The technology behind Visible Markets Inc., the innovative online bond auction company that pulled the plug Aug. 22 citing lack of funds, will be back up and running soon, its chief executive officer predicts.
We had strong interest from many parties, so I expect that the technology and the customers will find a new home shortly with another company, Brian Robertson said in an e-mail Friday. The platform could be fired up and running in a few weeks.
The Boston company, which tried to change the way investors buy and sell bonds, quietly shut down its three online auction sites for corporate, asset-backed, and mortgage-backed securities and laid off most of its 70 employees.
We made the hard decision to wind down what we were doing because we didnt believe we had enough cash or sufficient interest to get to profitability, said Mr. Robertson, a co-founder of the company. We were left with no other choice.
The remaining employees are preparing to sell the technology developed to operate the exchanges, as well as the companys client list, during an auction scheduled for Sept. 17.
The shutdown ended a two-year effort by Mr. Robertson and his co-founder, Sam Choi, to revolutionize the bond markets.
Mr. Robertson, 27, had better luck earlier in the dot-com craze, when he developed a software system to help college friends stay in touch after graduation. He later sold his Planit All venture to Amazon.com for $100 million at the tender age of 25.
With Visible Markets, the two co-founders sought to change the bond markets by providing online exchanges that operated like auction sites. The prices of all the listed bonds were visible to all bidders, though the buyers and sellers remained anonymous. Clients could search through a database of bond listings and make bids. In most other instances, the traders that connect bond buyers and sellers are the only players who know both the bid and ask price.
Yet the mortgage bond industry may not have been ready to embrace the Internet, according to industry experts.
The lions share of bond trading in the first half of this year nearly 80% was done by phone and fax, and many Wall Street players are hesitant to conduct multimillion-dollar transactions with the click of a mouse, experts say.
Jack Mahoney, a managing director at Greenwich Associates, a Connecticut financial consulting firm, said firms would not place their most important transactions on any system before testing it out with smaller, less important trades. This makes it harder for exchange operators to sell their systems in the early stages of development, he said.
Buy-side traders are looking for more opportunities of liquidity, but that will only happen if you have more traders generally on these systems and the quantity and quality of traders are good, he said.
In addition, traders of highly structured mortgage-backed securities make their money not on the volume of trades, but on the spreads of the transactions, Mr. Mahoney said. Sell-side traders may view the price transparency of online exchanges as a potential threat to such profits, he said.
Todd Eyler, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said that the concept behind Visible Markets was very promising.
Unfortunately, the idea of transparent bond trading was too far ahead of its time, Mr. Eyler said. It will take any online exchange provider roughly two to three years of educational efforts to persuade MBS-traders that online trading is more efficient than other methods, he said. The biggest challenge is just getting people comfortable, and then getting them off the phone.
Mr. Robertson said that the fixed-income markets would eventually change, and participants would begin conducting transactions in more innovative ways, but that it would take several years for buyers and sellers to make a commitment to that technology.
The adoption by the buy side has been slower than we expected, he said. We hope the platform ends up in the hands of someone that can fund the adoption curve for three to five years, he said.