How Effective Leverage Affects Forex Profitability

[Not my post] The Structure of Forex Brokers

Originally posted by Darkstar at Forex Factory.
Disclaimer: I did not write this. I found this post on ForexFactory written by a user called DarkStar, which I believe a lot of redditors will benefit from reading.
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There has been much discussion of late regarding borker spreads and liquidity. Many assumptions are being made about why spreads are widened during news time that are built on an incomplete knowledge of the architecture of the forex market in general. The purpose of this article is to dissect the market and hopefully shed some light on the situation so that a more rational and productive discussion can be undertaken by the Forex Factory members.
We will begin with an explanation of the purpose of the Forex market and how it is utilized by its primary participants, expand into the structure and operation of the market, and conclude with the implications of this information for speculators. With that having been said, let us begin.
Unlike the various bond and equity markets, the Forex market is not generally utilized as an investment medium. While speculation has a critical role in its proper function, the lion’s share of Forex transactions are done as a function of international business.
The guy who buys a shiny new Eclipse more then likely will pay for it with US Dollars. Unfortunately Mitsubishi’s factory workers in Japan need to get their paychecks denominated in Yen, so at some point a conversion needs to be made. When one considers that companies like Exxon, Boeing, Sony, Dell, Honda, and thousands of other international businesses move nearly every dollar, real, yen, rubble, pound, and euro they make in a foreign country through the Forex market, it isn’t hard to understand how insignificant the speculative presence is; even in a $2tril per day market.
By and large, businesses don’t much care about the intricacies of exchange rates, they just want to make and sell their products. As a central repository of a company’s money, it was only natural that the banks would be the facilitators of these transactions. In the old days it was easy enough for a bank to call a foreign bank (or a foreign branch of ones own bank) and swap the stockpiles of currency each had accumulated from their many customers.
Just as any business would, the banks bought the foreign currency at one rate and marked it up before selling it to the customer. With that the foreign exchange spread was born. This was (and still is) a reasonable cost of doing business. Mitsubishi can pay its customers and the banks make a nice little profit for the hassle and risks associated with moving around the currency.
As a byproduct of transacting all this business, bank traders developed the ability to speculate on the future of currency rates. Utilizing a better understanding of the market, a bank could quote a business a spread on the current rate but hold off hedging until a better one came along. This process allowed the banks to expand their net income dramatically. The unfortunate consequence was that liquidity was redistributed in a way that made certain transactions impossible to complete.
It was for this reason and this reason alone that the market was eventually opened up to non-bank participants. The banks wanted more orders in the market so that a) they could profit from the less experienced participants, and b) the less experienced participants could provide a better liquidity distribution for execution of international business hedge orders. Initially only megacap hedge funds (such as Soros’s and others) were permitted, but it has since grown to include the retail brokerages and ECNs.

Market Structure:
Now that we have established why the market exists, let’s take a look at how the transactions are facilitated:
The top tier of the Forex market is transacted on what is collectively known as the Interbank. Contrary to popular belief the Interbank is not an exchange; it is a collection of communication agreements between the world’s largest money center banks.
To understand the structure of the Interbank market, it may be easier to grasp by way of analogy. Consider that in an office (or maybe even someone’s home) there are multiple computers connected via a network cable. Each computer operates independently of the others until it needs a resource that another computer possesses. At that point it will contact the other computer and request access to the necessary resource. If the computer is working properly and its owner has given the requestor authorization to do so, the resource can be accessed and the initiating computers request can be fulfilled. By substituting computers for banks and resources for currency, you can easily grasp the relationships that exist on the Interbank.
Anyone who has ever tried to find resources on a computer network without a server can appreciate how difficult it can be to keep track of who has what resources. The same issue exists on the Interbank market with regard to prices and currency inventory. A bank in Singapore may only rarely transact business with a company that needs to exchange some Brazilian Real and it can be very difficult to establish what a proper exchange rate should be. It is for this purpose that EBS and Reuters (hereafter EBS) established their services.
Layered on top (in a manner of speaking) of the Interbank communication links, the EBS service enables banks to see how much and at what prices all the Interbank members are willing to transact. Pains should be taken to express that EBS is not a market or a market maker; it is an application used to see bids and offers from the various banks.
