Ep 16: What Are Dark Pools, PFOF and Market Makers?

Have you heard about payment for order flow, dark pools, and market makers, but didn't understand what any of it actually is or what it means? We're going to explain it all to you today!

We've delved into the stock market's inner workings, uncovering how prices are set, the role of market players like market makers, and the concept of dark pools. It's like a financial puzzle where supply, demand, and rules come together to keep things fair and efficient. Think of it as a dynamic dance, adapting to changes in technology and market trends while ensuring fairness in the financial world.

Episode Equity

Before understanding payment for order flow, dark pools and the function of market makers, you need to understand how a stock is quoted -- or in other words, how a stock is priced.

Reading a stock quote and understanding stock price

When you land on your brokerage firm's website and type in that stock symbol, you're immediately bombarded with a wealth of data. It's all vital information for determining the fair price of a stock and figuring out what you can buy or sell it for at this very moment. What can I buy and sell the stock at right now? How are stocks priced? Let's break it down, step by step.

Your initial term and complex phrase: NBBO - National Best Bid and OfferThe National Best Bid and Offer is simply the best price for buying and selling a stock. It's determined by looking at the highest price someone is willing to pay (the bid) and the lowest price someone is asking for (the offer). I know this might sound confusing, so let's simplify it.

Historical AAPL Stock Quote

Last price: This is the most recent price at which a stock was traded, reflecting what happened in the past. The "change" tells us how much the stock's price has gone up or down compared to the closing price from the previous trading day. Usually, these price updates occur during regular market hours, which are from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm Eastern Time (ET).

For instance, let's take Apple stock as an example. If it last traded at $176.58 per share, and this price is $2.14 lower than the closing price from the previous day, it means Apple's stock price went down.

The bid and ask are forward looking

Ask price: If you're an everyday investor like most people reading this, you buy at the Ask price. This is the best price at which you can purchase a stock, and it represents the lowest price at which someone is willing to sell you that stock. The "size" tells you how many shares are available for purchase at that specific price, and these are typically listed in round lots, which means groups of 100 shares each.

In our example, the quote says there are 1100 shares available to buy at $176.59 per share, it means that's the lowest price someone is willing to sell their shares for at that moment. The lowest ask is displayed.

Bid price: If you thought this is the price we use to sell, you're absolutely right! For everyday investors like us, we sell our stocks at the Bid price. The Bid price is the best price available for us to sell our stocks, and it represents the highest price at which someone is willing to buy those stocks from us.

For instance, in this AAPL quote example, you see there are 500 shares available for purchase at a price of $176.58 per share, that's the highest price someone is willing to pay to buy those shares at that moment. The highest bid price is displayed.

Together, the Bid and Ask prices make up the National Best Bid and Offer (NBBO), also known as the top quote.

When the stock market is open, these prices are in constant flux. In this specific example, we're observing Apple Stock, which is a highly traded stock. To give you an idea of its popularity, it was traded a whopping 46.8 million times today - that's what we call "volume."

Now, notice how the price at which you can buy (the ask) is higher than the price at which you can sell (the bid). The difference between these two numbers is called the "spread." In the case of AAPL, the spread is very narrow, with just a $0.01 difference.

Generally, stocks with high trading activity or volume tend to have a tight spread, meaning the difference between the bid and ask prices is very small, as seen here with AAPL. On the other hand, if a stock doesn't see much trading activity or has low volume, the spread tends to be wider, with a more significant difference between the bid and ask prices.

What are level 2 quotes? 

You can actually delve even deeper into understanding stock prices by using something called "Level II quotes." These are typically available on your brokerage firm's active trader platform. With Level II quotes, you can get a clear view of what's happening behind the top quote.

Here's how to interpret it: In Level II quotes, you'll notice that the ask price is made up of the lowest sell prices available, which is the best price for you to buy the stock at. Conversely, the bid price is composed of the highest purchase prices available, which is the best price for you to sell the stock at.

To help you understand the data more easily, similar colors in the quotes indicate the same price, and the brighter the color, the higher it ranks in the quote. Additionally, the red and green bars show the size associated with the stock price. This visual representation allows you to see at a glance the larger orders or the number of orders at the same price, as well as which order has the most shares available. It's a useful tool for traders who want a more detailed view of market activity.

