Moving Away From Touch


High-touch trading systems are still extremely prevalent in the institutional world of bond-trading and structured products trading. The lack of liquidity and venues for assets like ABS, CMOs, CLOs, swaps and others forces trading desks to pick up the phone and dial around to partners and banks around the world to see who might want to take the other side of the trade.

Generally described as “high touch trading,” piecing out orders and using multiple liquidity sources will never die out, but it’s soon becoming a dated method of trading. Platforms like Bloomberg, Knight BondPoint and Fidessa are allowing traders at institutional desks do deals in a much more streamlined way.

“There’s still a need for high touch trading, obviously. I can’t just sell half of a CDO on my book by punching some numbers into [my] Bloomberg and having the trade go through at the price I want,” said one asset-backed securities trader at a major bank. “I still have to work the phones. I still need to call my people are other banks and hedge funds and see who can take this.”

There is a type of equification coming to fixed-income markets though. The increasing use of algorithms for pricing and trading interest rates, swaps and futures is obvious. Very few firms have gone fully automatic in the way of “setting it and forgetting it” with a proprietary algo-driven black box model. But now it takes a computer and two traders to get an order filled properly as opposed to a row of seven people at a desk working it out over an afternoon.

The anemic performance in Treasuries and sudden pullbacks in equities have left investors gunning for corporate credit, both investment-grade and high-yield. Particularly algos will be setup with buy and sell parameters to capture mispricings in debt markets and in turn, leading to increasing gains. Brokers and algo providers are seeing a large bump in revenue from their fixed-income divisions are institutional investors go after exposure to high-yield debt and European sovereign debt.

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