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This may be a poorly timed post since the Tabb Forum’s annual fixed-income conference is tomorrow, I’m pretty bearish on meaningful changes in corporate-bond market these days.

There’s been a lot of activity in the electronic-trading space for fixed income over the past year as agency brokerage ITG and Tradeweb launch their respective trading platforms for corporate bonds to compete against MarketAxess’s all-to-all trading model.

Even this week, we saw Lime Brokerage co-founder and former-CEO Alistair Brown announce the February launch of the first phase of OpenBondX, a new electronic fixed-income trading venue.

All of this activity and innovation is reminiscent of all the ECNs that sprung up after the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) changed the order-handling rules in the 1990s and swap-execution -facility(SEF) explosion when the SEC and US Commodity Future Trading Commission (CFTC) began writing the new rules for over-the-counter (OTC) swaps trading mandated by Dodd-Frank.

BlackRock only added gasoline to this fire when it published its white paper calling for a reform of the corporate-bond market’s market structure in September 2014 asking for new and innovative trading models for the market.

However, maybe the buy side should start looking for change internally and not externally.


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Since today is the US quasi-holiday Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day for our northern neighbor, I do not feel really bad about sharing my thoughts about the Investment Company Institute‘s Capital Markets Conference held on October 10.

I have to admit that the conference had a pretty impressive line up. Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner Scott O’Malia started the conference by providing some interesting volume data for OTC swaps since some swap execution facilities (SEFs) went live on October 2.

Of the approximately 6,500 OTC swaps trade executed during this period, only 50 or so elected to do the electronically via request for quotes (RFQs) or using a best bid and offer (BBO) platforms, or that 99.23% of the trades were voice traded.

I have to admit, I was scribbling my notes while handling a minor IT issue at the time, so please take the figures with a truckload of salt. I’ve seen other coverage that claims that the figure is closer to 50%, which sounds a bit high since not a single SEF operator has submitted a list of contracts it would they would like to make “available to trade,” according to a trusted source.

Until that happens, all transactions fall into the “permitted trades” bucket that let’s investors decide how to execute their centrally cleared trades.

Commissioner O’Malia also discussed his concern that each SEF should provide pre-trade certainty for every transactions. If SEFs do not have it place soon, he would be calling the CFTC’s Technology Advisory Committee (TAC) into session in early November to seek a technology solution to the issue. Read the rest of this entry »

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Today kicks off the 21st annual International Conference on Case-based Reasoning in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The four-day event brings CBR veterans and novices together to discuss research on and applications for the problem solving methodology.

Never heard of it? Neither had I, until I spoke with representatives from Verdande Financial Services, one of the conference’s sponsors.

In its most basic form, as explained to this 18th century history major, the CBR methodology uses past experiences to identify occurring trends, which may lead to a familiar event. (You can find far more academic explanations and reading here and here.)

Organizations can employ CBR to identify potential problems and arrest them before they cause a major headache.

For example, Verdande Technology, Verdande’s parent company, first deployed its CBR-based Edge platform in the energy industry, where it identified potential problems for off-shore drilling rigs. By comparing current performance data with historical performance data, oil companies could address issues before they needed to replace a drill bit or sink a new drilling shaft. Each process could cost a company millions of dollars.


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There are only 33 days left before all the firms that the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) designated as Category-2 entities must central clear the majority of their over-the-counter (OTC) swaps trades and the next four or five weeks and it looks like it will be hellish for more than half of them.

Do not expect anyone working to meet this deadline to attend your Memorial Day barbecue or expect them to have any thoughts on summer blockbusters that opened before June 11.

According industry research firm Celent, 48% of buy-side firms are still looking for clearing or collateral management partners, 24% are almost ready to meet the deadline and 28% are ready to clear trades and handle the new collateral requirements, according to data from the firm’s latest research report Maximizing Collateral Advantage.

Celent analysts interviewed more than 25 Tier-1 (30%), Tier-2 (33%) and Tier-3 (37%) buy-side firms based in Europe (33 %), North America (33%) and Asia (26%) for this study.

A Celent analyst shared these findings during an industry round table on strategic margin management, which Omgeo and DerivSource hosted yesterday.

Although the numbers sounds dire, one round-table attendee estimated that although Category 2 has more members than Category 1 or Category 3 but that those firms trade swaps only three or four times a year. He added that the market already clears most of the OTC swaps volume and has since March 11, when Category 1’s swaps dealers, major swaps participants and active funds began meeting their mandatory clearing obligations.

I’m much better at citing sources usually, but I needed to promise not to quote or identify participants or attendees directly to attend this no-press industry event.

Panelists and attendees also questioned the conventional wisdom that an estimated 2,000 counterparties will need to clear trades. Many thought the figure was closer to 600 and that 2,000 might have referred to sub-accounts, but not financial institutions or legal vehicles.

By the wee hours of June 11, most buy-side organizations will know how well they prepared for the CFTC deadline when the first margin calls start arriving. Those who did a good job of taking into account the added clearing and affirmation expenses will be fine. Those who had not are going to have some real uncomfortable conversations with their supervisors.

If you are in London and want to benchmark your firm’s preparedness against that of your industry colleagues, Omgeo and DerivSource will host the same event locally on May 23. It’s worth a look.

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Quietly last quarter, execution management system provider Portware launched its Alpha Vision automated algorithmic strategy optimizer platform.

So far six yet un-named asset managers, two hedge funds and two pension funds are using the new system to develop and execute trading strategies using third-party trading algorithms available to the respective firms.

Once a trader enters a parent order, Alpha Vision analyzes the firm’s historical trade database, or a generic one database provided by Portware, to find similar executions. Then it develops a trading strategy based on this data using 45 different factors in its decision-making process.

Once the trader accepts the strategy, Alpha Vision executes and monitors the strategy’s performance. After each child order transacts, that performance data is fed back into the system to hone the strategy further. If a change is necessary, the platform tweaks the strategy while duly logging those changes.

To prevent the strategy from spiraling out of control if the markets take an unexpected turn, the platform knows when to stop trading and alerts the user. The trader then can instruct the system to develop a new strategy base on the new market conditions and execute the outstanding order against it.

According to Portware CEO Alfred Eskender, Alpha Vision’s early adopters saw the platform updating its trading strategy on average 42 times compared to the typical four tweaks that a human trader might make after the commencing an execution strategy. This difference in strategy monitoring has translated into a 17-basis point improvement in executions done via the platform, he claims.

The offering might sound like a “trading desk in a box,” but Portware officials are quick to refer to it as “more of a co-pilot than a pilot.”

Although the system may not replace the trader, the performance improvements it provides just might alter some commission-sharing agreements as research brokers could use it to improve their executions and attract more direct client order flow, say vendor officials.

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