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Dark Pool: Definition, Use, and Examples          

Dark Pool: Definition, Use, and Examples

Dark Pool: Definition, Use, and Examples

A dark pool is a private financial forum or exchange mostly used by institutional investors for trading financial instruments like securities and derivatives. Dark pools, also known as black pools, are not accessible by the public and do not display their trades, unlike the public stock market.

Trades occur anonymously between buyers and sellers instead. The use of dark pools allows institutional traders to buy and sell large blocks of securities without revealing their intentions to the public, which can cause market volatility. Examples of dark pools include Barclays LX, Credit Suisse Crossfinder, and UBS PIN Alternative Trading System.

What exactly is Dark Pool Trading?

Dark Pool Trading is the act of buying and selling securities on a private forum where trades are not publicly displayed. Dark Pool came into existence when the Securities and Exchange Commission allowed traders to transact huge blocks of shares. Darkpool is used by institutional traders to carry out large trades anonymously, without causing market volatility.

Dark pool trading is beneficial to institutional traders because it allows them to execute large trades without revealing their intentions to the public. Notable dark pools include Goldman Sachs Sigma X and JP Morgan JPM-X. The use of dark pools has been a topic of controversy due to concerns about market transparency.

Alternative Trading Systems (ATS) like dark pools play a crucial role in modern financial markets. ATS provides a platform for investors to trade large blocks of shares without affecting the prices of those shares in the open market. This helps to increase liquidity in the market. They offer a unique advantage to traders by providing a platform to execute trades anonymously, which reduces transaction costs and improves price discovery.

ATS, especially dark pools, allow large institutional investors to trade without revealing their trading intentions to the public, which can help to reduce market impact. ATS also provides traders with the flexibility to execute trades without having to follow strict rules and regulations that are imposed in traditional stock exchanges.

What is the Origin of Dark Pool?

Dark Pools came up in the 1980’s after the SEC allowed investors to buy and sell large volumes of shares. There was a change in the regulation in the US in regard to the transaction of securities which enabled investors to trade large volumes of shares without having to compromise their privacy.  The concept of dark pools was first introduced by the investment bank Credit Suisse in 1998. The first successful dark pool was operated by Instinet (now owned by Nomura Holdings) in 2002.

Dark pools originated when electronic communication networks (ECNs) were created to match buyers and sellers of securities. ECN networks were initially used by brokers to execute trades on behalf of their clients. Institutional investors started using these networks to execute large trades anonymously with the rise of computerized trading.

This led to the development of dark pools, which are essentially private versions of these electronic communication networks. Dark pools have become an integral part of the global financial system today, with billions of dollars worth of securities traded on these private exchanges daily.

How does the Dark Pool work?

Dark pools work by allowing buyers and sellers to place orders anonymously. The pool operator matches buyers and sellers based on various factors, such as the price of the security and the time of the order. The trade is executed, and the transaction is reported to the parties involved once a match is made. The trade is not displayed to the public, unlike public stock markets. This lack of transparency has led to concerns about market manipulation, but proponents argue that it allows for large trades without market disruption.

Dark pools are primarily organized through broker-dealer networks. These are private exchanges operated by large broker-dealers, where institutional investors can anonymously trade large blocks of securities. They are organized through Electronic Communications Networks ECNs also. ECNs are computerized trading systems that match buyers and sellers anonymously. ECNs are often owned by broker-dealers or independent companies.

What are the uses of the Dark Pool?

The primary use of a dark pool is allowing institutional investors to trade large blocks of securities anonymously.

uses of the Dark Pool
Use of Dark Pools

Below listed are four more uses of dark pool.

  • Reduces the market impact and volatility
  • Improving liquidity by increasing the number of available trading options
  • Providing investors with access to alternative trading systems (ATS) that offer different regulations and trading policies
  • Offering anonymity to traders, which can reduce transaction costs
  • Allowing for high-frequency trading and other computerized trading strategies that require quick execution without market disruption.

Dark pools are not only useful for allowing institutional investors to trade large blocks of securities anonymously, but also for reducing market impact and volatility, improving liquidity, providing access to alternative trading systems, offering anonymity to traders, and allowing for high-frequency and computerized trading strategies.

Why use a Dark Pool?

Institutional investors avoid the market impact that comes with trading large volumes of shares on public exchanges by using dark pools. This is because when a large trade is executed on a public exchange, it can signal to the market that there is significant buying or selling pressure, which can cause the price of the stock to move against the trader.

The trades are hidden from the public in a dark pool, which reduces market impact and improves the chances of getting a better execution price. Dark pools also improve liquidity and reduce trading costs for institutional investors. Dark pools can increase the number of available trading partners and reduce bid-ask spreads by bringing together buyers and sellers who have not found each other on public exchanges. This leads to better prices for traders and lower transaction costs.

