Competition Heats up in Canada

Terry Flanagan

The Toronto Stock Exchange is about to have a new competitor in listings as regulators have approved Alpha Group to operate as a stock exchange.

The Ontario Securities Commission on Thursday gave approval for Alpha Group, Canada’s largest alternative trading system, to operate as an exchange, which would give the TSX a competitor for new stock listings.

Alpha chief executive Jos Schmitt made the official announcement on Thursday at the company’s third anniversary celebratory event.

The announcement comes while regulators mull over the acquisition of TMX Group by Maple Group, a consortium of Canadian banks and financial institutions. The situation could potentially have substantial conflicts of interest, as some of the backers of Maple are owners of Alpha.

Alpha was founded in 2007 by a group of banks looking to compete with the TMX, in the hopes of driving down fees and bringing an alternative to the markets. Some of those same banks are backers of Maple, including CIBC, TD Bank, National Bank of Canada and Bank of Nova Scotia. Another Alpha shareholder, Bank of Montreal, is not a member of Maple but it is advising TMX on its plan to merge with Maple.

The Maple consortium is planning to also acquire Alpha as part of the TMX acquisition, joining together Canada’s two largest equity trading platforms. However, a recent outage suffered at the Toronto Stock Exchange was also a perfect example of why there needs to be multiple, competing venues in a market.

The “TSX glitches mean we need an independent Alpha,” wrote Chris Damas, an analyst with BCMI Research, in a note to investors. “But why are we contemplating allowing the merger of the TSX and allowing it to absorb Alpha, the second largest trading venue in Canada, when on Wednesday it was made painfully clear that we need redundancy in our trading systems?”

The Toronto Stock Exchange on Nov. 30 experienced an outage stemming from technical issues. Although the problem was rectified within a few hours, there was no definitive reason given for the outage, and some market observers said TMX could have provided more information during and after the incident.

To be sure, other Canadian trading venues are not immune to down time. Alpha’s system shut down on the morning of Dec. 6 due to an unspecified technical outage. On Aug. 31, Chi-X Canada experienced a system issue that resulted in the alternative trading system being shut down for the final hours of the trading day. The official statement from Chi-X Canada was that a code change was made that resulted in a malfunction of their matching engine.

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