Real Historical AAPL Level II Quote

Understanding how stock prices move throughout the day is quite simple. It all boils down to the fundamental principles of supply and demand in the market.

Imagine a scenario where a particular stock is in high demand, similar to when a popular product like the Charlotte Tilbury contour wand goes viral on TikTok, and everyone wants it. You might remember times when you couldn't find it in stores, but you could buy it on eBay or another secondary market at a greatly inflated price. Well, the stock market functions somewhat like this secondary market – it's where trading happens secondhand.

Now, let's consider an extreme example where we freeze a stock quote in time. If there's an overwhelming number of buyers for that stock, their buy orders will keep pushing the ask price higher and higher. This surge in demand, with more buyers than sellers, causes the stock's price to rise.

Conversely, when there are more sellers than buyers, it results in an excess of supply, which pushes the stock's price down. This concept can be easily grasped by looking at a Level II quote. In essence, stock prices are determined by the forces of supply and demand. When demand exceeds supply, prices go up, and when supply outweighs demand, prices go down.

What do Market Makers do? 

As retail investors, we typically buy at the ask price and sell at the bid price. Market makers, on the other hand, do the opposite: they buy at the bid price and sell at the ask price. This difference between the bid and ask prices, in this case, $0.01, is what market makers capture as profit.

What's interesting is that market makers aren't concerned about whether the stock price goes up or down. They have what's known as a "delta neutral portfolio," meaning their portfolio doesn't benefit from price rallies or declines. Instead, their main goal is to attract orders. They openly display prices and are willing to take the other side of the trade, essentially creating a market for the stock.

Think of a market as a place where both buyers and sellers come together. When you want to buy or sell a stock, the market maker steps in to take the other side of the trade at the displayed price, ensuring liquidity and facilitating trading.

It's important to note that there are many market makers in the market, not just a few. They compete with each other to execute your orders, creating an auction-like process where you can get the best possible execution for your trades

What is payment for order flow (PFOF)? 

Guess who receives a lot of orders? Your brokerage firm! They have a multitude of orders from customers like you. Now, "payment for order flow" is a pre-arranged agreement. Market makers make these offers to attract orders from brokerage firms.

In simpler terms, payment for order flow is like a pre-set deal between the brokerage firm and a market maker. It specifies that the brokerage firm will route its orders to that particular market maker. Typically, this involves multiple market makers. Essentially, it's a way for market makers to get access to a steady stream of orders from the brokerage firms, and in return, they may provide some compensation to the brokerage for sending those orders their way.

Is payment for order flow good or bad?

Let's unpack the concerns surrounding payment for order flow.

Some worry that brokerage firms might prioritize selling orders to the highest bidder rather than focusing on the best execution quality for their customers. However, it's crucial to recognize that the financial industry is heavily regulated, even more so than healthcare, with rules governing almost every aspect of its operations. For instance, you can explore FINRA rule 5310, which covers best execution and interpositioning.

In a nutshell, this rule requires brokerage firms to consistently review and ensure that they direct order flow to markets offering the most favorable terms for their customers' orders. In other words, it mandates that your execution quality is a top priority, and it's enforceable under FINRA rules.

Payment for order flow plays a significant role in allowing commissions to be reduced to zero. If payment for order flow were eliminated, it's possible that trade commissions could make a comeback. This would create barriers, particularly for retail traders, especially those with limited investment capital. Imagine the potential impact on commissions for fractional shares – would they rise above the $4.99 mark? Such increased costs could be burdensome for retail traders and make it harder for newcomers to enter the market and start building their wealth.

How do dark pools work? 

As we've discussed, the bid and ask prices reflect the best available prices for buying and selling stocks. When a large buy order enters the market, it can push up the lowest sell price (the ask), causing the stock's price to rise rapidly. Institutions often engage in large trades, especially in the creation and redemption of ETFs and mutual funds, which involves significant buying and selling of assets. These substantial transactions have the potential to influence and manipulate the broader market.

