In a press release today FXCM have announced that:
Its U.K. subsidiaries, Forex Capital Markets Limited and FXCM Securities Limited, [have] entered into a settlement with the Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”). The settlement addresses trade execution practices concerning the handling of price improvements on FXCM UK’s offsetting orders from August 2006 – December 2010.
Under the terms of the settlement, FXCM UK has agreed to pay fines totaling £4 million to the FCA and to provide approximately $10 million in restitution to the affected clients. FXCM recorded a reserve $15 million in the third quarter of 2013 for this matter and will record an additional $1.9 in the fourth quarter to reflect the terms of the settlement and related expenses. All clients receiving restitution will be notified within 60 days. Of the approximately $10 million being credited under this settlement, the impact on individual traders was typically very limited and averaged $3.70.
Unfortunately it doesn't sound like I'll be receiving a massive windfall any day soon! The FCA themselves have also issued a press release about the matter today, with a somewhat different emphasis to FXCM's. The FCA says that:
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has fined Forex Capital Markets Ltd and FXCM Securities Ltd £4,000,000 for allowing the US based FXCM Group to withhold profits worth approximately £6 million ($9,941,970) that should have been passed on to FXCM UK’s clients.
FXCM UK also failed to tell the FCA that the US authorities were investigating another part of the FXCM Group for the same misconduct. The FCA has ensured that FXCM UK’s clients will be fully compensated, with credit automatically paid to their accounts.
According to Tracey McDermott, the FCA’s director of enforcement and financial crime:
Not only did FXCM UK fail to treat its customers fairly or correctly apply our rules, I am particularly disappointed that it was not transparent in its dealings with the FCA. We expect all firms to put customers at the heart of their business, and we have taken action to ensure clients of FXCM UK will get redress.
The FCA press release goes on to provide more details about FXCM UK's failure to treat its customers fairly, explaining that:
Between August 2006 and December 2010, the FXCM Group kept profits from favourable market movements between the time the orders were placed by FXCM UK and executed by the FXCM Group, while any losses were passed on to clients in full – a practice known as asymmetric price slippage.
As both FXCM and the FCA are at pains to point out, here in the UK at least there are rules about "best execution" that brokers are supposed to adhere to:
Brokers in certain markets, including regulated CFD and spread-bet firms and those offering Rolling Spot Forex contracts for difference, may be failing to recognise that their activities fall within the scope of the best execution rules.
Do you suppose that all those UK regulated CFD, spread-bet and FX brokers will now hastily correct any such failures?
Although the Current Employment Statistics section of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics still says:
The Employment Situation for September 2013 is scheduled to be released on October 4, 2013, at 8:30 A.M. Eastern Time.
the BLS home page currently displays this notice:
This website is currently not being updated due to the suspension of Federal government services. The last update to the site was Monday, September 30. During the shutdown period BLS will not collect data, issue reports, or respond to public inquiries. Updates to the site will start again when the Federal government resumes operations. Revised schedules will be issued as they become available.
Please visit www.opm.gov for the most recent information on Federal government suspensions, shutdowns, and closings.
It looks like tomorrow's anticipated release of the September NFP numbers will not now take place. It also looks like even Barack Obama doesn't know when everyone will be back at their desks at the BLS, and hence when their "revised schedules" might be made available. The Office of Personnel Management web site is currently showing a message from the President "to the dedicated and hard-working employees of the United States Government" dated October 1st 2013, in which he says:
The Federal Government is America's largest employer, with more than 2 million civilian workers and 1.4 million active duty military who serve in all 50 States and around the world. But Congress has failed to meet its responsibility to pass a budget before the fiscal year that begins today. And that means much of our Government must shut down effective today.
This shutdown was completely preventable. It should not have happened. And the House of Representatives can end it as soon as it follows the Senate's lead, and funds your work in the United States Government without trying to attach highly controversial and partisan measures in
Hopefully, we will resolve this quickly. In the meantime, I want you to know-whether you are a young person who just joined public service because you want to make a difference, or a career employee who has dedicated your life to that pursuit-you and your families remain at the front of my mind.
