Chicago's Essex Radez, a self-clearing broker-dealer specializing in high-speed algorithmic trading, has slashed operating costs, such as what it pays for market data and the clearing of transactions, to a bare minimum.

But lower volatility and trade volumes are biting into profits. That trend over the last six months conflicts precariously with competitive needs for custom technology to speed up orders and for capital to pursue trading involving longer-term positions, prompting the firm to consider mergers or partnerships.

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