How to trade in Dark Pool?

Below are the steps a trader follows to trade in the dark pool.

  1. Find a broker that offers access to a dark pool. Online brokers and trading platforms offer this service, so do your research and choose one that best suits your needs.
  2. Determine the type of trade you want to make. Dark pools typically cater to large institutional investors who want to buy or sell large quantities of stocks without affecting the market price.
  3. Enter your order into the dark pool. This typically is done through your broker’s trading platform. Your order will be matched with other orders in the dark pool and the trade will be executed anonymously.
  4. Wait for the trade to be executed. Since dark pools are private exchanges, it takes longer for your order

It is important to understand that dark pools are not a conventional method of reading and they are often accessible only to institutional investors with a large sum to invest.

What are the different Types of Dark Pools?

There are three main types of dark pools. They include agency brokers or exchange-owned dark pools, broker-dealer-owned dark pools, and electronic market makers. Below is more information about the three of them.

1. Agency Broker or Exchange-owned

Agency Broker or Exchange-owned dark pools are operated by stock exchanges or independent brokers. They act as a neutral third party, matching buyers and sellers without having a stake in the trades. Examples of agency brokers or exchange-owned entities include ITG, Liquidnet, Instinet, T Rowe Price etc.

Agency brokers provide unbiased advice and recommendations, ensuring that clients receive fair and objective guidance. These brokers have access to a wide range of financial products, giving clients more options when it comes to investment opportunities. One of the main drawbacks is that these brokers typically charge higher fees and commissions compared to other types of brokers. Agency brokers have limited proprietary products, which could limit investment options for clients.

2. Broker-dealer-owned Dark Pools

Broker-dealer-owned dark pools are operated by broker-dealers. They offer their clients access to the pool and use it to trade for their own accounts as well. This can lead to conflicts of interest, as the broker-dealer can trade against their own clients.

Broker-dealer-owned Dark Pools provide access to a wider range of financial products, unbiased advice, and no conflicts of interest. But they have higher fees and commissions, limited proprietary products, less research and analysis, and less personalized service.

3. Electronic Market Makers

These dark pools are run by high-frequency trading firms. They use complex algorithms to match buyers and sellers and execute trades on their own accounts as well.

One advantage of Electronic Market Marker dark pools is that they offer greater liquidity due to high-frequency trading algorithms, which allow for faster and more efficient trade executions. [One disadvantage of EMM dark pools is that they are more vulnerable to high-frequency trading strategies and aggressive traders, which can lead to market manipulation and unfair advantages for certain traders.

What are the benefits of Dark Pool Trading?

Dark pool trading is done by a selected few institutional investors. The major benefit of Dark Pool is for those investors to make large trades without affecting the market as a whole. The following are the three main benefits of Dark Pool Trading. 

  • Privacy: Dark Pool helps the traders to have a level of privacy which means that who or what entity trades in Dark Pool exchanges won’t be made known to the public. The stocks won’t face devaluation this way, since the intention of the traders are unaware to the other traders. It’s basically a surprise for small-time investors. 
  • Liquidity: This point is closely related to the previous point wherein, Dark Pool ensures that there is liquidity for the big-time investors to trade such a huge volume of shares. 
  • Prevents information leak: The news about the trades that happen in the Dark Pool will only be available after it is done, therefore, the investors in the regular stock market won’t have much time to react. This disables very dramatic fluctuations in the market. 

Dark Pool Trading can be very advantageous to big-shot traders and institutional investors who have the capability to move and transact large volumes of shares. But it can be seen as detrimental to regular investors and traders. 

What are the risks of Dark Pools?

Dark pools come with risks while they offer benefits. Below are four risks to consider before trading in a dark pool:

  1. Lack of transparency: since trades in the dark pool are not visible to the public, which can make it difficult to determine if traders are getting the best price for their orders.
  2. Limited regulatory oversight: There is a lack of transparency since dark pools are not subject to the same regulations as public exchanges. This makes them more susceptible to fraud and market manipulation.
  3. Counterparty risk: Trades in the dark pool are made between two parties, which exposes traders to counterparty risk if the other party fails to deliver the securities or make the payment.
  4. Information leakage: There is still a risk of information leakage even though trades in the dark pool are hidden. Traders need to be cautious about who they share their trading strategies with, as it can lead to market manipulation and insider trading.
  5. Restricted access: Dark pools are often only accessible to institutional investors, leaving smaller investors at a disadvantage.

Dark pools come with risks and are not accessible to all investors. It is important for traders to do their research and understand the different types of dark pools and the risks associated with trading in them before making any trades.

