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FX API aggregators gain, while ECNs work to prove themselves

New research has found that FX market participants are spurning anonymous trading on electronic communications networks (ECNs) in favour of disclosed, bilateral trades executed through a variety of channels - as well as a growing share of business done through 'API aggregators' that could eventually emerge as a challenger to the market’s biggest execution venues.

A report from Greenwich Associates, titled 'API Aggregators and Anonymous ECNs: Will the Platforms on the Periphery Take the Center?', shows that multidealer platforms (MDPs) and telephone voice trades remain by far the most popular means of executing FX trades, with 78% and 46% of study participants using each venue, respectively. At 30%, single-dealer platforms (SDPs) rank third. In terms of providers, Bloomberg, FXall and 360T dominate the multidealer platform category, with approximately a half-dozen dealers fighting it out for leadership among SDPs.

Surprisingly, anonymous ECNs have been overtaken for the fourth spot by API aggregators, with 20% of market participants using aggregators and 11% only using ECNs. Why aren’t ECNs more popular? While some market participants say they shy away from ECNs due to fees and the need for a credit intermediary, by far the biggest reason for avoiding the platforms is the simple belief that market participants get better prices from disclosed counterparties.  

“However, since less than half of market participants are conducting rigorous transaction cost analysis (TCA), some can’t know for certain if they are in fact getting a better price,” said Ken Monahan, senior analyst for Greenwich Associates Market Structure and Technology and author of the report.

API aggregators: a threat to multidealer platforms?

Since SDPs, MDPs and ECNs all offer API access, API aggregators allow users to access multiple types of liquidity from the same point of contact. In theory, therefore, their advantage is even greater than that of MDPs over SDPs—at least from the depth perspective. There is also something of a regulatory arbitrage as, rather than effecting the transactions, the API aggregators are simply routing them, making their compliance costs lower as well.

“FX market participants like multidealer platforms because, by combining the dealer liquidity at a single source, these platforms both deepen the liquidity and reduce the operational complexity of FX trading,” added Monahan. “Going forward, MDPs could be threatened by the fact that API aggregators do essentially the same thing but in a manner that’s ‘infrastructure-light’.”

Market participants consider central clearing

The vast majority of FX trades are cleared on a bilateral basis. However, approximately one quarter of study participants say they are contemplating using central clearing. The primary reason: Concerns that the implementation of the Uncleared Margin Rules (UMR) will significantly raise the costs of bilateral clearing.

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