The highly anticipated IEX stock exchange that played the starring role in the 2014 book “Flash Boys” will finally begin trading stocks on Friday—but the launch will start off slow, in more ways than one.
Hailed as a competitor to Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange, IEX Group’s new stock market builds in a split-second delay in orders that’s designed to neutralize the advantages of high-frequency traders over average Joe investors. Author Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys” portrayed the traditional exchanges as an unfair playing field for most investors, who were constantly getting worse prices on stocks because they were beaten to the punch by high-speed traders, a practice known as front-running. IEX CEO Brad Katsuyama became the protagonist of the book, aiming to make access to stocks fairer for everyone with an invention he called the “Investors Exchange,” or IEX.
IEX’s system, which had been operating as a dark pool, was just approved in June by the Securities and Exchange Commission as a national exchange open to the public.
But before rushing over, be aware that IEX’s rollout will have speed bumps of its own. Only two stocks will be available to trade on the exchange’s opening day on Friday: telecom service companies Vonage (VG) and Windstream Holdings (WIN).
Another eight securities will start trading on IEX next Wednesday, August 24: mining company Vale (VALE-P), patent hoarder VirnetX (VHC), fiberoptic maker Viavi Solutions (VIAV), Russian telecom VimpelCom (VIP), Valley National Bancorp (VLY), biotech XOMA (XOMA), a Chinese stock ETF called Direxion Daily FTSE China Bull (YINN), and a cancer-focused biotech company Ziopharm Oncology (ZIOP).
Then the following week of August 29, IEX will begin listing a much wider universe, including all NYSE- and Nasdaq-listed stocks. It’ll begin with all stocks whose symbols begin with the letter “Y” or “Z,” adding later in the week securities whose tickers start with letters between “V” and “Y.” Finally, on Sept. 2 (the Friday before Labor Day), IEX will roll out all other remaining stocks for trading as a full-fledged stock exchange.
IEX’s gradual phasing in of the stocks should reduce the likelihood of any snafus with early trading on the system, as there can sometimes be kinks with new stock-trading technology. Bats Global Markets (BATS), a rival exchange that made its own transition to a national market in 2008, has experienced serious software glitches that caused it to cancel its own IPO in 2012, but ultimately went public this spring.
The reason IEX started with stock tickers at the end of the alphabet is because those stocks typically trade less—something you might call the phonebook syndrome, where businesses whose names start with “A” or “B” tend to get more calls than others. The less active stocks may also help with a smoother rollout. “We want to start with symbols that trade some, but not a lot,” says IEX spokesman Gerald Lam, adding that they looked for those with share prices under $10 and which trade under 5 million shares per day. IEX also tried to make sure it evenly represented Nasdaq and NYSE listings, which half of its first stocks coming from each exchange. The process takes a page from Bats’ migration to a national exchange, from which IEX “extrapolated these criteria,” Lam says.