STA 2016 started off with a moment of silence for former STA chairmen and others who had passed away in the last year and then a bang with the singing of the national anthems of Canada and the USA performed by Jennifer Litwin, Greenwich Associates. She can belt them out worthy of a professional hockey game.

John Russell, STA chairman from Franklin Templeton out in San Mateo, CA, offered the opening remarks before the keynote address by SEC Chair Mary Jo White. He finished his comments urging the audience to find ways to show Wall Street in a more positive light.

Jim Toes, President and CEO of STA, followed with opening comments urging keeping our markets the most liquid and efficient in the world. He said the attendees for the conference were 25% women, up from about 11 percent last year. STA also had more women participate in the program.

He finished with comments about 9/11 and how to deal with the tragedy of that day and how to make some good come from it. He recommended visiting the 9/11 memorial and museum in New York City and spending time there. But he also suggested spending some time with the 9/11 “legacy children”, who are reaching their high teens now.

The chair of the SEC, Mary Jo White, said a lot of things in her speech to the STA, but the one that stood out for me was a declarative statement she made during the first part of it. She said, “The US equity markets are the strongest in the world.”

She also said her staff was “gathering and analyzing more market data than ever before.” She suggested this work was the beginning of the consolidated audit trail.

In a fireside chat with Jon Werts of BAML, Tom Wittman of Nasdaq and Stacey Cunningham of ICE/NYSE said the exchanges had done well in simplifying closing auctions and addressing the problems that led to the August 24 market disruption. Both exchanges had been opposed to IEX’s bid for exchange status, and they said they thought that now that it was an exchange, IEX would soon realize the complexity that comes along with that status. Cunningham said the NYSE is still cheaper than IEX per share, if you take into account their transaction cost per share and revenue from colocation, “and we have better quality, tighter spreads, and put money back into investors pockets.” However, I thought both Wittman and Cunningham fumbled the question of how to restore customer confidence in the equity markets. The question largely went unanswered.

The session with IEX’s Brad Katsuyama was interesting, but for all the innovation he is bringing to the markets I did not feel he was really doing a good job of bringing simplicity or at least lack of complexity to them. He used enough equities market jargon to choke a giraffe.

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