DEFINITION of Tape Is Late
"Tape is late" refers to a situation on the trading floor where trading volume is so heavy that the real-time ticker quotes are delayed. The trading floor refers to the area of an exchange where trades in securities take place. An exchange is a physical or virtual place where buyers and sellers of securities, such as stocks or bonds, come together to transact with each other. The New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ are examples of exchanges in the United States.
BREAKING DOWN Tape Is Late
An exchange takes responsibility for publishing the volume, or number of securities, and the prices at which securities are bought or sold on their exchange. These trades are published as they occur in a linear, sequential fashion. When trading volume is heavy, there may be so many trades to report in order that a delay occurs between when the trades are happening in real-time and when the exchange publishes the trade. This is the situation in which traders and market participants will use the term "tape is late."
Origin of the Tape is Late
The term originates from decades ago when trades were reported on a tape, or roll, of paper, hence the term "tape." When the tape was late, the printer couldn't keep up with trading activity. In the modern stock market, transactions are published electronically, and the tape is hardly ever late. However, delays may still rarely occur on exceptionally high volume trading days as exchanges may limit the speed of the electronic publication of trades to a rate at which the human eye can interpret. When the tape is late, some price digits of trades may be deleted, or volume digits will be deleted, in order to allow more trades to be published in a quicker fashion. Regardless, delays in publishing trading information can cause arbitrage opportunities for investors.