What is a 'Trading Desk'

A trading desk is where transactions for buying and selling securities occur. Trading desks are found in most organizations involved in trading investment instruments, such as equities, fixed income securities, futures, commodities, and currencies. A trading desk provides trades with access to instantaneous trade executions.

A trading desk is also known as a dealing desk.

BREAKING DOWN 'Trading Desk'

Traders operating in the financial markets usually converge in a room known as the trading floor or trading room. The trading floor is made up of desks that share a large open space. Each desk, formally called a trading desk, specializes in a security type or market segment. Trading desks are where buying and selling of securities occurs on the ground floor. Before the 1970s, many banks split their capital markets business into many different department across several regions. These institutions began consolidating these departments in the 1970s following the launch of the NASDAQ, which required all investment firms to have equity trading desks. Today, many asset managers outsource their trading desks to these larger institutions.

Trading desks are manned by licensed traders who specialize in a given investment type, such as equities or commodities. These traders primarily use electronic trading systems and market makers to identify the best prices for their clients. The personnel on trading desks receive clients' orders from the sales desk which is in charge of suggesting trading ideas to institutional and high net worth investors. In addition to trading activities, trading desks also help clients with structuring financial products, watching for opportunities, or supporting agreements between companies and investors.

Trading desks generate an income by charging a commission on trades placed through it. For example, a hedge fund may deal through an equity trading desk at an investment bank and pay a modest fee for each trade. In some cases, brokers may operate their own trading desk by being the counterparty for their client’s trades. These trades may never reach the interbank market and may stay within the confines of the broker’s own liquidity pool.

There are many different types of trading desks depending on the security being traded. Often times, these desks are separated and may be located at certain central exchanges.

Types of Trading Desks

The most common trading desks include:

  • Equity trading desks handle everything from equity trading to exotic options trading.
  • Fixed income trading desks handle government bonds, corporate bonds, and other bonds and bond-like instruments that pay a yield.
  • Foreign exchange trading desks trade currencies in pairs to take advantage of any differential.
  • Commodity trading desks are focused on agricultural products, metals, and other commodities, such as crude oil, gold, and coffee.

Many brokers also offer trading desks for their clients, especially in the foreign exchange market and equity day trading market. With the ability to instantly execute trades, these brokers set themselves apart from other brokers acting as intermediaries. Most large financial institutions have their own trading desks in place to assist their internal teams and external clients in placing orders.

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