Dan Davies’ cynical guide to fintech was so good and made so many worthy points we’ve decided to launch a new FT Alphaville series to pay homage to it.
For those who didn’t read the original, Davies basically broke down the supposedly “disruptive” fintech models in the market into seven core categories (*only one of which is arguably innovative). Read more
An expensive business, banking. There’s offices, staff, technology, terminals, compliance…
Actually, maybe it would be wise to spend a bit more on the last one. The FT’s running total of legal fines and settlements paid by banks to US regulators since 2007 now comes to $155bn.
In case you were wondering, over eight years that works out to $53m per day (including weekends, because client service is a 24 hour kind of business, right.) Read more
Might have to pop this at the top, it’s a chart with lots of negative yield stuff on it after all:
Now, as we have said before… friends don’t let friends extrapolate too wildly from the IMF’s COFER data. Read more
At first glance, America’s latest growth figures don’t look so good. We generally refrain from commenting on quarterly GDP data because, among other reasons, the numbers are naturally noisy and they’re often revised by large amounts. (Or as the Fed says, “transitory factors,” although probably not the weather.) Those caveats out of the way, there are a few interesting points in this report that are worth noting.
Let’s start with a theoretical exercise. Imagine it were one year ago today, and someone told you that, between then and the end of this past March, the price of oil would fall by about half and that the real, trade-weighted dollar would appreciate by more than 10 per cent. A reasonable person would expect two things: big cutbacks in domestic oil investment that wouldn’t initially have been offset by higher investment elsewhere, and a hit to net exports.
None of this would have told you anything about would happen to total spending, but it would have provided guidance on how the composition of spending would change. Read more
It’s apparently sorely needed, if this from Nomura’s Jens Nordvig on EM FX pessimism is anything to go by:
During my presentation [at Nomura's annual central bank conference], I asked a number of simple questions about currencies. One of them was on the 2015 outlook for EM currencies – 67% of the audience was bearish, with the rest evenly split between bullish and neutral, a pretty extreme result, as these polls usually have a lot of neutral answers.
Is this nuts?
…the speed of the Euro depreciation is starting to look very fast. We are in the 99th percentile (at least) of 3M, 6M, 9M, and 12M moves since initiation in 1999.
- Nordvig, Nomura
Over the last eight months the USD has appreciated faster on a trade-weighted basis than at any time in the last 40 years and probably over a longer, much longer duration.
- Englander, Citi
Which, again, looks like this: Read more
Alternative title: First mover dis-advantage in banking
In early 2013 the Financial Stability Board asked a group chaired by Paul Fisher of the Bank of England and RBA assistant governor Guy Debelle to formulate a set of proposals to improve the FX benchmark process and reduce the scope for manipulation.
Debelle gave an update on progress in a speech this week in Sydney.
As he noted, the group’s work was conducted separately from the investigations into allegations of FX manipulation and group members did not have access to any of the evidence gathered. Furthermore, while the concluding reported outlined 15 recommendations, none of these were explicitly embodied in regulation. The expectation instead was for the recommendations to be voluntarily implemented by market participants, on the basis were they not acted on, authorities could conclude that a regulatory response was necessary to generate the desired improvement in market structure and conduct. Read more
Plus500 is an unusual member of the retail foreign exchange trading world. The London-listed group offers contracts for difference on currencies, as well as stocks, indices, exchange traded funds, and commodities, but it is unusual in the way it is structured, the way it operates and, above all, the way it is spectacularly profitable.
More on all that below, but to begin let’s focus on the recent move in the Swiss Franc versus the Euro. The decision by the Swiss central bank to remove the cap on the value of the franc prompted very large moves for the currency, blowing up some currency trading platforms and prompting unexpected losses throughout the financial system.
Plus500, however, suffered “no material impact on the Company’s financial and trading position”, an incredible result. Read more
The first numbers by way of CLS, the continuous link settlement system used by the vast majority of the FX market to settle transactions, are in.
As Nick Murray-Leslie tells FT Alphaville on Wednesday:
CLS settled a record number of transactions following the decision by the Swiss National Bank to remove a currency ceiling against the euro.
