Eldorado Trading is the latest Chicago trading firm to call it quits, at least in terms of its recent business model.
The trading firm dismissed the bulk of its traders a few weeks ago, according to sources familiar with their exits. “We’re looking to pursue new avenues,” firm co-founder Jim Pappas said. Asked in an interview if he’s selling the firm, he said he’s always open to negotiating and then declined further comment.
Eldorado, like most other Chicago trading firms, operated as a proprietary trading firm, buying and selling in the financial markets to make money on pricing discrepancies for the benefit of the firm’s owners.
Many of the small and midsize trading firms in the city have been squeezed out of the industry in recent years as technology, exchange and regulatory compliance costs rose just as trading volatility and volumes—which create opportunities for nabbing price discrepancies in the markets—shrunk in the face of economic and geopolitical conditions.
“2008 was the best year for proprietary trading firms, probably because the volatility that year was at a record high, while volatility this year has been at a record low and proprietary trading firms’ results are almost directly correlated to volatility,” says Ilya Talman, a Chicago recruiter in the industry. “The last couple of years have been times of consolidation and, to some degree, shrinkage in this space.”
Eldorado had between 50 and 200 employees, according to LinkedIn, though people familiar with the firm say its headcount was toward the lower end of that range, and probably below 50 recently. Like many firms in the business, it traded across various financial markets, buying and selling stocks, commodities and derivatives, according to its website.
Both Pappas and co-founder Jeff Waters started as futures traders in the 1990s on the floors of CME Group, the biggest futures exchange in the world, and then they shifted gears in 2004 to create their electronic trading platform and Eldorado Trading. At the firm, Pappas served as chief technology officer, while Waters has acted as chief strategy officer, with Nate Iden in a chief risk officer role, according to the firm’s website.
It appears that the firm suffered a setback in January. In the only disciplinary action listed against Eldorado Trading in the National Futures Association public misconduct records, the firm was denied access to CME’s electronic markets on Jan. 5 for 60 days because it submitted “knowingly inaccurate and incomplete data,” a Jan. 5 case summary said. While Eldorado “alleviated” the problem, and regained access on Feb. 9, ahead of the end of the penalty period, being shut off from CME’s electronic platform for over a month would be a significant burden for any firm.
It’s not clear exactly when Eldorado stopped trading, but the firm’s former traders have reached out to other trading firms in recent weeks in search of work, with the explanation that Eldorado had shut down. One former Eldorado trader tweeted on May 4: “Many have asked what I plan on doing after Eldorado closes. I will still be trading & would love to hear if any firms are hiring please DM.” (DM stands for direct message—a private form of communication on Twitter.)
Chicago became a hub for high-speed trading firms, or “prop shops,” over the past two decades as former floor traders adapted to electronic systems developed by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, which was acquired by CME in 2007. Today, about 90 percent of trading takes place electronically.
In addition to the tens of millions of dollars that trading firms typically require to capitalize, staff and outfit their firms with top technology infrastructures, the exchanges themselves have in recent years increased fees for pricing data.
The biggest firms in the industry, like Chicago-based DRW Trading, Citadel Securities and Jump Trading, have had an easier time footing those bills and have been able to gain a competitive edge by investing in the latest technology and communications equipment for an edge against rivals. Even being a microsecond faster in trades can make a difference.
Other Chicago firms that shuttered or sold out their businesses in recent years include Caherciveen Partners, Cheiron Trading and Chopper Trading. In the process, some of the biggest firms have gotten bigger. For instance, DRW bought Chopper in 2015 and Cheiron merged with Chicago-based WH Trading last year.