What does the Critiques say about Dark Pools?

Critics argue that dark pools contribute to market fragmentation and reduce transparency, making it harder for regulators to monitor trades and ensure that markets are fair. They also raise concerns about conflicts of interest, since some dark pools are owned by the same firms that trade within them.

There have been instances of illegal practices such as front-running, insider trading and price distortion in dark pools. Critics argue that these practices show that the hidden nature of dark pools can make them a breeding ground for unethical behaviour.

What is an example of Dark Pool Trading?

One notable example of dark pool trading is the case involving Barclays and Credit Suisse in 2016. Barclays and Credit Suisse reached a significant settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and New York Attorney General over allegations that their dark pool trading platforms favour high-frequency traders while failing to offer clients confidentiality and protection as promised. Barclays settled for $70 million and Credit Suisse settled for $84.3 million, reflecting concerns around transparency and fairness in dark pool trading, leading to greater oversight and demands for stringent regulations.

Another example of dark pool trading coming under regulatory scrutiny is the case involving Investment Technology Group (ITG) in 2015. Investment Technology Group (ITG), an independent broker and financial technology provider, settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for $20.3 million over allegations related to their dark pool POSIT in 2015.

The SEC asserted that ITG operated a secret trading desk known as “Project Omega,” using confidential subscriber data from POSIT subscribers to engage in high-frequency trading strategies that ultimately benefited ITG at the expense of its customers. This activity took place from 2010-2011, and thus the settlement marked one of the SEC’s largest financial penalties against an alternative trading system at that time.

How does Dark Pool affect Stock Prices?

Dark pool attract high-frequency traders looking to take advantage of market inefficiencies since they operate in secrecy. This can lead to increased volatility and potential price manipulation. They are be factored into the overall market price of a stock since dark pool trades are not reported to public exchanges, which lead to discrepancies between the public exchange price and the true market price.

How do investors earn money in Dark Pool Trading?

Investors earn money in Dark Pool Trading by taking advantage of the price discrepancies between the public exchange price and the true market price. They also earn money by taking advantage of market inefficiencies that occur when high-frequency traders use complex algorithms to execute trades. Investors earn money by placing limit orders in the dark pool, which allows them to buy or sell securities at a specified price or better.

Can anyone trade in Dark Pool?

No, not everyone can trade in a dark pool. Dark pools are often only accessible to institutional investors, leaving smaller investors at a disadvantage.

Is Dark Pool illegal?

No, Dark Pool trading is not illegal. It is a legitimate trading practice used by many institutional investors. But there have been instances of illegal practices such as front-running, insider trading and price distortion in dark pools.

Is Dark Pool allowed in Stock Market?

No, dark pools are an alternative to stock markets and they are not related directly.

They are private trading platforms in the stock market, where large institutional investors can trade securities anonymously, outside of public exchanges.

Does Dark Pool affect stock prices?

Yes, dark pools indirectly have an impact on stock prices. Their influence includes price discovery and market dynamics through information leakage as well as interconnection with public markets, although their impacts may not be immediate as is often experienced through trades on public exchanges.

Does NYSE allows Dark Pool?

Yes, NYSE operates a dark pool called the NYSE Block. It is one of the largest dark pools in the world and offers institutional investors a high level of anonymity and liquidity.
In New York Stock Exchange, these alternative trading systems provide off-exchange trading opportunities for investors while complying with regulatory requirements.

Does SEC regulates Dark Pool Trading?

Yes, the SEC regulates Dark Pool Trading, but they have limited oversight compared to public exchanges. Dark pools are not required to disclose their trading volumes or the participants in their trades to the public, making it difficult for regulators to monitor them.

The SEC has implemented several rules to increase transparency in dark pool trading and prevent fraudulent activities. They require dark pools to register with them and comply with the same regulatory requirements as public exchanges. They also require dark pools to disclose information about their trading practices and the types of participants they allow to trade in their pools.

Arjun Remesh

Head of Content

Arjun is a seasoned stock market content expert with over 7 years of experience in stock market, technical & fundamental analysis. Since 2020, he has been a key contributor to Strike platform. Arjun is an active stock market investor with his in-depth stock market analysis knowledge. Arjun is also an certified stock market researcher from Indiacharts, mentored by Rohit Srivastava.

Shivam Gaba

Reviewer of Content

Shivam is a stock market content expert with CFTe certification. He is been trading from last 8 years in indian stock market. He has a vast knowledge in technical analysis, financial market education, product management, risk assessment, derivatives trading & market Research. He won Zerodha 60-Day Challenge thrice in a row. He is being mentored by Rohit Srivastava, Indiacharts.

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