Wall Street Drags Main Street Into a Fee Dispute

A battle is brewing between Wall Street and stock exchanges. Wall Street says it’s fighting for ordinary investors, but don’t be fooled. Like everything else on Wall Street, this dispute is about the bottom line.  

At issue is the cost of market data. Financial firms need price data to trade. They say the exchanges charge too much for that data and that ordinary investors get stuck with the bill. Consequently, they argue, exchanges should give investors a break by lowering fees.   

It’s a clever but misguided argument. To see why, a bit of background is needed. Stock exchanges report the trades they execute and their best bid and offer prices to securities information processors, or SIPs, which consolidate the information into a real-time price feed. A group of exchanges and trading firms operates the SIPs, with oversight from the Securities and Exchange Commission, and financial firms pay a subscription fee to obtain access to the feed.  

But the exchanges have a trove of other proprietary data that isn’t reported to the SIPs, such as volume and types of orders (market, limit, stop, etc.), and they can deliver it faster than the SIPs. That’s crucial for high-frequency traders and for banks eager to impress well-heeled institutional investors.

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