Schaeffer’s Market Mashup Podcast Features Bill Looney of XFA

How brokers actually facilitate trading flow

Managing Editor
Nov 20, 2020 at 7:16 AM
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On the latest episode of the Schaeffer's Market Mashup podcast, Patrick and Schaeffer's Market Mashup makes its triumphant return with Bill Looney, Managing Director at X-Change Financial Access (XFA). Patrick and Bill talk how brokers facilitate trading flow (7:05), open outcry (14:23), and market positioning before and after the election (24:02). A really fun chat that provides valuable insight into the functions of a floor-based agency broker.

**The views and opinions expressed on today’s podcast are that of Bill Looney and not XFA.**

Transcript of Schaeffer's Market Mashup Podcast: November 20, 2020

Patrick Martin: Welcome back to the Schaffer's Market Mashup. It's been a while everybody, and it's good to be back. I took a week off during election week, even though let's be honest, that felt like a month ago, but Hey, you know, we're here. We're happy. We're healthy. And I'm excited for today's interview, please. Welcome Bill Looney, managing director at Xchange Financial Access. Bill, thanks for coming.

Bill Looney: Hi Patrick. Good afternoon. And thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be with.

Patrick Martin: Awesome. Awesome. Um, I guess I'll just start with a little bit of intro with what we're going to be talking about today. Uh, options volumes have not slowed down in 2020 despite the rest of life, essentially slowing down. Um, average daily volume this year is up more than 40% from 2019 in the options industry is on track to hitting record of more than 7 billion contracts in total volume. By the end of 2020, um, nine of the top 10, most active trading days have occurred in 2020 alone. So bill, I want you to, you know, you're, you're coming from, this is the broker dealers perspective. I want you to first talk me through your career and how you've got to where you are. [inaudible] and then give me a little breakdown of what SFA offers.

Bill Looney: Sure. Yeah. Well, I've been in the business just over two decades now and, uh, I, for the, for the large, for the biggest piece of my career, I was on the sales and training side. Uh, I started out based in club world, eventually migrated to the equity derivatives world where I get institutional sales and trading for a number of years with a lot of the big banks. Uh, subsequently thereafter, I headed over to CBO for a seven year stint, uh, and wound up, uh, my last role as CEO was running index options business there specific to SPX VIX products like that. And, uh, about a year and a half ago, I joined XSA heading up their global business development efforts, basically parlaying my sales trading as well as exchange background, uh, into pelvic row, uh, and, uh, continue to advance obviously be the global customer base that exit fate services.

So it's been a wonderful opportunity besides big news that exit failed last week, we were acquired by Merrick spectrum and they're a global commodity specialist tailored out of London. And, uh, we're very excited about the opportunities that our partnership with our expect John is going to afford us because they have a number of complementary product areas. And they're going to obviously allow us to grow our international footprint, offering more products and services, uh, you know, with a larger balance sheet offering varying. So XSA, is it, uh, great shape, uh, very exciting times for us. And I do believe you kind of wanted me to segue into exit a little bit in terms of, you know, exchange financial access, but pretty much street knows us as, as SFA. Uh, our three letter acronym. We are an agency broker dealer we've specialized in execution of equity derivatives as well as future options product, um, in operations. Well, uh, at CME as well as a number of other exchanges, uh, and, uh, then around roughly 2001, a formulation of a very long-term, uh, trader traders in space, uh, had a lot of foresight back in the day when the banks pulling up, whereas a broker dealer that was more based in suburban institution like derivatives and

Patrick Martin: Wow, well, first things, I guess I should offer a book. Congratulations, right on, on, on the, uh, on the merge, um, in, in for one I'm excited because a lot of my, most of my interviews have come from the broke, uh, or from the analyst side, you know, this year, my first broker. So I have a lot of, you know, I'm going to really be picking your brain here about that side of the aisle. Uh, and I, I guess, yeah, let's just jump right in. What does it mean to be a floor based agency broker? And what specific services does this come with for customers within the larger trading ecosystem?

Bill Looney: Sure. Well, what it means to be an agency floor broker they, or yes, the agency floor broker is basically, it is the keyword in that is agency. In other words, we don't commit cap. We sit as a beacon between two principles, sides that take risk, the buyer and seller, and we help them strategize on the best way to execute that order. And predominantly, uh, we provide them with market transparency and access to the entire liquidity ecosystem that's available in the product that they're trading. So broker dealers there's many others, inter-dealer brokers, banks are considered broker dealers, but an agency broker dealer is an entity that does not connect capital, but services its customers, the standpoint of helping them execute their strategy best way to most strategic way transparently, uh, with a lot of anonymity, uh, covering they're, covering the buyers, sellers identities, obviously, and that supplying the marketplace, uh, with patient, uh, as well as access ecosystem and expedient efficient and the, the services, you know, we, we provide, uh, are obviously, uh, execution based as, as I've alluded.