To prevent such market manipulation, these large orders are taken out of the regular price discovery process and conducted in a more discreet manner. This is where dark pools come into play. Dark pools are designed to safeguard against market manipulation by keeping these large orders "in the dark."

The primary intention behind dark pools is to maintain market integrity and prevent large orders from significantly impacting stock prices. However, dark pools have faced criticism for potentially reducing transparency in the market. Critics argue that this lack of transparency can provide certain market participants with unfair advantages and, in extreme cases, enable market manipulation.

Nevertheless, it's worth noting that there is a substantial amount of regulation in place to prevent abuse in dark pools. Regulators continually work to enhance transparency while maintaining an anonymous trading system, striking a delicate balance between protecting against manipulation and ensuring fairness in the market. It's an ongoing effort to address these complexities.

Understanding the stock market's mechanics, from bid-ask prices and market makers to the role of dark pools, reveals the intricate dance of supply, demand, and regulation that shapes financial markets. While market dynamics can be complex, they ultimately aim to maintain fairness and efficiency, even as they evolve in response to changing technology and market forces.

Jessie's Questions

  • Q: What is the NBBO in stock trading?
  • A: NBBO stands for "National Best Bid and Offer." It represents the best available prices at which you can buy (the bid) and sell (the ask) a stock. The bid is the highest price someone is willing to pay, and the ask is the lowest price someone is willing to sell at.
  • Q: What is the spread in stock trading?
  • A: The spread is the difference between the bid (buying price) and ask (selling price) for a stock. It is typically a few cents wide, but it can vary depending on the stock's trading volume. The higher the volume the tighter the spread generally.
  • Q: What is a market maker?
  • A market maker is a participant in the stock market who helps maintain liquidity by providing buy and sell quotes for a particular stock. They facilitate trades by matching buyers and sellers and make money by profiting from the spread. They buy on the bid and sell on the ask. Which means they want orders and is the reason why stocks with less volume have wider spreads.
  • Q: What is payment for order flow (PFOF) in stock trading?
  • A: Payment for order flow is a practice where brokerage firms receive compensation from market makers or wholesalers for directing customer orders to them. Market makers pay for the opportunity to execute these orders and make money from the spread.
  • Q: What are dark pools and what are they intended for?
  • A: Dark pools are private, off-exchange trading platforms where large institutional investors can execute large orders without affecting the stock's price in the open market. They are designed to provide confidentiality and prevent market manipulation.
  • Q: How are orders routed in stock trading?
  • A: Orders can be routed to various destinations, including internal inventories, dark pools, market makers, and stock exchanges. The routing process depends on the brokerage's algorithms and the specific order details. Your order is required to be executed at the NBBO or better.
  • Q: How can I check the transparency of my brokerage's order routing practices?
  • A: You can usually find information about your brokerage's order routing practices, payment for order flow, and execution quality on their website or by contacting their customer support. They are required to provide this information to investors.

Episode Transcript

Jessie: A listener slash friend of mine sent me that John Stewart episode on the problem with stocks and he was talking about payment for order flow and dark pools and I realized I don't know what any of those things are or how they work. And I think you told me that part of your job in the past was educating clients on those sort of things, right?

Jess: You know how we talked about zero commissions back on episode one? technological progressions in like cost cutting to be able to have operating efficiencies really within the market and the way that works. So we need to talk about what happens to your order, what a market maker is, what a wholesaler is and how dark pools work. Let's talk about that. That'd be fun. Jessie: Greetings, money mermaids, merthems, and mermen. You are listening to Market MakeHer, the self-directed investor education podcast breaking down complex stock market topics from ‘her’ perspective. We're your host. I'm Jessica Inskip, the resident finance expert with 15 years of industry experience here to explain all of those complex topics.

Jessie: And I'm Jessie DeNuit, your siren guide on this financial empowerment adventure. asking all the questions you were thinking, so you don't have to.

Jess: Yes, and if you didn't notice, it's October special Halloween themed fancy dress episode. Jessie: Were we dressing up today? I didn't even think about that. Sorry, I'm just kidding.

Jess: We are also so thrilled and wanna thank every single one of our listeners, our community and for your support. We won gold for the Signal Awards.

