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Nasdaq plans retail price improvement program for early 2013

By John McCrank

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nasdaq OMX Group , which runs the No. 2 U.S. equities exchange, plans to offer discounts on retail orders in early 2013, the company said in a notice to traders on Tuesday.

Nasdaq said its retail price improvement program would be similar to one launched by Big Board operator NYSE Euronext on August 1, which offers discounts of fractions of a penny on stock orders.

Exchanges see the sub-penny programs as a way to win back market share from off-exchange venues.

Nasdaq said in the notice it plans make changes to its proprietary data feeds to reflect the new program in the first quarter of 2013. The plan is subject to regulatory approval.

NYSE's retail program required a limited exemption by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from a rule that bans the sub-penny pricing of stocks on national securities exchanges.

The ban did not apply to non-exchange trading venues, and sub-penny discounts have been widely used by wholesale brokers such as Knight Capital Group and Citadel, which already account for the majority of retail order flow.

BATS Global Markets, the No. 3 U.S. equities exchange, also announced a retail price improvement program in August.

Wholesalers routinely offer retail price improvement. Their ability to profit on what amounts to regulatory arbitrage has prompted NYSE Chief Executive Duncan Niederauer to speak out on several occasions against what he says is an uneven playing field in U.S. equity markets.

In many cases the discount wholesalers offer on retail orders is just one-hundredth-of-a-cent or less.

If the exchanges are able to execute retail orders at a better price, the wholesalers, which have best execution responsibilities, will have to send more retail orders to the exchanges. The alternative would be for wholesalers to offer better discounts, but that could impact their profitability.

(Reporting By John McCrank; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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