Uh, but we are floor based in sense, what makes one of the key attributes that makes X and [inaudible] most upstack, uh, that work ratio they are located on the actual trading, uh, the biggest trading pits that club of most of your audience would be aware of BD SBX VIX options. CBO. We also maintain what operations over at CME Euro dollars area, as well as in USP, big contract area, but being on the floor really, uh, gives us a tremendous ability to access the largest, uh, available to, uh, the marketplace, especially maybe your index product, larger notion products. Uh, and we also have, uh, an incredible ability within these larger next page bought cheap off speed fish. That's huge as a result of this mission. So it's a very unique setup, uh, Europe, definitely. Uh, one of the attributes that makes sense, I think stand out.

Patrick Martin: I agree. And it's ironic that, you know, entering January of 2020, would you have seen for seeing all these changes that you know, were coming to, you know, being a four based agency broker, nobody saw this coming. So in the fact that you guys have had to, uh, dapped in a, just makes, you know, kind of your, your function all the more fascinating I think, so to build on that, what types of execution avenues do you ha have available for trading? Walk me through what happens and what the process is?

Bill Looney: Sure. Well, you're exactly right. Nobody for Socos. I mean, for a very long time, as electronic markets have developed, especially within a derivative stakes quiddity on screen has developed meaningful enough where a large array of customer types can interact with it. There has always been talk of, you know, are the trading clothes going to the trading floors, excuse me, going to close, or are they going to go away? And the simple fact of the matter is, is, uh, they haven't, uh, yet, uh, all options can trade on a, on a floor to this day, whether they be single stock, whether they be ETF, option index option, but the index products in particular are, are where the floor really stands out in its ability to go off speed and efficient. I mean, you have to, you have to make the account as an example, the SPDX being up here 3,600 or so, you know, one contract notions, 200,000 pounds, uh, when you have these larger institutional players that are trading multi-layered strategy, buying and selling multiple strikes at a given time sometimes to give them up eight legs, multiple thousands, it really helps to have you with the ball.

Uh, that doesn't mean that the electronic marketplace doesn't serve its purpose and it doesn't have an ability to serve clients' needs. We get exit, they use electronic execution, rural that's when even appropriate when we do this. But to your one part of your question, what types of execution avenues are available? There's basically three. If you kind of want to make the statement, like an umbrella statement, what can you do on the one? I don't want to call an extreme, but on the one side of the equation, you have electronic execution, which basically where the menus your cluster, it takes responsibility on entering the order through on it, uh, execution management system. That system communicates to your point looking press when that individual press button on the mouse that says by herself, that's just communicating. What's called the backend smart that's smart router design, execute that order in smart way, because there are literally 16 options that exist with more on the Verizon.

All of these exchanges have different. These schedules, different setups. They take time for Rhonda. She's very nuanced stuff, but different ways that they engage the marketplace if cost structures and these smart routers know how to ex orders most cost efficiently while achieving best execution. But with that said, the customer ultimately is responsible, ultimately responsible for handling the order and the customer is going to interact with the marketing community. On the other side, that is resting on, there's an offers that they're engaging with. So to some extent, you get a little bit of a limited interaction. Again, not to say that it's, it's not a good thing, but you have to understand the dynamics of what that particular execution site has. And can often, if you go to the other side of the equation, the complete other side, like go over to let's say the big bank desk, uh, the investment thing that can make capital customer.

So this is larger institutional type orders, uh, where a customer may want to buy five or 10,000 contracts of a particular name, uh, you know, equivalent to 500 or a million chairs stock 500,000 per ancient stock bank will actually pick the other side of that chain guarantee of price. And then they themselves go down to the trade wars are executed electronic Boston that are available saying, Hey, you have a buyer seller here. And then the market participant, and then in the middle, which I say is the largest playground is the agency side, which is where exit Pedro, our customer, our global customer are very astute because they understand the value of electronic trading. They understand the value of the trade, but in the middle, they are, they really understand the value of agency tree, which gives them an ability to come to a special, uh, broker dealer like ourselves and understands the liquidity.

There is a lot of providers of validity in the derivatives market. It's not just marketing, there's upstairs proprietary trading unit there's bank, that's DealerNET and exit bay, as well as broker dealers like us have the ability to access those markets on an agency basis, find out where the best would it be, where the best price list. And then we could combinations X, some part of the order electronically execute some part in order to block, uh, transaction type, uh, uh, facility mechanisms and get the customer done at, uh, best price, uh, with, uh, the commission level that's in between those two extremes. And nowadays, especially in the institutional community transaction Boston house, it's a big part of the management of their business because making turns it's obviously not easy. So you really, of course, customers best-in-class execution, let's take advantage of all possible ways of executing orders and expense. It's what we do. We know it best. We do it the best and we have a big press to be like, so it's a very complex ecosystem of not only execution capability, but what did he and customers out there has to understand it, take time to learn it. And that's really, you know, uh, our, our value at that exit day is to get in there and help those best execute those orders best way possible.

Patrick Martin: Yeah. What I feel you just explained is, is, is almost like showing someone like how the sausage is made. And I think it's important that people know what exactly what exactly is going on, how much is being weighed, how much it's being calculated, uh, to, to know where this, this out, you know, the flows are coming from. Um, so,

Bill Looney: Well, if I, if I can add a point, you know, you've mentioned the retail audience, obviously some of your learnings that the retail audience, uh, especially like Charles Schwab, Ameritrade Delany, those platforms execute electronically, and they route a lot of the rotors and what's called the consolidated. In other words, marketing that internalized some of that order flow to the extent they want to buy and sell and they to take the other side of those trading retail orders are obviously typically smaller. So they do, uh, there is justification say, Hey, executing electronic properly to do this. Um, there are still, uh, we do execute on behalf of retail because it's been instilled deemed appropriate. You put a human in there, especially with the index ops were better price, but yes, it is a very large universe where those orders are going to, uh, consolidate and it's looking at them, journalizing them buying and selling what they want to interact with and then sending out these smart routers, but the rest where they're going. And, uh, there is a lot of work,

Patrick Martin: Right? I want to circle back to the four based broker dealers in the open outcry. So what, what exactly is occurring when you're participating in such a, such a thing?

Bill Looney: Well, open outcry is, is, is almost exactly put it pink. In other words, the trading pit is deservedly a large circle, or like, you know, almost like a Pentagon kind of set up bleachers, peop stand market makers, broker dealers, uh, stand, uh, and holler at one another for large parts throughout the day. And, you know, again, applying this more or less playing this part of the conversation to the index products think SBX thinks bags, things like that. When, uh, when, uh, when, uh, thank desperate saying institutional customer thanked us to get a market and the SP they're going to call a floor broker like XFL, uh, if they is going to holler out to that pit, whatever wants to be done, you know, March 3,600, foot's in the SPX thousand up, where are they? And it might respond, but marketing, you know, three at five, $3 bid box,

Patrick Martin: You can yell a little louder if you want.

Bill Looney: Yeah. I used to trust me. Uh, but I, I I'll, I'll spare the audience years, but the long and short of it is it's remarkable response, but that those markets are a little bit wider when you look at them on screen. Uh, if the market not the market to get in the crowd is three and five, maybe the market on the screen asset at six. So immediately the markets tend to tighten up. And then the broker dealer has the ability to try to represent that order, uh, mid word, or offered in the middle and try to build a picture of buyers or sellers that would take the other side of the price. And this gets back to my earlier point about the agency X person, because we are contacting in a matter of seconds, a massive array of liquidity providers we're explaining, uh, anonymous. In other words, the customers, not customers being represented through us, right?

So the customer gains and timidity this equation where we can go in and kind of, uh, you know, not sure hand, but show her hand, Hey, we're interested in this strike. So many. We have, maybe we start to let them know that we're buyers. And we started to fish for sellers. And all of a sudden that customer was really good color and information on where the market's at and what the best way is next, the order, whether it makes sense to try to work it over a period of time, our way maybe marketing's not really for sale right now. So better to just let it come to you. Or conversely, if customers in a rush are moving out, hi, um, you know, think certainly backwards COVID days, um, or in the initial state prices, the volatility group, um, you had plus members that wanted to buy their hedges immediately.

So getting non where cannot, and that's where the benefit of not only human element, but trading under the open outbreak, really content because all of these either connected not only to their Lord based staff, but then for their upstairs staff, that the guys that are trading proprietarily and the communication secrets, well, it seems it's fast, it's transparent. And it happens quickly. And I had seen, um, you know, hundreds of, you know, multiple millions of dollars cross hands in the, in the span of five seconds, uh, which would otherwise take, uh, quite a bit of time with a lot more restaurant, uh, electronic, so that it's not necessarily a quick definition, but I think it's definition of what open out by training is all about and why it applies to the larger notional index products in the market.

