Bid-Ask Spreads in Multiple Dealer Settings: Some Experimental Evidence

Lucy F. Ackert and Bryan K. Church
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Working Paper 98-9
June 1998

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We report the results of an experiment designed to investigate the behavior of quoted spreads in multiple-dealer markets. We manipulate verbal communication (not allowed and allowed) and order preferencing (not allowed, allowed, and allowed with order-flow payment) between eighteen sessions. Without preferencing, spreads are wider when communication is allowed. With preferencing (and no order-flow payments), individuals do not have incentives to narrow the spread and a wide spread may be maintained without a collusive agreement. However, spreads narrow somewhat when individuals are given the opportunity to compete using alternatives to price (that is, payment for order flow).

JEL classification: G10, G18

Key words: bid-ask spread, preferencing, collusion

The authors thank Karen Butler and Jitanjli Datt for research assistance and George Benston, Paul Bolster, Paul Seguin, workshop participants at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments. The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors' responsibility.

Please address questions regarding content to Lucy F. Ackert, Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 104 Marietta Street, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30303-2713, 404/498-8783, 404/498-8810 (fax),; or Bryan K. Church, School of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, 404/894-3907,