The second tier of the market exists essential within each bank. By calling your local Bank of America branch you can exchange any foreign currency you would like. More then likely they will just move some excess currency from one branch to another. Since this is a micro-exchange with a single counterparty, you are basically at their mercy as to what exchange rate they will quote you. Your choice is to accept their offer or shop a different bank. Everyone who trades the forex market should visit their bank at least once to get a few quotes. It would be very enlightening to see how lucrative these transactions really are.
Branching off of this second tier is the third tier retail market. When brokers like Oanda, Forex.com, FXCM, etc. desire to establish a retail operation the first thing they need is a liquidity provider. Nine in ten of these brokers will sign an agreement with just one bank. This bank will agree to provide liquidity if and only if they can hedge it on EBS inclusive of their desired spread. Because the volume will be significantly higher a single bank patron will transact, the spreads will be much more competitive. By no means should it be expected these tier 3 providers will be quoted precisely what exists on the Interbank. Remember the bank is in the business of collecting spreads and no agreement is going to suspend that priority.
Retail forex is almost akin to running a casino. The majority of its participants have zero understanding how to trade effectively and as a result are consistent losers. The spread system combined with a standard probability distribution of returns gives the broker a built in house advantage of a few percentage points. As a result, they have all built internal order matching systems that play one loser off against a winner and collect the spread. On the occasions when disequilibrium exists within the internal order book, the broker hedges any exposure with their tier 2 liquidity provider.
As bad as this may sound, there are some significant advantages for speculators that deal with them. Because it is an internal order book, many features can be provided which are otherwise unavailable through other means. Non-standard contract sizes, high leverage on tiny account balances, and the ability to transact in a commission free environment are just a few of them…
An ECN operates similar to a Tier 2 bank, but still exists on the third tier. An ECN will generally establish agreements with several tier 2 banks for liquidity. However instead of matching orders internally, it will just pass through the quotes from the banks, as is, to be traded on. It’s sort of an EBS for little guys. There are many advantages to the model, but it is still not the Interbank. The banks are going to make their spread or their not go to waste their time. Depending on the bank this will take the form of price shading or widened spreads depending on market conditions. The ECN, for its trouble, collects a commission on each transaction.
Aside from the commission factor, there are some other disadvantages a speculator should consider before making the leap to an ECN. Most offer much lower leverage and only allow full lot transactions. During certain market conditions, the banks may also pull their liquidity leaving traders without an opportunity to enter or exit positions at their desired price.

Trade Mechanics:
It is convenient to believe that in a $2tril per day market there is always enough liquidity to do what needs to be done. Unfortunately belief does not negate the reality that for every buyer there MUST be a seller or no transaction can occur. When an order is too large to transact at the current price, the price moves to the point where open interest is abundant enough to cover it. Every time you see price move a single pip, it means that an order was executed that consumed (or otherwise removed) the open interest at the current price. There is no other way that prices can move.
As we covered earlier, each bank lists on EBS how much and at what price they are willing to transact a currency. It is important to note that no Interbank participant is under any obligation to make a transaction if they do not feel it is in their best interest. There are no “market makers” on the Interbank; only speculators and hedgers.
Looking at an ECN platform or Level II data on the stock market, one can get a feel for what the orders on EBS look like. The following is a sample representation:
You’ll notice that there is open interest (Level II Vol figures) of various sizes at different price points. Each one of those units represents existing limit orders and in this example, each unit is $1mil in currency.
Using this information, if a market sell order was placed for 38.4mil, the spread would instantly widen from 2.5 pips to 4.5 pips because there would no longer be any orders between 1.56300 and 1.56345. No broker, market maker, bank, or thief in the night widened the spread; it was the natural byproduct of the order that was placed. If no additional orders entered the market, the spread would remain this large forever. Fortunately, someone somewhere will deem a price point between those 2 figures an appropriate opportunity to do something and place an order. That order will either consume more interest or add to it, depending whether it is a market or limit order respectively.
