Macro Upturn Needed to Boost Volume

Terry Flanagan

With equity and options trading volume mostly languid this year, exchanges and broker-dealers that rely on order flow are doing what they can to boost their own businesses. Such measures include education and outreach to buy-side investors and other prospective users, as well as technology upgrades and more competitive pricing.

However, much of if and when a trading rebound will happen is beyond the control of any single market participant or group of market participants; rather, it will depend on the trajectory of the economy.

Nasdaq OMX Chief Executive Bob Greifeld said currently, the lead question for any handler of options trades is where is the activity.

“Where can we see volume over the medium or long term?” Greifeld said on May 4 at the Options Industry Council conference in New Orleans. While that question cannot be answered with certainty, trading activity “will track GDP progress in some fundamental way,” he said.

Equity-fund flows are a telling indicator of activity in the options market, and the trend hasn’t been positive, Greifeld noted. Equity funds gave up $8.3 billion in March, the 11th-straight monthly outflow, according to Morningstar.

Greifeld cited two reasons to be optimistic regarding the future of trading activity: a stronger market for initial public offerings, and the recently signed Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBs) Act.

One executive from a software vendor said the fragmentation in the options space — which may boost the number of U.S. options exchanges from nine to 12 by year-end — is a sign of market pessimism, at least regarding the near term.

By rolling out new exchanges, exchange companies are aggressively seeking to capture market share from competitors, even if it exacts a cost of excessive fragmentation on the broader market, the technology executive said at OIC. It’s possible there wouldn’t be as many new exchanges planned if exchange executives were confident that overall volume would increase, the source said.

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