Foreign exchange daily turnover in UK reaches record

“Average daily reported UK foreign exchange turnover was a record $2,881bn (€2,671bn) in the survey, a 2% increase from the previous high in April last year and an 11% increase from October 2018.”

Dan Marcus, chief executive of ParFX, and Curtis Pfeiffer, chief business officer at Pragma, both agreed that the results highlight the importance of London to global FX markets and the long-term trend of sustainable growth.

Read what Dan Marcus has to say about FX swaps and non-deliverable forwards and Pfeiffer on spot trading in Markets Media.

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Market data fees back in spotlight

The lack of transparency and rising cost of market data is a concern continually raised by participants across FX, equities, fixed income and derivatives markets.

The issue was brought to the fore again with two major hedge fund trade groups, the Managed Funds Association and the Alternative Investment Management Association, asking the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to carry out a full review of market data costs and to require exchanges to be more transparent about the fees they charge.

We take a closer look at the industry’s concerns, the transparency of market data packages, their associated fees, what regulators are doing to tackle the issue and where we go from here.

Industry’s concerns

The two hedge fund trade groups are concerned that institutional investors continue to experience significant increases in market data fees, new fee categories and unbundling. They believe this restricts trade and harms competition.

“Our members have likened the practice to ordering a hamburger which used to cost $20, but now costs $7 for the bun, $15 for the beef patty, $3 per fixing and $1 per condiment, for an overall total cost of $33 (with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, ketchup and mustard),” the petition said, according to Reuters.

The hedge fund industry is not alone in raising these concerns. Back in December 2017, 24 trading institutions, including banks and asset managers, called for more transparency and requested exchanges reveal their profit margins for market data products.

Fees skyrocketing to benefit of exchanges

Over the past decade, the costs and fees associated with market data have seemingly skyrocketed. It is clear from exchanges’ results that this increase in market data fees is positively impacting on their revenues.

This CNBC article reported that market data fees have become the growth area for exchanges. Indeed, ICE gets about 44 percent of its revenue by charging for market data, and at Nasdaq it’s about 26 percent.

Cboe Global Markets reported a 51% increase in income from market data fees for Jan-June 2018 when compared to the same period in 2017. The firm cited increasing market data revenue as a contributor to its 6% year-on-year rise in net revenue.

CME reported an 18% year-on-year rise to $113.8m, primarily due to a fee increase put in place in April.

Furthermore, a report by the Healthy Markets Association found that some market participants have seen the cost for equity market data products rise from $72,150 per month to $182,775 in five years – an increase of more than 150%.

From this, it’s clear to see that prices are increasing and are an important source of income for exchanges. It remains to be seen if exchanges will act to reduce prices and increase transparency themselves or wait for regulators to get involved.

Shining a light on opaque market data packages

Market data fees remain one of the most opaque areas of trading and has been a constant bugbear for FX institutions as well those operating in other financial markets. Institutions are now realising that they are paying different amounts for the data they receive.

Dan Marcus explains: “Large institutions are negotiating better prices and cutting special deals based on how much they agree to trade on a particular venue. This means smaller institutions with lower trading volumes and less bargaining power are struggling to get value for money.”

This is against the spirit of the FX Global Code which advocates greater transparency and equality in the FX market, he adds. “Market participants simply want affordable, accurate market data that allows them to trade, is good value for money and is delivered in a fair, equal and transparent manner.”

Regulators and market participants taking action

There is now a realisation that institutions are paying vastly different amounts for the data they receive. The good news is that the industry participants are increasingly vocal about their concerns, and as a result, the distribution, cost and transparency of market data packages are now coming under scrutiny.

The SEC has responded positively to the industry’s concerns. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has confirmed the commission would hold an industry roundtable on the issue at some point in the near future, but no date has been announced.

Back in March, the European Securities and Markets Authority said it shares concerns that have been raised over the increase in fees for market data in the region and intends to take a closer look at recent developments.