Patrick Martin: Yeah, I agree. Um, maybe because it's the NBA trade deadline and reminds me of like how an agent is almost, you know, we'll put out a couple of rumors so-and-so is interested in, you know, or there's rumors sources say there's going to be a trade to the Hawks in that that might not be existing, but that might perk up the ears of another team. Who's intrigued by that. And you, you, you set the market that way, way

Bill Looney: You hit the nail on the head within a trading fit. Um, there is tremendous amount of information flowing. Uh, that's what our brokers are so good at. That's one of xFi, uh, exit based greatest attributes, which is our understanding feel depth, size of positioning marketplace. I can tell you that every day I'm in touch with my floor personnel, uh, what they're seeing, what they're hearing, what they're feeling, which way the market's eating, which makes you, uh, and because they have access to all trades, not just trace it weekend, but all the other trades we're sitting there listening to what a daily basis for the market, because there's a great, you know, for your audience, you can go on YouTube and you can, uh, listen to, uh, S P futures that years ago during the flash crash out. There's a very famous recording of one of the large step with broadcasting.

What was going on at Pitt and for your audience that wants to experience and feel what it's like to have the market move and move fast. Uh, I would, I would recommend going out of this to that, because it's a great example of just what those traders do, what their capabilities are. And the reality is it's when, when the stuff hits the fan, for lack of better term, uh, electronic markets tend to fade and remember the market makers in this community, you have to supply books on multiple listed products, 16 different venues. So there will risk management or monitoring are very robust where if they all of a sudden start to get their offers started to get listed, or their bid start getting hit, they obviously are programmed to pull back. And that's kind of what you and I are really driving at is in a sense, what is the best way to execute my order.

If my water is not going to the markets, it's not to sizeable, it's not trading a name that is got a panicked news announcement, or has a particular risk, uh, potential within itself. Trading electronically often times becomes a good way to engage the market. And a lot of institutional customers are racing lifetime trading from what's called the systematic standpoint or the words they use algorithms to engage the market and make an exercise a lot of sites throughout the day. And a great example of that would be recently, um, I'm sure you remember hearing back in August when the market rally, it all looks at, came up soft bank, big institutional customer overseas, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars, notional options, limited number of mates. Um, well they did that. You know, it wasn't because I can tell you right now it's they had gone into this bank.

That's what one, your 30,000 options and Amazon, or Facebook, Google, whatever names are trading, that information would have been all over the street. And it wasn't an, it kind of, kind of came to kind of a shock. It didn't shock insiders like self. Like there is a lot of in there if you're willing to take an, but if you look at the 4,508, whatever, the number is of total name in the United States, equities market, literally 60, 75% of underlying validity in the obstipation rested about the top six, 10 names. It's an incredible small university where the bulk of people, when you start to trade outside of that universe. So think financials, industrials, I mean, we've just witnessed once president Biden was perceived winner of the election, you have witnessed a massive rotation. You know, there was five or 16 that contributed to most of the rally that we've seen coming out of the initial Facebook price predominantly they were tech mainstay and holds name Peloton to Amazon.

You know, the usual suspect. Now we have financials, dosh yields, uh, tumor state, uh, all of these other sector banks, um, especially getting action. Well, if you're an options trader, especially if you're trading more size, a lot of those names don't surprise us pop six and eight. So you're forced to be very conscious about how you interact with mark and the very easily outsized market electronic. So again, agent's broker perspective, my perspective, our firm's perspective, this is where, uh, we may pay wild sunshine because we know how to infiltrate that they asked quiddity of system and afford our customers best possible.

Patrick Martin: Right? So in addition to the liquidity, you might've touched on this before, but I do want to expand on it. What does this open outcry offer as far as price discovery?

Bill Looney: Well, as, as I mentioned, when you engage that crowd, when you holler out to that crowd, they will oftentimes provide you a quote that's much tighter than between because they are expressing their interest. You know, if the crowd has been buying options all day, then they're obviously going to be better at their sale. They might come into a better off. And you're also going to expose that order to a larger audience. Again, not every market maker is making markets on every series every second day. So if you're looking at a quote on the screen, you might have a vote that's being represented by two or three market makers when there's actually 18 or 20 market makers that are supplying the marketplace. So that open outcry environment allows all of those potential sources of validity she'll respond.

Patrick Martin: Okay. Yeah, that, that, that I understand that a lot more. Now that question was only basically for my own vanity to make sure I understood it. Oh, it's okay. It's, it's

Bill Looney: Complex. It's a lot of nuance to,

Patrick Martin: It really is. I do want to wrap up with a big picture look. And can you offer any insight on how you were facilitating flow by helping customers position themselves before the election? And then how are you gaining your footing now after the election looking to 2021, I've basically ended all of my podcasts, you know, with this eye towards 2021 and the assumption that things will be smoother, but not necessarily. So I'd love to get your insights.