Jessie: Yes. And we were the only finance podcast to do that, right?

Jess: Yeah, we were. And actually everybody in the best emerging podcast category got gold, so we're all winners. But I went through everyone that I saw in finance and no one got a gold award. So yeah, yay us.

Jess: Yeah, that's right. And congrats to all the other winners as well. And thank you to every single one of you that voted for us. We really, really appreciate it. Yes, thank you.

Jessie: Oh, where's mine?

Jess: Right, that would have been a good idea.

Jessie: Good man, I know. Should I? Oh, babe. Oh my God!

Jess: No way!

Jessie: James got Jess one too!

Jess: That was not planned.

Jessie: That was amazing. Thank you, baby.

Jess: There is, that is no, did James text her? Did they do it?

Jessie: Did James message you? No, they just both did it.

Jess: Aw.

Jessie: That's amazing.

Jess: Well cheers, Jessie. Cheers! Well that was great. I love that we both got hand-hand champagne at the same time. Here's one for financial literacy, bridging the investing gap. Yes. Speaking of financial literacy though.

Jessie: How are we gonna approach this probably huge topic without going down too many crazy rabbit holes today? Where are we gonna start?

Jess: We need to start with understanding how orders are displayed. NBBO.

Jessie: The what? Wait, say that one more time.

Jess: National bid and best offer.

Jessie: Okay. Is that an acronym I'm assuming?

Jess: Yes, NBBO. When you have a quote for a stock, we talked about the last price and the last price is? Is?  

Jessie: The last price the last time the stock was traded and it happens a bunch of times throughout the day. So when you log in, you look at the stock quote, it's the last price that it was just previously traded at. Right?

Jess: Perfect. Boom. Yeah, absolutely. Pull up a quote for Apple, pull up a quote for Microsoft, whatever, that price that you see, that's the last price. It's past tense. It has happened post execution. So when we're talking about the national bid and best offer, that's pre execution. So we're talking about price display and the market is an auction place, right? You are buying at the best available price. So the lowest someone is willing to sell something to you at, and you're selling at the best available price, which is the highest someone is willing to buy it at. And that's reflected on the bid and ask and actually pull up a stock quote so you can see a bid and ask. We're going to pull up a stock quote for Apple symbol AAPL prices are as of the close today, October 10th, 4pm Eastern time. The last price is $178.39 was down 60 cents. that is just the last time it traded, which is at market close, 4 p.m. Eastern time, right? If you look at the bid and the ask though.

Jessie: Hold on, where it says bid times size and ask time size?

Jess: That's right.

Jessie: Okay.

Jess: And that size is the amount of shares attached to that order, but it always is multiplied times 100. So that means there are 100 shares available at 178.45 to buy.

Jessie: Oh, okay.

Jess: Whatever price you see for the ask though, should be a higher price than the bid.

Jessie: It's like a few cents higher.

Jess: Exactly. So you buy on the ask, that's the lowest that someone is willing to sell you those shares. If you were like haggling, trying to get a bargain and someone's selling you an item and you're a buyer, if you've ever been in like a flea market, you know, where you're like, Hey, will you give me this for that? This is the lowest price that the seller, the other person of that trade, and that could be an individual or it could be the exchange and it could be a wholesaler. It be a lot of different things, but that is the best available price for you to buy across the entire market. That's what the ask is.

Jessie: Okay.

Jess: The bid is just the opposite. Those are full of buy orders because you're going to sell there. That is the highest that someone is willing to buy those shares at because you want to sell at the highest price possible. So it's the highest buys. The market is so regulated. The snapshot in time where the bid and ask is, the second you hit submit order. you are required to be filled within the bid and the ask. It cannot be outside of that.

Jessie: So who's getting, so for me, if the bid price is $178.41 and the ask is $178.48, who's getting that seven cents?

Jess: That would be a market maker or a wholesaler.

Jessie: So market makers and wholesalers are the same thing?

Jess: They are very similar, yes. And this is what's so important about understanding the functions of a market maker and even why we chose our name. So they are going to make sure that these prices that are displayed, they're going to make a market in it. They are responsible for price equality, no matter what. So you actually have to stay true to your word. You display a bid or ask, you're staying true to your word and you are making a market. That's what that means.

Jessie: Okay. I mean, it sounds like it's in the name again. how we always say it's literally the name they're making the market. What like fair?

Jess: Yeah, what we just described is called the top quote. That's a level one quote. There's a level two, which is kind of the back of it. If I were to pull up a level two quote for you right now, you would see the ask and remember it's always the lowest ask. So you would see a bunch of higher sells right behind it. So meaning if there were a lot of buys that go into the market all of the sudden, the ask is gonna get higher and higher and higher. And that's what pushes the stock market up in price because there's more buyers.

Jessie: Because it's demand, right?

Jess: Exactly.

Jessie: There's more demand.

Jess: Exactly.

Jessie: Okay.

Jess: Exactly. And that's important to know. when we talk about dark pools a little bit later on. So just keep that little nugget.

Jessie: When we talk about what? Dark pools?

Jess: Yes, dark poles.

Jessie: Where sirens live? Just kidding. Yes. We'll hold that thought. But the bid and the ask, the difference of those two, that's called the spread. And the market maker keeps the spread. It's all in the name. It's the spread as in like the width between the two prices, the price for you to buy and sell at. And as... a retail investor or any investor, not just limited to retail, when we're buying on the ask, it's always slightly higher than where we're selling on the bid. And the market maker is doing the inverse since they're taking the other side. So they are selling on the ask and they're buying at the bid. And so they make the spread.

Jessie:  And the spread is that like seven cents difference?

Jess: Exactly. We're looking at Apple, which is seven cents apart, and the market's closed. If the market was open, it would [normally] be a penny. It's a very, very tight spread is what we would call that. If it's something that doesn't have a lot of volume, because Apple's the most traded security, one of them, of the overall market. If we pulled up something that doesn't trade very often.

Jessie: So we're trying to find something that doesn't trade as often because it has a shorter spread?

Jess: Have a wider spread. So it's gonna have more in between it. It makes sense if you think about it. Because when you are a market maker, you're taking on the other side of the trade. And you actually keep what's called a Delta Neutral Portfolio, which is something that we would have an entire episode on to talk about.

Jessie: What does that mean?

Jess: It means that no matter which way the market moves, it doesn't really affect you, because they make money based on the amount of orders that they receive. So they want more orders. They don't care which way the market goes. And that's how you want them to be, right? Like you don't want them to have a bias for market direction. You just want them to take the spread. Jessie: Oh OK, so a market maker, a market not make her.

Jess: This is fun. I can't say that word without saying her in it now.

Jessie: OK, so obviously a market maker is making money. It's like they're taking those kind of like pennies off the top of the… Is it just stocks, stocks ETFs, any kind of trade?

Jess: Yeah. So, but it's not pennies off the top. They take the spread.

Jessie: Okay.

Jess: So they take the difference between the buy and sell price because they are taking the other side of the trade. They are making sure that there is a market. Stocks that trade more, like Apple, have a very tight spread. because there's more volume associated with it and more opportunities to make that spread. And so they want orders.

Jessie: Right. But the market makers have to have a delta neutral portfolio.

Jess: Right, because the way that they're making money is not by owning stock and hoping it appreciates in value. They're making money by making a market.

Jessie: But they're making money by volume of trades, right?

Jess: Primarily. So that's their, they want volumes of trades, but they can't just create volumes of trades. That doesn't happen.

Jessie: Yeah, that's not up to them.

Jess: No. [as in correct]

Jessie: That just happens based on the economy, the market, whatever's going on, supply and demand, like all those things, right?

Jess: All those things. And that, and when we're talking about this, we're not just talking about retail trading, we are talking about every bit of it, everything that goes into the market.

Jessie: Okay. And just again for our listeners, when we say retail trading, what do we mean specifically?

Jess: We mean everyday individuals, you and I, this is self-directed is retail trading is what that's referred to very often actually. Little fun um finance joke is if we say, like if we're making a compromise, we always call it split the spread.

Jessie: Oh.

Jess: I'll split the spread with you.

Jessie: But we can't actually split the spread. Like who's able to actually split the spread? Anybody?

Jess: Love this question. Uh, that is called price improvement. When you get a better price than the spread, you will have what's called price improvement.

Jessie: How would you get a better price? That really depends on execution quality. And there is a lot to talk about and unpack there, which we can definitely talk about. That's where we have to talk about payment for order flow. So before we move on, we'd need to move on to talk about price improvement. Just make sure that we've got everything covered with what a spread is, the best price to available to buy and sell, all of those things crystal clear. Yes.

Jessie: So the NBBO, aka the National Bid Best Offer, is the best price available to buy and sell the stock at. And the difference of those... two prices, like the bid and the ask, right, is called the spread.

Jess: That's right.

Jessie: Okay. That's usually a few pennies based on how wide the spread is and the wider the spread means that there's less trading.

Jess: Yeah, exactly.

Jessie: It's a little confusing sometimes. There's a lot going on, but that's what we're here for. That's how we're learning all this stuff.

Jess: Yeah.

Jessie: Try to understand how it works and what's going on.

Jess: Exactly. And we're going through the mechanics of the market. Like we, the purpose of the market is you can invest in everything around you basically, like everything. And so we're talking about how that's possible. Now that we know how market maker works, they want orders. And we know that they don't influence the market by creating orders. They can't do that, but things that are traded more often, that's how they're reflected on the bid and ask, right?

Jessie: Yeah.

Jess: Who has orders? Brokerage firms, right?

Jessie: Right.

Jess: There are hundreds of market makers. There are a lot. It's not like there's a handful of them. There are a ton.

Jessie: Oh, okay.

Jess: The market maker will give payment some of that spread that they're making, but it's a prearranged agreement. So it's not like on every trade that happens. They have a prearranged agreement with RobinHood or whatever brokerage firm.

Jessie: So payment for order flow, that's what happens on all brokerage firms then, right?

Jess: everywhere, most brokerage firms. I mean, there are some that do not accept payment for order flow, and there are rules. So when we talked about the national bid best offer, what's reflected on the bid and ask, it's literally the best price available to buy and sell. The second you hit place order and that snapshot of that quote is taken, the bid and ask, if you see that you were executed outside of that bid and ask, you can call your broker and they will adjust it for you. I've done many trade busts in my life and tenure as a broker.

Jessie: Oh, they give you half of the spread or something?

Jess: No, they would give you where you were due. If you think you got a bad fill, which can happen, it's all electronic mostly, and you are like, no, I bought at too high of a price. The ask at that time was lower. Take a snapshot and like, oh, yep, you're right. You were due a fill. Something happened in our system and they will give it to you and give you exactly where that ask was.

Jessie: So when you see what the ask is, should you just get in the habit of taking a snapshot before you hit buy?

Jess: No, I wouldn't. This is all...

Jessie: Like how do you catch it? You know,

Jess: The traders will do this. People who are actively trading are people who care about this.

Jessie: Right. Okay. Yeah.

Jess: But what I think is more important in the grand scheme of things is oftentimes people hear payment for order flow and the complexities of the market and dark pools and see it as such a bad, bad. place that has a bad reputation. And I think taking just a moment to understand how payment for order flow works, the regulation that's there, where you're required to be executed on how dark pools actually work when we get there, price discovery versus price execution and what that all means. We'll hopefully just shed some light on how the system works because we want to utilize the system to our advantage. And. buy stocks so we can participate in capital appreciation and grow our wealth. And the way that you do that is via the stock market. This is the wiring.

Jessie: Yeah, this is just like how it works, right?

Jess: Yeah. Investing is so overwhelming. And so if you see a bid and ask and you pull up a quote and you just want to buy SPY or VOO or VTI or something like that, [you] would immediately get overwhelmed. What is all that information? Now you know, oh, okay, it's just the best price to buy and sell.

Jessie: Where does the dark pool come in?