CLS settled 2.26 million transactions on 20 January, totalling USD 9.2 trillion with 99.5% of these transactions were settled within 45 minutes.”
The price of life in retail FX land….
The loan has an initial interest rate of 10% per annum, increasing by 1.5% per annum each quarter for so long as it is outstanding, but in no event exceeding 17% per annum (before giving effect to any applicable default rate). It is also subject to various conditions and terms such as requiring mandatory prepayments, including from proceeds of dispositions, condemnation and insurance proceeds, debt issuances, and equity issuances. The credit agreement includes a variety of restrictive covenants, including, but not limited to, limitations on the ability to merge, dissolve, liquidate, consolidate or sell, lease or otherwise transfer all or substantially all assets; limitations on the incurrence of liens; limitations on the incurrence of debt by subsidiaries of the company; and limitations on transactions with affiliates, without the prior consent of the lender.
As Goldman flagged this morning, December has brought with it $19bn of FX outflows from China. That’s the biggest move since 2007 (with our emphasis):
The position of FX purchases for the entire banking system (the PBOC plus commercial banks) decreased by about $19bn in December (vs. essentially flat in November)…
The FX outflow in December underlined the weakness in demand for the CNY, despite a strong trade balance of close to $50bn. The FX outflow size is the largest since December 2007 (and this earlier data point was skewed by the MOF’s FX injection in China’s sovereign wealth fund). The PBOC has been setting the daily USDCNY fix on the strong side of the spot rate since late November to counteract depreciation expectations. Today’s data suggest that besides displaying such a bias in fix setting, the central bank might have gone further in supporting the currency by buying CNY in the market. But we await PBOC balance sheet data, due out in the coming weeks, to confirm if it is indeed the case. The FX outflow also partly explains the slow M2 growth in December.
As we have already pointed out about Thursday’s unprecedented Swiss franc move following the SNB’s announcement about removing its 1.20 euro level floor and introducing a -0.75 per cent interest rate regime, the real story to pay attention to is what exactly motivated a price surge to that level.
Was it a), that the SNB simply under appreciated the scale of the undervaluation it had been engineering in the franc? Or was it b) that the SNB under appreciated just how thin FX market liquidity is in the market these days?
So as to not sit on the fence, we’re going to take a view and speculate that it’s actually all down to option two. Read more
There’s plenty of discussion about why the oil price collapsed (read Izzy’s take on the changed structure of the market, for one), but consider a broader question: if markets can be so wrong about the price of one of the most widely used and heavily traded commodities, what else are they missing?
We ask because a halving in the price of other markets may not be cheered in the same way as cheap oil. We also wonder what it says about how orderly (or otherwise) big market declines will be, when they eventually roll around. After all, major currency pairs don’t move by a fifth in one morning…
To that end, here’s a reminder of what a 50 per cent decline looks like for a selection of markets, and the last time that level was hit. Read more
Who’d have thought?
This £203,948 bar bill…
… would eventually led to this… Read more
This installment in our occasional and disjointed series into the risk of balance-sheet driven currency crises in EMs — based on the hidden debt that lurks beneath — features a new if well flagged villain: oil.
The broad question as ever is: have the majority of emerging markets still got manageable foreign currency external debt levels? And do they rule themselves out as candidates for a self-fulfilling currency crisis? Even when dark debt is taken into account?
Tl;dr: Yes, with a few exceptions. Read more
A sharp column from the FT’s Jonathan Ford on a subject dear to our hearts — retail FX trading shops and their clueless clients — suggests that punter cash extraction as a business model is starting to get more attention. He calls for a hard cap on leverage to throw a little grit into the extraction machine.
Such grit might be bad for business. We’ve focused on the London listed Plus500 before, but it is just one highly valued and absurdly profitable example. Jonathan also highlights the US listed pair Gain Capital and FXCM.
The thing to understand here is the friction, the trading cost which erodes away capital, and the effect of leverage. Read more
It’s a variant on the ubiquitous “long dollar” that has passed through consensus into some region of near zen-like certainty, we grant you, but at least this is approaching the more outrageous corner of 2015 FX guesses. It’s entitled “How extreme USD strength can destroy the world” after all.