Bill Looney: Sure. Well, you know, I kind of just touched on a piece of that answer to you in saying that most recently, the market has softened first time, much greater breadth. In other words, a reallocation, uh, various sectors that were not, uh, really engaged in the, in the rally. Um, as much as the, you know, five or six names, Fang names basically saying plus, you know, zoom and Peloton, right? If you want to, I'll answer your question from, you know, three a pre-election perspective, and then I'll answer your question a little bit, both for you to look at the 2021. So pre-election, um, one of the most interesting things that I saw occur that we had exit based. So I was over in the volatility space on the VIX, um, for your audience, you know, who may or may not totally get VIX VIX as a, as a measure for volatility and complied 30 day for volatility.

So it's the market's attempt that anticipating the anticipation, how much, you know, potential options prices is there over the next 30 days. And you know, when it's perceived that there's a lot to fix, we'll go up. Mark market would be more about when it's perceived that there's, there's less, it'll go down. Well, obviously volatility this year, but a major bid coming into the COVID crisis. If we actually achieve the highest level on the VIX ever, uh, it's it's surpassed excused thousand and eight high during the global financial crisis. So clearly volatility went through the roof for lack of a better term back in March and April and as it's come back down, uh, or what the market oftentimes you first give us it's mean reverted mixes notoriously mean reverting back towards it's been fast, but it hasn't occurred. And coming into the election, which is something that's been on my people for a long time.

It's here. Uh, everybody kind of initially anticipated that volatility would go up because of all of the potential, uh, outcomes or, or range of potential outcomes that could put occurred has to resolve, you know, you name it, who's going to win, but we actually saw a customer of mine put in the decks. And what that means is customers were buying options that would benefit fixed now post-election, uh, and to some extent it hats, uh, as you're probably been watching now, the big scale kind of came back down below 25 and it's longterm ten-year average, which does not 2008 and 17. And we've seen some customers take profits on some of those positions. They range anywhere between December expiring all the way out to March of next year, because they were kind of playing for how long it take revolve loaded down. But the overall assumption before the election was that volatility would now.

And so far, to some extent it has as maybe as far as it will potentially because we have to remember we're back in a zero interest rate environment. The last time we were here, the pixel was much lower all the way back down to, you know, 10, 11, 12. So that's one of the most interesting, uh, trade and strategies that we've seen, uh, kind of a per before election and continue now post 11 post election. Obviously I've alluded to the fact that there's much more breadth to the marketplace now because people are playing for a long-term economic recovery as out of the price, as there's news now, to companies that they have test trials in the backseat, and we anticipate getting in that scene next few months, there are a lot of potential factors that could create volatility. Don't have residential transition. Uh, if there is, uh, problems with distribution vaccine that doesn't work as well.

There's a lot of potential for volatility, but customers are trading a much larger swath of things because perception is that economy. Second row reception is that Washington word, marketed stimulus package infrastructure package. But I do think longer term and I'll end on this point. Um, there's there, there are a lot of customers that are looking further out into 20 21, 20 22, uh, which is a bit a ways, but they are talking about it. But a lot of people believe that if there is best stimulus, if there is a lot of infrastructure and people start spending money, then obviously that the interest rates higher, sooner than forecast visit a place. You can turn a lot of dollars. So I think 2021 is setting up. They've had some potential bouts of volatility in it, but for the most part right now, people are not forecast for that volatility. The second half, you're trying to need a lot more nation mold and a lot more aid illustration before customers start placing that. And, uh, it's going to be a very interesting time to trade options. And, uh, that'd be a very interesting time.

Patrick Martin: Well said, well said if anything, that makes me feel better because I've been watching these 10 day VIX PC ratios, and I pay like we should be keeping an eye on this. I think this is a pretty good indicator. Uh, and it's, it's fascinating to hear, you know, someone from your side, you know, basically ascertain the same thing as well as you know, everything about 2021. So yeah, let's, let's cut that there because I think that was as good as way to end it as possible. Bill Looney, managing director at SFA. Thank you so much for coming on. You know, you have the historic title of the first broker to be on the Shaffer's market mashup. Uh, I'll send you a trophy later or maybe, um, those little like police certificates, you know, with the little Teddy bear on it,

Bill Looney: I'll display it proudly. Patrick, listen, I appreciate you adding me on, I look forward to hopefully doing it again, and I certainly hope that you and your audience benefited. I enjoyed the content. I enjoyed the discussion.

Patrick Martin: I sure did too. Have a good one. Stay safe.

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