IEX’s Exchange Application Is Said to Win SEC Staff Approval

  • Commissioners vote Friday on whether to grant exchange status
  • IEX seeks to upgrade its stock market to an official exchange

Securities and Exchange Commission staff have recommended approving IEX Group Inc.’s application to become an official stock exchange, according to a person familiar with the matter, putting IEX Chief Executive Officer Brad Katsuyama a step closer in his quest to reshape how the world’s biggest equity market works.

SEC commissioners are set to vote on the recommendation Friday, according to the person, who asked not to be identified citing a lack of authorization to speak publicly. The commissioners, who aren’t required to follow staff’s advice, have until Saturday to approve or deny IEX’s application. SEC spokeswoman Judith Burns and IEX spokesman Gerald Lam declined to comment.

The decision will cap months of furious debate over whether IEX should be allowed to open the Investors Exchange, which would be the 13th exchange in the $23 trillion U.S. stock market. The company uses a speed bump on its market to protect investors from the fastest traders, a mission that played a starring role in Michael Lewis’s 2014 book “Flash Boys.” It first asked for permission to convert its dark pool into a full-fledged stock exchange in September, though it’s operated a private trading venue since 2013.

Becoming an exchange puts IEX on the same level as the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq Stock Market, and Bats Global Markets Inc., and could help the company boost its share of trading, which currently amounts to less than 2 percent. On its road to requesting exchange status, IEX has defined itself in contrast to the business models of major exchanges and as an antidote to a fast-paced equity market where traders with the speediest technology can get an upper hand. 

As a full-blown exchange, IEX would win the ability to list public companies, a greater say in oversight of the stock market and a cut of revenue from central trading data feeds.

IEX places a 350-microsecond “speed bump” on all orders, which must pass through a coil of fiber optic cable to reach its systems. It also sets itself apart from larger exchange groups by what it doesn’t do: IEX doesn’t intend to allow brokers to pay for special, faster access to its trading systems as an exchange or charge for its own private market data as NYSE and Nasdaq do.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday that SEC staff recommended approving IEX’s application.

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