Don't call it a dark pool.
On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved a new trading program at the New York Stock Exchange intended to compete with so-called dark pools, private stock trading venues operated by banks like Goldman Sachs and Citi Group as well as smaller companies.
Dark pools are increasingly emerging as competitors to traditional stock exchanges but are generally closed off to the average investor. Details of the trades executed in dark pools are also often hidden from the public, unlike those on an exchange where the trading is done in the open.
The new offering, known as the Retail Liquidity Program, will allow stock bids to be placed before the stocks actually begin trading on the floor of the exchange.
"This has some characteristics of a dark pool, but it is not a dark pool," New York Stock Exchange spokesman Rich Adamonis told The Huffington Post, pointing out that some of the initial bids will be hidden from the public. "It's an exchange venue."
The new trading platform is geared toward the average mom and pop investor rather than professional outfits such as high-frequency trading firms. Unlike traditional dark pools, which can bar any investor they want from trading there, the NYSE offering will be subject to SEC rules governing exchange participation, which are more open, according to the NYSE.
In a blog post announcing the new offering, Joe Mecane, executive vice president of NYSE Euronext, which owns the New York Stock Exchange, argued that the Retail Liquidity Program will be more open than traditional dark pools because it will advertise when better bids on a stock are being offered, ultimately leading to better stock prices for an investor.
"The RLP publicly indicates [when better prices are] available, thus shedding more light on the trading process, and benefitting not only individual investors but the overall price discovery process," Mecale wrote.
But critics argue that the new venue is a dark pool by another name and that venues like these are destroying the markets.
"This makes more [stock trading] take place in the dark," said Sal Arnuk, co-founder of institutional agency stock brokerage firm Themis Trading. Arnuk also argued that the new venue adds unneeded competition to a world in which there are already too many venues for trading stocks. "Instead of there being [a few] large, deep diverse pools with all kinds of players, you’ll have a marketplace ... that is going to be fragmented more."
According to financial research and advisory firm Tabb Group, there are currently 19 dark pools on which securities are traded.