Jess: Let's go back to that more buyers than sellers, the ask is made up of the lowest sell price because that's where we buy. This is an extreme example. Say you've got a hundred shares that you want to buy and that $100 is the lowest sell price. That means that the next price is going to be a little bit higher. So if there's only buyers, no sellers, the market makers taking the other side, it's going to move the stock higher, go from $100 as they ask then to $101 then to $102 then to $103. So that's how the stock is going up because people are buying it the lowest sell price. So the sell price is getting higher and higher as in what's displayed on the ask. If you have a very big order, like think about how much popularity there is with S&P 500 funds these days. Right. And in order to make those mutual funds, they have share creation where the big institutional investor, which is a mutual fund company like BlackRock Vanguard Fidelity. They have to go in and they have to buy those stocks. That's a huge order if there's enough. We're talking millions of dollars, billions even. If you had to buy millions of dollars worth of Apple, if you'd sent that to the market, you would take all of that stock, the sell orders, and you would skyrocket that stock. And that's if you participated in that's called price discovery. The risk with that is as a retail trader or any type of trader, hedge funds, anyone, anyone is analyzing the market. You'll see this big player come in wanting to buy all of this. You might be like, Oh, somebody knows something I don’t. And you'll buy it too. Like the psychological thing will happen. And then you'll start making the stock go up, which there's literally no reason for it. It's because somebody needs to make a big trade for their big hedge fund or their big mutual fund. Jessie: Oh.

Jess: Yes. So in order to prevent that from happening, the trade is removed from price discovery dark. Like you cannot see how many shares are there. They're still required to be executed at the NBBO and normally it's like an average price. But that's what a dark pool is, is it's designed to not manipulate the market and prevent something called front running, which is where somebody would see that big order. They would go buy them at this other price, as in like a high frequency trade. Think about… price frequency trading means they take advantage of price discrepancies within the market and they trade in like algorithmic milliseconds. So if somebody was looking to do a really big buy order, they could go front run the trade within a millisecond and go buy it from the market and then sell it to them at a higher price. And then that's a form of arbitrage that high frequency trading would do, which is essentially front running a whole position because they see a big order and the whole purpose of putting big trades like that in the dark is to prevent market manipulation. A lot to unpack there.

Jessie: Yeah.

Jess: There's been a lot of regulation since it was first introduced. It's not participated in that price discovery. That's where the issues come about. And it's honestly, it's a debate. If you're not in the price discovery, does that mean is there a better price available to buy or sell? But arguably you shouldn't be in the price discovery as in reflected on the bid and ask because you would artificially inflate or deflate the market. And that would really hurt retail investors. So that would defeat the purpose altogether. But then the big debate is they are very vulnerable to corruption, very vulnerable because orders are put in, I wouldn't wanna say blindly, but it is in a dark area, as in there is less transparency. They're bigger orders, there is requirements for you to be there. And it still has to be [executed] within the NBBO. It's not like you get this special execution that does not happen.

Jessie: So dark pools are intended for institutional investors and super large orders to not move the market and prevent front running. And front running is just a form of market manipulation.

Jess: Right.

Jessie: So they still have to execute within the NBBO, but they don't participate in price discovery. and do report after the trade executes on the tape, quote unquote.

Jess: Yes. So they're like, maintaining confidentiality.

Jessie: Yes. Right.

Jess: So whenever you place the trade is actually what happens in most brokerage firms. They all do it a little bit differently, but it's fairly similar. The second you hit place order, it's going to do a safeguard check, meaning do you have enough money to place this order? Are you going to create a trade violation of some sort? It happens all in a blink of an eye. They do that first. And that's where you'd get that error message, it'd be a hard block or a soft block that says, hey, you can't place this trade or you forgot to hit a zero. You're trying to buy this at a price that is much, much higher than the market and we don't think you intended to do that, things like that. They will have safeguards for you. That's your brokerage firm. Then it may go into an internal inventory that's very possible where they have these shares and they'll match you with buyer and sellers and your firm will take care of it. Or it may go to a dark pool where there's a big order that needs filled. Like somebody wants to buy a bunch of shares of Apple and you're putting in a sell order. So you may hit that dark pool, or it'll be routed to a market maker and the market maker may take that order or they may display it. And then it may be routed to an exchange and then the exchange may execute it. So it could go all different places.

Jessie: So it's not always happening the same way every time that there's a buyer trade.

Jess: No.  

Jessie: Oh OK.