What would have happened if someone placed a market sell order for 2mil just 1 millisecond after that 38.4 mil order hit? They would have been filled at 1.5630 Why were they “slipped”? Because there was no one to take the other side of the transaction at 1.56320 any longer. Again, nobody was out screwing the trader; it was the natural byproduct of the order flow.
A more interesting question is, what would happen if all the listed orders where suddenly canceled? The spread would widen to a point at which there were existing bids and offers. That may be 5,7,9, or even 100 pips; it is going to widen to whatever the difference between a bid and an offer are. Notice that nobody came in and “set” the spread, they just refused to transact at anything between it.
Nothing can be done to force orders into existence that don’t exist. Regardless what market is being examined or what broker is facilitating transactions, it is impossible to avoid spreads and slippage. They are a fact of life in the realm of trading.

Implications for speculators:
Trading has been characterized as a zero sum game, and rightly so. If trader A sells a security to trader B and the price goes up, trader A lost money that they otherwise could have made. If it goes down, Trader A made money from trader B’s mistake. Even in a huge market like the Forex, each transaction must have a buyer and a seller to make a trade and one of them is going to lose. In the general realm of trading, this is materially irrelevant to each participant. But there are certain situations where it becomes of significant importance. One of those situations is a news event.
Much has been made of late about how it is immoral, illegal, or downright evil for a broker, bank, or other liquidity provider to withdraw their order (increasing the spread) and slip orders (as though it was a conscious decision on their part to do so) more then normal during these events. These things occur for very specific reasons which have nothing to do with screwing anyone. Let us examine why:
Leading up to an economic report for example, certain traders will enter into positions expecting the news to go a certain way. As the event becomes immanent, the banks on the Interbank will remove their speculative orders for fear of taking unnecessary losses. Technical traders will pull their orders as well since it is common practice for them to avoid the news. Hedge funds and other macro traders are either already positioned or waiting until after the news hits to make decisions dependent on the result.
Knowing what we now know, where is the liquidity necessary to maintain a tight spread coming from?
Moving down the food chain to Tier 2; a bank will only provide liquidity to an ECN or retail broker if they can instantly hedge (plus their requisite spread) the positions on Interbank. If the Interbank spreads are widening due to lower liquidity, the bank is going to have to widen the spreads on the downstream players as well.
At tier 3 the ECN’s are simply passing the banks offers on, so spreads widen up to their customers. The retailers that guarantee spreads of 2 to 5 pips have just opened a gaping hole in their risk profile since they can no longer hedge their net exposure (ever wonder why they always seem to shut down or requote until its over?). The variable spread retailers in turn open up their spreads to match what is happening at the bank or they run into the same problems fixed spreads broker are dealing with.
Now think about this situation for a second. What is going to happen when a number misses expectations? How many traders going into the event with positions chose wrong and need to get out ASAP? How many hedge funds are going to instantly drop their macro orders? How many retail traders’ straddle orders just executed? How many of them were waiting to hear a miss and executed market orders?
With the technical traders on the sidelines, who is going to be stupid enough to take the other side of all these orders?
The answer is no one. Between 1 and 5 seconds after the news hits it is a purely a 1 way market. That big long pin bar that occurs is a grand total of 2 prices; the one before the news hit and the one after. The 10, 20, or 30 pips between them is called a gap.
Is it any wonder that slippage is in evidence at this time?

Conclusions:
Each tier of the Forex market has its own inherent advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your priorities you have to make a choice between what restrictions you can live with and those you cant. Unfortunately, you can’t always get what you want.
By focusing on slippage and spreads, which are the natural byproduct of order flow, one is not only pursuing a futile ideal, they are passing up an enormous opportunity to capitalize on true inefficiencies. News events are one of the few times where a large number of players are positioned inappropriately and it is fairly easy to profit from their foolishness. If a trader truly wants to make the leap to the next level of profitability they should be spending their time figuring out how identify these positions and trading with the goal of capturing the price movement they inevitably will cause.
Nobody is going to make the argument that a broker is a trader’s best friend, but they still provide a valuable service and should be compensated for their efforts. By accepting a broker for what it is and learning how to work within the limitations of the relationship, traders have access to a world of opportunity that they otherwise could never dream of capturing. Let us all remember that simple truth.
