Home / Market / Stock-market-news /  NSE replies to regulator, denies giving unfair access to brokers

Mumbai: The National Stock Exchange of India Ltd (NSE) has refuted allegations that the exchange provided unfair access to certain brokers while accessing its algorithm trading platform in its response to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), according to two people familiar with the matter.

On 5 April, Mint reported that Sebi’s technical advisory committee (TAC) submitted its findings to Sebi in March, which noted that some traders on the exchange had unfair access to market data and trading systems. The panel concluded that NSE had violated norms of fair access and allowed some brokers to benefit.

Based on recommendations of the panel, which was headed by Ashok Jhunjhunwala, professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Sebi had initiated action and sought responses from NSE in April.

This response has been submitted and NSE has denied all allegations. “NSE’s reply was submitted to Sebi soon after its board meeting earlier this month. The reply was submitted at the highest level and the regulator is currently examining the said responses for future course of action," said one of the two people cited above without going into the details of the responses. He declined to be identified as the communications are confidential.

Also ReadNew norms on algorithmic trading by end of 2016: Sebi

The second person quoted above said that NSE in its response has also sought fresh examination of the issue.

“NSE’s response is rather comprehensive; they have refuted allegations of collusion. They have highlighted that they did not violate any regulations that were prevalent during the relevant period. The exchange has also spoken about certain factual inaccuracies in report and sought fresh examination of the issue," said the second person, he too declined to be named considering the sensitivity of the issue.

An NSE spokesperson declined to comment saying, “all communication with the regulator, Sebi, are bilateral and hence confidential."

An email sent to Sebi on Thursday did not elicit a response.

Algorithmic trading or HFT refers to the use of electronic systems, which can potentially execute thousands of orders on the stock exchange in less than a second. Trading firms that have faster access have an edge over others.

The allegations against NSE pertain to members who co-locate their servers on the premises of the exchange. Even at these co-located centres, some of the servers themselves might have differing hardware capabilities or workloads.

This issue first came to light when a whistleblower who went by the pseudonym Ken Fong wrote to the regulator alleging that NSE’s systems were being misused, and that some people consistently enjoyed advantages to the detriment of others. The minutes of Sebi’s technical advisory committee said that it had received three such letters from the whistleblower.

After examining the issue, a Sebi panel had recommended action for lapses on the part of NSE and exploitations made by brokerage OPG Securities under the guidance of the panel. The panel further advised Sebi that it may constitute a team comprising people with appropriate background to investigate the collusion aspect between NSE officials and OPG.

The report in question was prepared by a sub-committee constituted by TAC. This sub-committee had six Sebi officials and Om Damani, a professor of computer science and engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. In its report, the sub-committee said the bourse had not provided adequate details to the committee examining the issue.

NSE in the reply has stated that allegation that the bourse had violated norms by allowing non-ISPs such as Sampark (Infotainment) to lay dark fibre on its premises for various members is factually incorrect, said the second person cited above. ISPs refer to Internet service providers. According to NSE, Sampark was a sub-vendor of a registered ISP, the second person said.

Dark fibre refers to a dedicated communication line through which data travels faster than regular lines because of the absence of other traffic. As such, there is nothing illegal about using such faster connectivity infrastructure.

NSE, in its response, has also pointed out there were no clear regulations at the time of alleged violations. Between 2011-2014 the period, when certain brokers allegedly gained unfair advantage, there was an absence of regulations and tools that are currently being used to allow for fair access to market data and exchange platform, NSE has highlighted, said the second person.

That argument may not be justified, said an expert.

“The first responsibility of an exchange is fair access of the order book to all investors, if that is being violated then it puts question mark on the integrity of the exchange. The justification that there were no regulations during the relevant period is immaterial as the first principle that is fair access has been violated," said Shriram Subramanian, founder and managing director, InGovernResearch Services Pvt. Ltd.

Sebi’s technical advisory committee had suggested that a framework should be established within Sebi and stock exchanges to detect any abuse of the system by algo traders.

According to a 17 May Mint report, Sebi has already started implementing the recommendations of the panel which advises it on algo trades. In consultation with Sebi’s technical advisory committee earlier this month, the regulator has decided to have more checks and surveillance at the level of exchanges. To ensure this, NSE and BSE Ltd could be asked to constitute a separate team to keep an eye on algo trades, Mint reported. These checks would be in addition to the existing surveillance systems of exchanges.

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