SEC Approves Plan to Boost Traders’ Interest in Small Stocks

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved a two-year program designed to test ways to boost investors’ interest in smaller stocks.

The trading experiment, championed by small-business advocates and opposed by big investors such as Fidelity Investments and D.E. Shaw & Co., will widen the minimum price at which stocks for small companies are quoted on exchanges, the SEC said Wednesday in a statement. The program would reward brokers for making markets in less-liquid stocks by widening the amount they earn when buying and selling shares.

Exchanges must start the pilot program by May 6, 2016, the SEC said. It will apply to shares of 1,400 companies with market values under $3 billion and average daily trading volume of less than 1 million shares, the SEC said.

“The data generated by this important market-structure initiative will deepen our understanding of the impact of tick sizes on market quality,” SEC Chair Mary Jo White said in a statement.

Asset managers such as Fidelity opposed the program because they’re concerned it will raise transaction costs and probably won’t foster more initial public offerings.

The experiment includes four different groups of stocks that will be subject to different rules. On one group, the SEC will test whether price and execution quality improves if more orders are routed to exchanges instead of private platforms run by brokers.

The test represents a modest lobbying victory for exchanges, although it includes some exceptions for brokers to fill orders internally. Exchanges have sought restrictions on dark trading for years as their share of trading dropped to about 64 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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