It’s positive to see regulators such as ESMA and the SEC carrying out reviews and it will be interesting to see if their research results in action which addresses the market’s concerns.

Dan Marcus believes market data doesn’t have to be opaque and expensive: “At ParFX, we deliver market data to our customers at no additional cost – everyone gets the same data, at the same frequency in parallel. We also don’t negotiate special deals – this is in direct contrast to the approach of other providers.”

We see the move towards lower market data costs as inevitable, as the current pricing structure is unsustainable. It seemingly does not provide value for money, prices out smaller participants and provides an unfair trading advantage to those with the deepest pockets.

It’s time other venues and platform providers bring themselves in line with the standards we expect in 2018 by making market data more transparent and affordable for everyone.

First Year of the FX Global Code in Review

On 25 May 2017, the FX Global Code of Conduct was launched to promote the integrity and effective functioning of the wholesale foreign exchange (FX) market.

One year on, nearly 200 firms, ranging from central banks to algorithmic trading providers and ECNs, have signed statements of commitment to the Code.

Despite the deadline for signing ups passing on 25 May 2018, there are still institutions that are yet to sign up the Code and thus, a long way to go before it achieves widespread adoption.

ParFX

Spot FX platform, ParFX, was one of the first to sign up to the Global FX Code. The exchange’s principles of transparency, fairness and equality align with those of the Code’s, making signing up a no brainer. Talking to Markets Media, COO Roger Rutherford stated that the Code was the best method to correct the industry’s reputation, “the alternative could have been more regulation which takes time and introduces further costs to the industry. So whilst the market is adjusting to MiFID II, a code of conduct is a better way to bring ethics back into the FX marketplace.”

Moving forward, Rutherford believes institutions shouldn’t immediately be penalised for having not signed up. “For now, an institution could probably make a good case for why they haven’t done so yet because they are waiting for the final details on last look, anonymous trading and cover-and-deal to be decided by the working groups.” However, Rutherford added we can expect to see central banks refusing to do businesses with those who haven’t signed up to the code.

ACI FMA

The ACI FMA is a trade association which represents over 9,000 financial markets professionals. The ACI was the first to set an industry standard in the 1970s with its ‘Model Code’, which was retired upon the launch of the FX Global Code last year. As a strong believer in setting an ethical standard, the ACI has supported the launch of the Code with its ELAC portal, an online platform which provides FX professionals with continuous training and certification. It also offers an online version of the FX Global Code Certificate which formally tests an individual’s understanding of the Code’s 55 principles.

Looking beyond the first year of the code, Paul Chappell director of education at the ACI Financial Markets Association, believes the industry has more room for improvement in relation to adoption of the code. “There are elements of the code – particularly around pre-hedging as well as last look – that demand a significant cultural shift and some large market participants have a long way to go in this respect,” he says.

Pragma

Pragma is one of the leading algorithmic trading technology providers in the FX and equities market. The company recently made headlines with its statement of commitment to the Global FX Code. Pragma believes algorithmic technology lends itself to aiding traders with their transparency requirements, as each transaction is databased and therefore easy to analyse.

A less successful part of the Code is the rate at which buy-side institutions have signed up to the code. “If you look at the public registers, there are certainly fewer buy-side participants that have signed up to the code. I think there is a sense that the code was pointed towards the sell side, because that is where the bad behavior in the FX market was uncovered, therefore the buy side feels less urgency to sign up,” according to Curtis Pfeiffer, Chief Business Officer at Pragma Securities.

Looking forward, Pfeiffer believes that corporate treasurers will have a key role in the success of the Code. “For a corporate treasurer to now commit to the Code sends a public message to its service providers – banks, brokers and vendors – of the behaviour it expects from them. Doing so opens and encourages new ways of doing business, and advocates for greater use of algorithmic trading and TCA [transaction cost analysis].”

