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When you place an order to buy or sell stock, you might not think about where or how your broker will execute the trade. But where and how your order is executed can impact the overall costs of the transaction, including the price you pay for the stock. Here's what you should know about trade execution.
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Many investors who trade through online brokerage accounts assume they have a direct connection to the securities markets. But they don't. When you press "enter," your order is sent over the Internet to your broker - who in turn decides which market to send it to for execution. A similar process occurs when you call your broker to place a trade.
While trade execution is usually seamless and quick, it does take time. And prices can change quickly, especially in fast-moving markets. Because price quotes are only for a specific number of shares, investors may not always receive the price they saw on their screen or the price their broker quoted over the phone. By the time your order reaches the market, the price of the stock could be slightly - or very - different.
Just as you have a choice of brokers, your broker generally has a choice of markets in which to execute your trade:
Many firms use automated systems to handle the orders they receive from their customers. In deciding how to execute orders, your broker has a duty to seek the best execution reasonably available for its customers' orders. That means your broker must evaluate the orders it receives from all customers in the aggregate and periodically assess which competing markets, market makers, or ECNs offer the most favorable terms of execution.
The opportunity for "price improvement" - which is the opportunity, but not the guarantee, for an order to be executed at a better price than what is currently quoted publicly - is an important factor a broker should consider in executing its customers' orders. Other factors include the speed and the likelihood of execution.
Of course, the additional time it takes some markets to execute orders may result in your getting a worse price than the current quote - especially in a fast-moving market. So your broker is required to take into account any trade-off between providing its customers' orders with the possibility of better prices and the extra time it may take to do so.
If for any reason you want to direct your trade to a particular exchange, market maker, or ECN, you may be able to call your broker and ask him or her to do this. But some brokers may charge for that service.
On November 15, 2000, the SEC adopted new rules aimed at improving public disclosure of order execution and routing practices. Beginning April 2001, all market centers that trade national market system securities must make monthly, electronic disclosures of basic information concerning their quality of executions on a stock-by-stock basis, including how market orders of various sizes are executed relative to the public quotes and information about effective spreads - the spreads actually paid by investors whose orders are routed to a particular market center. In addition, market centers will disclose the extent to which they provide executions at prices better than the public quotes to investors using limit orders.
The new rules also require brokers that route orders on behalf of customers to disclose quarterly the identity of the market centers to which they route a significant percentage of their orders. In addition, the rule mandates that brokers respond to the requests of customers interested in learning where their individual orders were routed for execution during the previous six months.
With this information now readily available, you can better learn where and how your firm executes its customers' orders and what steps it takes to assure the best execution.