MarketAxess Brings Dark-Pool Features to Corporate Bond Trading

  • Venue starts service for anonymous big block trades of bonds
  • Trading volume rose 27% in first quarter to $310 billion

MarketAxess Holdings Inc. is bringing some of the attributes of equity dark pools to the world of corporate bond trading as more technology firms vie for a piece of company debt market.

The New York-based firm said Tuesday that it’s introducing a protocol that lets users anonymously negotiate big block trades -- features in private markets known as dark pools. It’s available for high-yield and investment-grade corporate bonds, as well as emerging-market debt on the company’s Open Trading system, where investors can transact without a bank’s involvement.

MarketAxess started in 2000 and is now among the biggest electronic corporate debt venues. The company says its sweet spot is typically trades that are about $2 million to $5 million in size. Trading volume at MarketAxess rose 27 percent in the first quarter to $310 billion from a year earlier, according to an e-mailed statement.

Recent years have seen a boom in the number of new venues vying for a piece of the corporate debt market. Amid stricter regulations on bank capital, firms including TruMid Financial LLC and Liquidnet Holdings Inc., have sought to use technology to upend the role of Wall Street dealers that have traditionally dominated the market.

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, also has a bond-trading platform.