What to look for next year

It is clear that the Code is the first step in a long journey the FX market is taking to improve its reputation. To reach full effectiveness there needs to be unanimous adoption across the industry. There will need to be a further push to get market participants such as buy-side and corporate treasurers to commit to the Code. On the other hand, there are aspects of the Code such as last look, anonymous trading and cover-and-deal, that will need to be developed before some institutions commit.

It will be interesting to see how the FX Global Code evolves after its deadline and if, following the outcome of the three working groups, it continues to see the same critical mass it has experienced in the first half of 2018

London’s post-Brexit future as a financial hub

UK Prime Minister Theresa May finally triggered the formal process for Britain leaving the European Union (EU) on March 29.

While the EU referendum and a post-Brexit scenario may have been something of a blow to confidence in the City, it still has plenty going for it as a financial hub. This year’s Global Financial Centres Index, an international ranking of the world’s leading financial centres, placed London top of the pile.

“London’s rating has been influenced by not knowing what will happen after the UK’s departure [from the EU],” Mark Yeandle, associate director of Z/Yen and author of the report, told The Financial Times. Despite this, London remains top of the list and, over the period which the report tracks, has even recovered some ranking points.

London also remains the world’s biggest FX market by a huge margin, according to the latest BIS Triennial report. While Brexit may result in some jobs being relocated, the industry still believes London will remain front and centre and a key financial hub.

One of the key factors which will insulate London’s FX market is its concentration of trading infrastructure and activity. “When trading becomes concentrated in a particular region and is supported by a comprehensive legal and regulatory environment it develops natural strengths that enable that particular market to function well.” says Dan Marcus, CEO of ParFX, talking to Finance Magnates. “By leaving that pool of liquidity, a firm could disadvantage themselves and their clients.”

This means that, far from vacating the city, many businesses are investing further in London’s future.

Algorithmic trading technology provider Pragma is one such company, with the New York-based firm expanding its equities and FX business to London. “Our investment in the data center at Equinix’s LD6 site offers Pragma360 clients access to state-of-the art technology and the largest ecosystem for foreign exchange trading globally,” says Pragma’s Chief Business Officer, Curtis Pfeiffer.

“Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, we are moving forward with this large capital expenditure because London, as the largest FX trading centre in the world, hosts the largest datacentre ecosystem for low-latency FX trading applications and we do not see that changing any time soon,” he explains.

While nothing in the negotiations has been determined at this early stage, the City will also weigh up the potential challenges of Brexit.

Continued access to the European single market through financial passporting and the ability to attract skilled technology professionals from across the EU to work in London top the list for many institutions.

“77% of my staff in London were born outside the UK. We need those people. People are very mobile. I just worry that tough negotiations will send the wrong signal.” Michael Kent, CEO of remittance service Azimo, told Financial News.

In addition, J.P. Morgan has reportedly spent the last nine months weighing up various EU cities as a potential new continental home for their operations, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Looking beyond the headlines, however, the picture is more nuanced. Most of the relocation plans announced over the past few months involve relatively small numbers of staff. For many banks and financial institutions this may be a hedging exercise rather than a wholesale exodus.

Going forward, the UK government is determined to ensure London remains a central part of the international financial landscape, and it’s worth remembering London has a number of strategic advantages which mean it is likely to continue to be the city of choice. It uses the global language of business, English; it is situated in the perfect timezone between Asia and America; and has a legal system that is world-renowned for clarity and reliability.

None of this will change; in fact, it will continue to ensure London remains open and attractive to business.

ParFX adds Citi and JP Morgan as founding members

Citi and JP Morgan have joined ParFX as founding members, the trading venue said on Wednesday, taking the number of core members to 14 and bringing the company closer to introducing prime brokerage clients in the coming months. The less-than-a-year-old platform says the addition of Citi and JP Morgan represents a validation of the idea that foreign exchange trading is changing and the platform is gaining momentum.