Dark pools are once again in the headlines, thanks to Michael Lewis’ new book “Flash Boys,” and there’s also reports this week that Goldman Sachs may be considering shutting down its dark pool, which has the admittedly rather thrilling name Sigma X. Dark pools are mysterious, and names like Sigma X only make them more so. That’s pretty cool when you’re trying to persuade a client to trade in your dark pool: Dude, It’s totally secret! No one will know you’re in there! No one will ever know what you buy or sell. Total anonymity! But it’s not so cool when the press and the public and regulators and lawmakers and basically everyone else is obsessed with greed in the financial markets, and start making a fetish out of transparency.
To the outsider, dark pools look shadowy and suspect, even sleazy. The question goes: Why do bankers need to go to these places to trade? And why do they need to be dark? Suspicion ensues: Are they using these places so that they can just rip us off, quickly and quietly, so that we never know about it and they can run off, laughing all the way to the bank (as it were)?
The fact is that a dark pool isn’t an offshoot of the black arts. It’s simply a privately-owned exchange, in which buyers and sellers can trade confidentially and in private. And they’re not new: they’ve been around for years. Creatures from the Black Lagoon, they ain’t. Here’s a short video explainer: