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BlackRock Trading Venture Leaves Questions

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that BlackRock already conducts 3% of its trades internally, which spokesman Beades attributed to "work on the platform to date."

But that 3% of trades consists of BlackRock portfolio managers trading with each other, a practice known as "crossing." Barclays Global Investors, which BlackRock acquired in 2007, already had this capability for equities.

BlackRock hopes to increase that total to 6%-8%. Beades writes that ATN "expands on the concept of crossing being performed today by opening up the opportunity to other buy-side firms who utilize BlackRock Solutions' Aladdin investment management platform."

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That idea--that BlackRock would trade securities with other institutional investors rather than by going through a securities dealer--is a different kettle of fish than simply crossing trades.

However, in his public comments about the platform, Fink has never made a distinction between crossing trades internally and bringing other big money managers (what Beades refers to when he mentions "buy-side firms") into the mix.

The latter idea faces skepticism, as it isn't clear that other institutional investors will be eager to send business to a competitor like BlackRock.

"Already several dealer consortium and broker neutral venues have tried to compete and failed to-date, we haven't yet seen a significant buy-side venue attempt or succeed," wrote analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW), assessing the competitive threat to electronic bond trading platform MarketAxess (MKTX).

More interesting, of course, is the threat BlackRock may represent to giant securities dealers.

In January of this year, for example, on the same call that Fink made the odd comment that he is "spending a lot of money for nothing," he added that "this is not meant to be - we're not meant to be us becoming a broker-dealer and competing with Wall Street."

And yet that is exactly what BlackRock is doing, according to the Financial Times, which reported Friday that BlackRock has applied to the Securities and Exchange Commission for broker-dealer status.

Responding to the recent reports, Moody's Investors Service wrote on Monday that BlackRock's platform "is credit negative for banks with global capital market operations as it has the potential to reduce their trading revenues."
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