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Global Visionariez and IML My 30 day Experience

To summarize my experience with the "product." It is 99.9% stalling and wasting your time with shit like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za3tUUoj2iQ and hyping their own products. Dudes acting like "whaaaaaaaa" and showing phone screens with profits. Facebook is flooded with these people showing off how their boy "[insert name here]" is selling money and yada yada. Most of the content they post and host is just recruitment hype videos to bring more people in. Seriously... Like all day every day it felt like. Most the videos feature some hipsters and text screenshots of them being like: "OMG I gots some mad pips brah, 100 million pipz lulz #winning [intense sarcasm]."
Do yourself a favor and unfriend anyone who tries to sell you this shit. Because they are not your friend, and they view you as a $35 a month paycheck if you sign up. Most the common stuff you see in groups is people touting the wins, but don't fool yourself... Everyone is keeping their losses quiet because no one wants to make a fool out of themselves. I mean who makes videos of them watching someone else in video chat? Someone who doesn't know what the hell their doing or how to work technology... Which they happen to have some miracle program that will "change" your life. Oh, and the haters, HA you should just ignore them because they all don't like grape koolaide.
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4/24/16 EDIT This is the kind of shit that constantly keeps popping up in my feeds and spamming my cell phone in texts.
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edit 2 Removed links from post, I apologize I didn't notice the rule for this subreddit and fixed it before an admin got onto me. =) Edit/update 3* 5-21-16 Been a while now, still end up getting spam texts and other crap in my inbox on social media and email.
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FXCM CEO Drew Niv Discusses Firm's Future after the CHF Crisis

Hi Everyone,
Our CEO Drew Niv held a Q&A with Forex Magnates which will answer many questions we have received over the past couple of weeks http://forexmagnates.com/exclusive-fxcm-inc-ceo-drew-niv-discusses-firms-future-after-the-chf-crisis/. Please understand that some questions I can't answer since we are a publicly traded company and it may be material information, but we will get to all questions in due time.
What happened on January 15th after the SNB announcement? What was the immediate impact of the SNB announcement on the company’s systems?
At the time of the SNB announcement over 3,000 FXCM clients held slightly over $1 billion in open positions on EUCHF. Those same clients held approximately $80 million of collateral in their accounts. As you know this was the largest move of a major currency since currencies started floating 1971.
The EUCHF move was 44 standard deviation moves, while most risk management systems only contemplate 3-6 standard deviations. The moved wiped out those clients’ account equity as well as generated negative equity balances owed to FXCM of over $225 million. We believe that the FXCM system operated properly during this event.
The caveat of our no dealing-desk execution system is that traders are offset one for one with a liquidity provider. When a client entered a EUCHF trade with FXCM, FXCM Inc. had an identical trade with our liquidity providers. During the historic move, liquidity became extremely scarce and shallow, which affected execution prices. This liquidity issue resulted in some clients having a negative balance.
While clients could not cover their margin call with us we still had to cover the same margin call with our banks. When a client profits in the trade FXCM gives the profits to the customer, however, when the client is not profitable on that trade FXCM Inc. ends up having to pay the liquidity provider.
FXCM ended with a regulatory capital shortfall. Accordingly, FXCM needed to get a loan to cover this balance, which it did. For anyone that still thinks FXCM is running an FX dealing desk, we have now demonstrated that such is not the case.
Why do you think many people traded EUCHF with FXCM?
Because we are a no dealing-desk broker and offset each trade one-for-one with our liquidity providers, and only make money on trades not customer losses. We published a study a few years ago called “traits of successful traders” that looked at FXCM traders over a long period of time and their general behavior to find what was destructive behavior to stay away from and what worked for clients.
The study focuses on what the majority of profitable traders did to increase their odds of success. What the study found was that traders who traded during quiet range-bound market hours like Asian hours OR that traded rang- bound low volatility currency pairs tended to be more profitable.
Obviously many of our competitors who are on the opposite side of their clients’ trades did not find this trade to be helpful to their bottom line, as they lose money when traders profit. We saw many of the dealing desk firms begin to increase overnight rollover cost as well as raise margin requirements to get these trades off their system and that’s why FXCM and other STP brokers had much bigger exposure.
Why did FXCM require an emergency loan with such tough terms?
As a regulated broker we are required to notify our regulators in a timely manner when any event occurs that may be deemed sensitive to clients. When we notified the regulators, they required FXCM Inc.’s regulated entities to supplement their respective net capital on an expedited basis.
We explored multiple debt and equity financing alternatives in an effort to meet the regulator’s deadline. The deal we ended up doing with Leucadia was the only deal that could and would happen in the very short timeframe we were given by the regulators. The CEO and the president of Leucadia were here in the office working on the deal.
It was a tall order for someone outside of the FX industry to come in and write a $300 million dollar check. This was the type of thing only top management could do. But they see the sustainability of FXCM, and that was everyone’s end goal. We really are very thankful to Leucadia. The deal enables us to live and fight another day and gives us time to build shareholder value in the future.
You said you plan to pay back the loan with proceeds from sales of non-core assets so what are non-core assets and will that be enough?
We announced last week that we anticipate that with the proceeds from the sale of some non-core assets and continued earnings we can meet both near and long-term obligations of our financing, while preserving the strength of our franchise. It’s widely known and understood that FXCM’s core business has always been retail FX; It is the majority of FXCM’s revenue.
However, over the past few years, the company has spent over $250 million dollars making strategic acquisitions building up our non-core businesses, mainly the institutional side as we tried to diversify the firm. We are now looking to sell some of those non-core assets; But, we are not in a rush and are looking to get the highest valuations for these assets.
We are considering closing or selling smaller regulated entities that require large sums of capital requirements, but that offer increasingly low return on capital. The latter move allows us to free up significant amounts of cash that is currently trapped. We believe that in the near term we can pay down a majority of the loan. That’s our goal.
What happens after 90 days according to your agreement with Leucadia?
The agreement says we need to pay back $50 million of the loan along with $10 million in fees in 90 days. If we don’t pay that $60 million, we will be assessed an additional $30 million in fees when the loan is due in 2017. So we are going to pay our $60 million and hopefully more in 90 days and then go from there. To be clear, the financing does not force us to do anything at 90 days.
Will you be selling FXCM?
I absolutely do not plan on selling FXCM. Like I said we will be selling non-core assets but no I don’t plan on selling FXCM. That is also why we implemented the shareholder rights plan to prevent a hostile takeover. FXCM has been independent for over 15 years and we intend to stay that way.
Are client funds safe with FXCM?
Yes. As we have said, we believe FXCM’s systems operated properly during this event. I’ll stress it here again, FXCM is not insolvent, has not filed for any form of bankruptcy, and is in compliance with all regulatory capital requirements in the jurisdictions in which it operates. The financing we received from Leucadia has strengthened our balance sheet and gives us the opportunity to grow our core business. With Leucadia, our pockets are even deeper and we aren’t going anywhere. Additionally, all of our regulated entities except the U.S. provide clients with segregated funds. All of our global client base in our regulated entities minus US clients would be protected under a bankruptcy. Our UK regulated entity through the FSCS even offers clients £50,000 per person in protection. Canada has similar insurance for retail traders of up to $1 million CAD.
What are the relationships like with your liquidity providers after this event?
Many of these relationships are long-standing relationships. The entire industry took a hit here. They understand what happened. Most everyone halted trading in EUCHF, but half of our liquidity providers kept providing prices in all other pairs the entire time. Half of the LPs did stop pricing FXCM on Friday January 16th, but most have returned. We presently only have two providers that have not yet returned, but we are optimistic that they will soon return. There is still plenty of liquidity on the platform. Most banks and other liquidity providers have been working very closely with the FXCM team.
Where do you see FXCM in six months from now?
