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E-commerce - Bonding on the internet

Selling of primary bond issues via the internet has diverted attention from more revolutionary developments in e-trading - such as the plethora of bond-trading platforms, owned by different constellations of players, and the channelling of several banks' research and dealing services through a single portal. Where's it all going? Antony Currie reports


Phillip Buhannic

Let's hope that Larry Fondren has a sense of humour. If not, the events of the past month are going to depress him. Fondren had worked in investment banking, and in 1992 decided to set up his own firm, InterVest. He aimed to provide an electronic marketplace for investors and broker-dealers to trade bonds in the secondary market. He reckoned it would improve price transparency, cut costs and as a result increase the amount of trading.

Sounds familiar? It should - it's exactly what debt-market bankers have been trumpeting in recent months. Several firms opted to go through e-bond underwriting exercises in January as proof of their commitment to, and leadership in, e-commerce.

Yet these same institutions provoked Fondren's wrath in the past. So much so that last November InterVest filed a lawsuit against several banks and brokers, claiming they had conspired to boycott the firm and keep the bond-market price process opaque. Cantor Fitzgerald, SG Cowen, Deutsche Bank, Liberty Brokerage, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan, Bear Stearns and Salomon Smith Barney have all been named.

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