Dealers in over-the-counter financial markets provide liquidity to customers on a principal basis and manage the risk position that arises out of this activity in one of two ways. They may internalise a customer’s trade by warehousing the risk in anticipation of future offsetting flow, or they can externalise the trade by hedging it out in the open market. It is understood that internalisation underlies much of the liquidity provision in the currency markets, particularly in the electronic spot segment, and that it can deliver significant benefits in terms of depth and consistency of liquidity, reduced spreads, and a diminished market footprint. However, for many market participants the internalisation process can be somewhat opaque, data on it is scarcely available, and even the largest and most sophisticated customers in the market often do not appreciate or measure the impact that internalisation has on their execution costs and liquidity access. This paper formulates a simple model of internalisation and uses queuing theory to provide important insights into its mechanics and properties. We derive closed form expressions for the internalisation horizon and demonstrate – using data from the Bank of International Settlement’s triennial FX survey – that a representative tier 1 dealer takes on average several minutes to complete the internalisation of a customer’s trade in the most liquid currencies, increasing to tens of minutes for emerging markets. Next, we analyse the costs of internalisation and show that they are lower for dealers that are willing to hold more risk and for those that face more price sensitive traders. The key message is that a customer’s transaction costs and liquidity access are determined both by their own trading decisions as well as the dealer’s risk management approach. A customer should not only identify the externalisers but also distinguish between passive and aggressive internalisers, and select those that provide liquidity compatible with their execution objectives.

joint work with Max Butz