New Role for Buy Side in Corporate Bond Market: Liquidity Providers?

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By Brian Scott-Quinn, Henley Business School

Originally published on TABB Forum 

With the shift in the corporate bond market from voice to electronic trading, and from capital facilitation by dealers to agency facilitation, will the largest institutional investors commit their own capital to replace that which has been withdrawn by dealers? 

Corporate bond markets are being radically changed by a confluence of factors: new Basel III capital and liquidity rules, the MiFID requirements on transparency in bond markets, and the availability of innovative new platforms based on equity and FX market technology. These factors have already led to a reduction in capital commitment by dealers, even prior to the regulatory implementation of Basel III.

The shift from voice to electronic trading and from capital facilitation by dealers to agency facilitation are well established trends, but RFQ mechanisms are likely to continue to be necessary due to the clear differences between equities and FX on the one hand and most corporate bonds on the other. A key question is whether the largest institutional investors themselves might now choose to commit capital to replace that which has been withdrawn by dealers and to do this by making prices through order-driven and RFQ platforms. This would enable them to buy at the bid and sell at the offer, thereby taking out the spread. An increasing number of platforms are now All-to-All, thus enabling the buy side to act as capital providers.

Institutional large-in-scale (LIS) crossing networks for bonds, such as Liquidnet provides for equities, and the use of reference pricing should enable investment institutions to transact with each other without broker-dealer, MDP or SDP intermediation. However, under recent draft proposals for MiFIR, European regulators have introduced a volume cap mechanismthat may have a dramatic effect on dark trading in Europe – whether in equities or, in the future, in bonds. Regulatory control will be based on a (low) cap on the percentage of trading that can go through mechanisms using a reference price. This would seem to be only the most recent of a number of retrograde steps taken by the EU in terms of its implications for market liquidity.

The combination of Basel and EU regulation certainly has the potential to counter all the efforts of individual governments and the G30 to encourage corporations to raise finance for economic expansion through bond markets rather than through fragile banking systems in order to reduce systemic risk. At this stage it is too early to say if higher costs and reduced position taking by broker- dealers in response to regulatory change will result in higher funding costs for issuers of corporate bonds in Europe or if the innovations we discuss in the paper below may be able to offset at least some of these additional regulatory costs. Certainly at the moment, there is little sign on this side of the Atlantic that regulators are heeding the sentiment of SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher, who hoped that “the Commission ... will understand the differences and interplay amongst the equities, debt and credit markets so that we can be a more sophisticated regulator of those markets.”

Professor Brian Scott-Quinn is Chairman and Director of Banking Programmes at the ICMA Centre, Henley Business School, and a former practitioner in the eurobond secondary market. Deyber Cano, a research assistant to Professor Scott-Quinn at the ICMA Centre, contributed to the paper. 

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