To improve portfolio yields in a climate where other fixed income instruments are showing historically low yields, many investors have turned to European corporate bond markets in recent years. Meanwhile, corporate issuers in Europe are increasingly looking to access capital markets as a result of balance sheet constraints in the bank loan market, which they have traditionally relied upon for a large part of their financing needs. Upcoming regulatory changes and a desire for greater operational efficiencies within asset managers have combined to form an ongoing and significant increase in the electronic trading of European credit instruments.
The shift towards e-trading in European credit bonds corresponds with widespread change in the investment patterns and workflows of “real-money” institutions. European dealers are increasingly looking to electronic platforms to service clients’ flow business in vanilla products—precisely where there is greatest liquidity. Growth in electronic trading of investors’ flow business has boosted e-trading volumes overall—estimated now to represent well over 35% of the European credit market, up from less than 20% just a couple of years ago.
Access to liquidity lies at the heart of successful e-trading platforms. There has been a sizeable increase in the number of market makers providing prices in European credit over electronic marketplaces such as Tradeweb. Sell-side participants’ desire to win volume through e-platforms has led to significant improvements in the quality of electronic liquidity compared to that offered by phone. This is especially evident in recent months, and has not necessarily reflected conditions in the market overall. There is indeed an increasing buy-side perception that a growing proportion of overall sell-side liquidity is now being offered electronically as opposed to voice trading.
Yet, for institutional investors, operational efficiency is almost as important as liquidity. Throughout the entire trading cycle of price discovery, execution and post-trade processing, electronic trading platforms provide ready access to trade information, analytics, and price transparency. And both buy- and sell-side institutions can fully integrate electronic trading platforms into their existing workflow systems.
This automation must not come at the cost of flexibility. Buy-side traders can tailor tickets to their precise requirements on electronic platforms and request prices from specific dealers (the “request-for-quote” or RFQ model). This auction-like process gives buy-side traders fast and transparent price discovery, simultaneously putting dealers into competition. Increased competition optimises pricing efficiency and helps the buy-side demonstrate best execution.
More sophisticated electronic trading platforms are also flexible enough to allow buy-side investors to execute multiple trades concurrently from a single list of orders across multiple asset classes. The time saved allows asset managers to invest resources more efficiently to boost overall productivity and performance.
The need for flexibility in trading these instruments has become increasingly important as both regulatory and macroeconomic factors coalesce, reducing overall market liquidity. This has led various market participants recently to explore new price discovery and execution models which, if successful, could increasingly challenge the way business is done and even the current market structure.
However, the common thread running through the fundamental changes underway in the marketplace is the greater use of electronic trading. Whilst the main driver stimulating the willingness to look at new ways to execute trades may be regulatory and macroeconomic change, the need for more efficient and cost-effective trade execution is also at the core of these moves. In other words, the evolution happening today is underpinned by some of the same drivers that have been central toward the increased use of electronic trading across fixed income markets for more than ten years.
It is clear that the fixed income markets are becoming an increasingly dynamic and exciting place in which to operate, especially in the burgeoning electronic marketplace for European credit. This presents us with challenges, but also many opportunities to contribute to the accelerating evolution of the market. As electronic trading continues to meet the needs of financial institutions seeking better liquidity, increased efficiency and improved performance, marketplaces like Tradeweb will continue to partner with the buy- and sell-side to drive innovation in the new regulatory and economic environment.