In two charts from HSBC:
It takes a bold and courageous man to go against the consensus, especially when the consensus view equals “evil manipulative trader types got what they deserved with that $4.3bn fine for fx rigging!”
In this case that bold man is Matt Levine, columnist at Bloomberg and long-time communicator of logic and sense, who made the brave assertion on Wednesday that commentary surrounding this entire rigging episode may be losing sight of the core fundamentals of the case. Namely, that in terms of money made, there’s no escaping the fact that this was possibly the least successful manipulation attempt of recent times. Read more
Jens Nordvig of Nomura reports a frequent question from clients: can the recent dollar rally turn into a big change in the currency’s value, similar to those that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s?
Answer: maybe, but it is worth remembering just how big those dollar moves were. See if you can spot them in the long term dollar index chart:
We’re talking retail forex trading here — through legitimate, authorised forex trading houses, not fraudsters.
Do places like the UK need hard leverage caps — like those imposed in the US — to cut the abuse of naive speculators?
The stat in the headline is from the Autorité des Marchés Financiers, the French regulator, which has made rather more effort than others in Europe in trying to combat online financial spivvery. Read more
FX vol is edging back and we have the notes to prove it.
The question is whether they are reflecting an overreaction to a small jump, after a period of slumped volumes and returns, or a real shift with further to go? Read more
This retrospective on predictions made in the 2003 Essay on the Revived Bretton Woods System by Deutsche’s Dooley, Folkerts-Landau, and Garber is brought to you by Deutsche’s Dooley, Folkerts-Landau, and Garber.
Their premise was and is that we are part of an international system characterised by newly industrialised countries pegging their currencies to the dollar at an undervalued exchange rate in pursuit of export-led growth furnished by an excess supply of labour. Those developing countries then ship their gains back to the US et al as a form of collateral against new lending as the net foreign assets of poor countries support the risks taken by their richer brethren.
More so, they suggested that we were in the China phase of this system, that it would last for 10 years-ish… Read more
From BofAML’s David Woo, with our emphasis:
A major consensus this year was that this was going to be a rates-centric year. Eight months into the year, many investors continue to believe that with QE3 winding down, all markets will be taking their cues from the US rates market sooner than later. Currency investors are no exceptions. USD bulls have built their investment thesis on the assumption of higher US rates and have been waiting for rates to climb to establish or add to long USD positions.
… and back on the “buy foreign bonds” option. Never mind the former might never happen, let alone happen when the ECB meets next week and does its best not to disappoint.
From Morgan Stanley’s FX team: Read more
How quiet is too quiet?
A reaction we keep hearing to the fact that volatility has seeped out of a lot of markets is that comparative calm should be expected. The supportive actions of central banks fit with the encouragement to keep taking risk, at least for now, as the unconventional easing policies should persist for a while. Read more
The influence of the ‘China factor’ on currency markets is waning.
That at least is the view of HSBC’s FX strategy team, headed by David Bloom. Read more
We all know the role played by the vendor financing feedback loop of hell in dotcom bubble mark 1.
Quickly summarised, tech equipment suppliers became overly dependent on sales to internet startups funded through vendor financing, a situation which saw them lending money to companies with dubious track-records for the purpose of buying equipment directly back from them. It didn’t end well.
Nevertheless, it’s still a model replicated on a consumer level in the west, whether it’s through car company lending money to customers so that they can buy their cars or sofa company loans for purchases of sofas. Read more
Magic mirror on the wall, where’s the fairest value for commodities overall?
Or, as BoAML notes on Thursday:
Commodities may be soft in USD terms, but for anyone living in South Africa or Turkey they are back to the record highs of the ominous summer of 2008 (Chart of the Day). In contrast, in PLN and RUB they are as low as they have not been since 2010. This divergence will have a significant impact on growth and inflation in 2014: weak pricing power means that higher commodity prices act as a tax on demand, slowing down growth and thus ultimately reigning in current account deficits and inflation. For now, markets focus primarily on the short-term inflation uplift, but we believe FX pass-through will prove self-deflating, and rebalancing will materialize.
At least for the majors. Just some annotated charts courtesy of HSBC, click to enlarge: