Price Improvement and Execution Risk in Lit and Dark Markets

Management Science, Forthcoming

57 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2015 Last revised: 3 Mar 2019

Date Written: July 31, 2018


Dark pools offer price improvement over displayed quotes, but non-displayed liquidity implies execution uncertainty. Because investor limit orders also provide price improvement with execution risk, dark pools offer a natural substitute. In a model of informed trading in a market with a displayed limit order book and a dark pool that offers price improvement, higher valuation investors sort into order types with lower execution risk, generating an “immediacy hierarchy”. Dark pool price improvement predicts the order in the hierarchy: a price improvement closer to (farther from) the mid-quote positions dark orders below (above) limit orders, which improves (worsens) market quality and welfare. A dark pool operated by the limit order book is welfare-improving, while welfare reduces with an independently-operated pool. Because active and passive order flow migrates to the dark pool where price impact occurs only post-trade, price efficiency worsens with any positive level of dark trading.

Keywords: dark trading, limit order book, informed trading, regulation

JEL Classification: G12, G14, G18

Suggested Citation

Brolley, Michael, Price Improvement and Execution Risk in Lit and Dark Markets (July 31, 2018). Management Science, Forthcoming . Available at SSRN: or

Michael Brolley (Contact Author)

Wilfrid Laurier University ( email )

Lazaridis Hall, 4071
75 University Avenue
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3C5


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