We will be well on our way to paying down the loan and continue to grow our core franchise. FXCM still has the best platform for retail traders, we still provide the fairest and more transparent execution in the business and we have a slew of new trading indicators and applications that no one in the space is even considering offering their clients. We’ll still be here; We may just look a little different. Here are a few things we are working to get out in the next six months:
Single Share CFDs – We are going to be offering the top 200 or so most traded US, UK, French and German stocks. We are going to offer these shares on the equivalent of NDD in FX.
Improving CFD execution – Sharpening execution capabilities to match some of the benefits of our FX capabilities for Index and Energy CFDs to remove restrictions on stops and limits, allowing APIs, along with tighter spreads.
Market Depth in FX – clients will be able to see the depth of liquidity which will provide them more transparency with execution quality and allow them to make more informed trading decisions.
Real Volume indicators – clients will have a real volume ticker of all trades done on the FXCM system, which will show clients’ actual order flow; they can see directional volume, so long, short, net or total volume as well as balance on volume per instrument; and finally we have an indicator to show the ratio of real volume divided into transactions per period. These indicators will let clients compare our trading activity against other independent providers who also publish volumes like the CME, and clients will be able to compare execution.
Sentiment Index – We will be providing FXCM’s client sentiment data in real-time as a default on the platform so clients can see where the rest of the clients are.
These software updates and platform features are bringing much more transparency to the retail FX market aimed at improving the client experience in the market.
With your stock price so low, is that an indication of the health of your company?
While it is true that FXCM’s stock price dropped after the events of January 15th, we do not believe that the present stock price is indicative of the health of the company. The stock price does not impact our day to day operations as a company. With the injection of cash from the Leucadia financing, the core retail business is functioning completely as normal. We have excess regulatory capital in all our regulated entities and never had to pause trading or interrupt client’s trading experience. As we announced in our business update, daily volume on the retail side was on pace to set an all-time company record.
Why didn’t the dealing desk brokers have these types of losses?
A dealing desk broker does not have offsetting trades. If the customer is long a trade the broker is short that trade, so when the customer makes a profit on a trade the broker loses. When the customer loses on the trade then the broker is profitable.
Obviously on January 15th most clients lost money so the dealer was very profitable. Even for clients that blew through their stops and had negative balances with these firms, the dealer doesn’t have a liquidity provider that it owes money to. They can essentially act like the negative balances never happened and enjoy their profits.
What is FXCM changing with regards to their risk management systems?
The primary change we will be making is removing currency pairs from the platform that carry significant risk due to over-active manipulation by their respective government either by a floor, ceiling, peg or band. Given what happened with EUCHF the industry is now looking very hard at any potentially similar issues, especially given the increased geopolitical risks in Southern and Eastern Europe.
We will also be raising margin requirements for other pairs as well. Some of these changes will be permanent while others may change as geopolitical risks change. The pairs we are removing from the platform were not material to our volume or our revenue. Some of the currencies we are removing include DKK, SGD, HKD, PLN and CZK.
FXCM made some material changes in margin requirements for clients. Are those changes permanent or temporary in nature?
When you look at some of the changes we made to margin requirements, look at them in three different categories: 1. Some of the changes we made were required by regulators, and therefore we had to comply with these changes. 2. When you look at emerging market currencies, the banks and our liquidity providers were raising margin requirements to eliminate any potential risk of large gaps. 3. Previously liquid Western country currencies, like the DKK or CHF, which now carry risk because they are manipulated currencies, have become less liquid.
Despite what the media thinks about leverage, we know the clients like it and want more, it’s the number 1 or number 2 request our sales staff has been getting the past week. We understand the importance of this to our clients but we just need to be smart about it moving forward.
What is Black Thursday’s long-term impact on the retail foreign exchange industry? In what ways has it changed the direction the industry is going?
Banks are raising their margin requirements, too. A lot of these currencies that carry any type of geopolitical risk with them are going to lose support and liquidity. Investors always had little faith in emerging market currencies but always believed in Western countries’ currencies even if they were manipulated in some way, but that’s gone.
Switzerland is a Western country and if they can pull the shenanigans they did with their currency, what’s to say other western countries won’t do the same? The market is going to be very sceptical as they can only stand to lose; The risk is just too high now. It’s too bad really as these pairs historically had low volatility, were range-bound and were very profitable trades for clients.
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