. DETAILS AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST“.
For example, a client wants to sell 2,500 of ABC Company at market after watching BNN and seeing the the price per share at $15.59. If all the shares were sold and executed at this price, the proceeds would be $38,975. The actual value once we enter the order is almost always different. The reason for this is both depth of quote and dark liquidity.
Depth of quote is when we can see the quantity of shares available and the current bid and ask at each price level. Prior to the above trade execution I outlined the depth of quote with my client (see table below). Advisors assisting retail clients typically have what is called Level II quotes where they can see both bid and ask at different price levels – I refer to this transparent part of the market as the “lit” system. Using the above example of a client wanting to sell 2,500 shares of ABC Company at market, the beginning few lines of the bid side of a depth of quote/level II would provide the following information:
Depth of Quote/Level II
Orders Size Bid
14 700 $15.57
22 1,600 $15.54
9 4,200 $15.50
3 9,000 $15.40
15 10,000 $15.37
Orders represent the number of limit orders entered on the lit system. It is possible for the same client to enter multiple limit orders. Size is the number of shares available at the bid price on the lit system.
Using the above Level II table, 700 shares would be sold (also referred to as filled) at $15.57, 1,600 filled at $15.54, and 200 filled at $15.50. An Advisor could communicate to the client what is visible on the lit system and that the total estimated proceeds would equal $38,863. It is possible that once the sell button is pressed that the actual trade is executed at a higher price as a result of dark liquidity (also referred to as dark pools).
Dark liquidity is a term that relates to traders being able to enter orders without providing the above transparency to other market participants. Effectively, the trades are not transparent or lit; thus the term dark pool came about because the orders can not be seen. Retail clients and advisors typically do not have direct access to entering trades with dark liquidity. Most financial firms have traders that assist Portfolio Managers, Wealth Advisors and institutional clients with larger trades.
Traders can use dark pools on both the primary exchanges and ATS. Dark pool trades in Canada are nearly all limit orders, and are typically done for institutions executing large trades. Using the above table, if an advisor entered an order to sell 100,000 shares at market, the price would immediately get driven down to as low as $15.00 (assuming no dark pool orders to buy). The benefit of dark liquidity for institutions is that they do not have to “show their cards” before they are played. In other words, an institution may want to sell 100,000 shares of ABC Company with a limit price of $15.57. A trader could work the order with acquiring smaller fills without creating big swings in the price of the security. The trader could enter a limit order putting 20,000 shares on the lit system so it shows on level II, enter 50,000 in a dark pool at the same price so it is not displayed, and hold off entering the remaining 30,000 in order to continue to work the order.
Wealth Advisors must verbally confirm each trade with clients and then execute the trade right after they obtain confirmation. With frequent small trades at different points in time, dark pool trades are not generally used in Canada at the retail level. In the US, dark pools are much more common, even for smaller sized trades. Some individual clients may have large holdings in a particular security and the traders are available to assist. Portfolio Managers on the other hand often execute large block trades (combining all the shares for all clients) on a discretionary basis. Once a quantity of shares to buy or sell is determined the Portfolio Manager is often in direct communication with the traders. Together they can choose to use dark pools, or not.
Dark liquidity is still relatively small in Canada when compared to the United States. Earlier this year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission noted that around 40 per cent of all U.S. stock trades avoid the exchanges. The increase in dark pool transactions make it more challenging to determine the true liquidity and price transparency of a security. Market makers assist in the lit market but are non-existent in the dark pool. The Canadian Securities Administrator and IIROC have already implemented a few rules with respect to dark liquidity and I would suspect that further rules will be unveiled in the future.
Kevin Greenard CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager with The Greenard Group at ScotiaMcLeod in Victoria. His column appears every second week in the TC. Call 250-389-2138.