Jess: It's an algorithm. But the algorithm has a rule that is regulated that says the best price to buy and sell, that NBBO, the snapshot in time when it reaches its destination, it has to be executed there. That way, no one takes advantage of you. And payment for order flow. and where orders are routed is so regulated. Rule 606 reporting is what it's called. You can go to any firm's website they are required to give you a link. It's normally in like the little footer area or you can just Google it. You can literally see how many orders they routed where, how much payment they've received for order flow, how much price improvement they've passed on to their customers. There's all these metrics that go through execution quality. The SEC and FINRA are putting in all these regulations to make sure that it's transparent. If you wanna know who's doing what, you can see it.

Jessie: Okay. I wouldn't have known that because I wouldn't have known like, okay, how? Like where do you actually go to see the transparency? So you can just go on your brokerage firm to see what's actually happening.

Jess: Exactly. And if a trade is executed, it's required to be on the last price. Call that the tape. It's gotta hit the tape. You do not need to know all of this. And I will tell you, a lot of people who even work in retail do not even know all of this. This is advanced stuff.

Jessie: Oh, okay.

Jess: Very, probably the most advanced things.

Jessie: That makes me feel better, because my brain is trying so hard. I'm just like, hold on. But I think it's good to know these things, especially if there's a lot of debate about whether it is a free and fair market. And on this show, we definitely... try to just like stick to the facts and educate everyone on what things are, the definitions, how they work. And we try to describe them in an analogy that kind of makes sense just so that we all are on the same page with what the stock market is, how it works, we're demystifying it because it does seem complicated, but it doesn't have to be right.

Jess: Dark pools, they don't present pre-trade type of data. So they don't participate in price discovery and it's important that they remain confidential. And that's where the vulnerabilities are, is if that confidentiality is leaked. And that's what is could be scary about dark pools. That's why the SEC and FINRA are taking steps to create as much transparency as possible to prevent confidentiality leaks or things like that. And when that happens, there are fines. You can go on sec.gov and go on finra.org and you can literally see every FINRA notice or proposed rule change. and studies even of market mechanics. It's really interesting if you wanna go down the rabbit hole and maybe we'll link those into the show notes. But that's the big concern, if you will, with dark pools is they have to have confidentiality. The whole purpose of them is to prevent market manipulation and it's kind of ironic that they are very susceptible to market manipulation. This is the big debate and I don't know the answer to it, but what I do know is that the stock market is, it's highly regulated. It's more regulated than healthcare. Which is crazy.

Jessie: Yeah.

Jess: And we should have an episode on RobinHood. I was very, very so involved in that. It's unbelievable. Part of it is what led to me really giving up my licenses. It is a huge component of it because of the high amount of regulation. And sometimes the regulation is the answer because somebody else did something stupid. But then it also has negative repercussions, because then you create all this regulation. And really you just might need financial literacy, but then you prevent that and you create more barriers to that. So it's just a big debate to be honest.

Jessie: Yes, we really swam into the depths of the investing ocean today. And that was a lot. And as we said, our mission is to demystify how the stock market works to make investing feel less complicated, maybe less intimidating to you. But if you have more questions about anything we covered today. please feel free to ask via our website or any of our social channels.

Jess: Yes, we do it all on this podcast. We see every question you submit. Don't be shy if there's something you'd like me to explain better or answer, or even you want Jessie to go into one of her infamous rabbit holes on, even if it's related to the 16 episodes we've released so far, like we've made it this far guys. Thank you.

Jessie: And if you found today's episode helpful. share it with your squad because sirens may lure sailors to their demise, but they do not gatekeep. So it helps us also if you give us a five star rating or leave a comment or review, your feedback fuels our mission to financially empower all.

Jess: Yes, please leave a review. We love honest feedback here. And until our next financial adventure, keep investing, keep learning and keep breaking those barriers.

[Disclosure] Remember, investing involves risk. There is always potential to lose money when investing in securities. Market Maker provides educational content and resources for informational purposes only. We are not registered financial advisors and do not provide. personalized investment advice. Any information provided by Market Maker on our website or podcast is not intended to be a substitute for professional financial advice. Market Maker is not liable for any investment decisions made based on our content.