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This problem of efficient execution of trades is what we are trying to solve at qleap.There is however, almost always, another side to any story.This would lead to detecting momentary price differences between exchanges.
People started subscribing to ECNs and started to place orders using them.
There were two notable events in 21st century which decidedly sealed the imminent domination of automation in algorithmic trading.
It informed about the relationship between variance of price of a security (risk) and the returns which traders expected to get.
Subsequently, this led to development of algorithms aimed at creating portfolios which would give best returns given a certain level of risk.
Traders who were making profits due to spread had to look to other means of making profits.
The other event was a regulatory change by SEC which enforced trade orders to be posted nationally.
Say if the chances of decrements in price of a security increases or worse the price of the security starts to decrease then one would want to have less shares for that security.
Strategies based on mean reversion( Increment in price will be followed by decrements in it and vice versa), momentum(Prices will keep increasing for sometime in future if they have been increasing in recent past and similarly for decrements.) are among the many strategies which are employed for portfolio management.
For execution of trades arising out of the Portfolio Management re-balancing procedure, one would want low prices for buy orders and high prices of sell orders.
Execution algorithms are responsible for efficient execution of trades by distributing the execution over time ( they wait for the locally best conditions for trade and then place orders) and space ( they exploit the difference in price across exchanges and place orders to best suited exchange).