Hope springs eternal, but it doesn't actually pay anybody's bills. According to the August statistics available for download from the US Treasury Direct web site, the United States total public debt outstanding on August 31st was 16,738,650 million dollars.
In the United States the Democrat and Republican parties are still at loggerheads in Congress over "Obamacare", and as a result many "non-essential" services have been shut down, and getting on for a million US government workers have been told to stay at home. Here's a video report from Al Jazeera on the current state of the nation in the land of the free:
Note that President Obama said that:
Congress generally has to stop governing by crisis. They have to break this habit. It is a drag on the economy.
The back and forth offered no sign that President Barack Obama and Republicans can soon end a standoff over health care that has sidelined everything from trade negotiations to medical research and raised new concerns about Congress's ability to perform its most basic duties.
An even bigger battle looms in coming weeks, when Congress must raise the debt limit or risk a U.S. default that could roil global markets.
Stock investors appeared to be taking the news in their stride with investors confident a deal could be reached quickly. The S&P 500 closed up 0.8 percent and the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.2 percent. But the U.S. Treasury was forced to pay the highest interest rate in about 10 months on its short-term debt as many investors avoided bonds that would be due later this month, when the government is due to exhaust its borrowing capacity.
If Congress can agree to a new funding bill soon, the shutdown would have little impact on the world's largest economy. A week-long shutdown would slow U.S. economic growth by about 0.3 percentage points, according to Goldman Sachs, but a longer disruption could weigh on the economy more heavily as furloughed workers scale back personal spending. The last shutdown in 1995 and 1996 cost taxpayers $1.4 billion, according to congressional researchers.
I wonder what China thinks about the prospect of "a U.S. default"? Watch this space for more news, but don't hold your breath waiting for the warring parties to come to an amicable solution any time soon.
It's all go on the mergers, acquisitions and transfers front this week! Swissquote Bank announced in a press release earlier today that:
Swissquote Bank is acquiring a 100 percent holding in MIG Bank effective 25 September 2013. The acquisition of this major forex broker secures Swissquote Bank a place among the world’s largest forex service providers. The goal is to merge MIG Bank with Swissquote Bank.
Founded in 2003 as MIG Investments, MIG Bank employs an overall workforce of 120 at its headquarters in Lausanne and offices in Zurich, London and Hong Kong. In 2009, MIG Bank became the first forex broker to obtain a Swiss banking license. MIG Bank has specialized in online forex trading since its foundation, establishing itself as one of the leading forex and CFD brokers for clients in over 120 countries. It is one of the top providers worldwide in this sector.
The purchase of MIG Bank will enable Swissquote to greatly expand its forex operations, which at a volume of CHF 158 billion accounted for 26.2 percent of total net revenues in the first half of 2013. In the same period, Swissquote and MIG Bank would have achieved a cumulative volume of CHF 483 billion. Going forward, net forex income is likely to represent about half of the total net revenues of the group.
Thanks to the acquisition, Swissquote will also enjoy a broader international presence in future, with locations in Switzerland (Gland, Zurich and Bern), Dubai, Malta, London and Hong Kong. The relevant authorities in Switzerland, the UK and Hong Kong have approved the transaction.
The purchase of MIG Bank was financed entirely with equity capital. The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price. Following the acquisition, Swissquote Bank will continue to have one of the highest core capital ratios among Swiss banks.
In a press release this morning the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced that it has:
Today issued an Order against ICAP Europe Limited (ICAP), an interdealer broker, bringing and settling charges of manipulation, attempted manipulation, false reporting, and aiding and abetting derivatives traders’ manipulation and attempted manipulation, relating to the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) for Yen. LIBOR is a critical benchmark interest rate used throughout the world as the basis for trillions of dollars of transactions. ICAP is a subsidiary of U.K.-based ICAP plc.
The CFTC’s Order finds that for more than four years, from at least October 2006 through at least January 2011, ICAP brokers on its Yen derivatives and cash desks knowingly disseminated false and misleading information concerning Yen borrowing rates to market participants in attempts to manipulate, at times successfully, the official fixing of the daily Yen LIBOR.
The Order requires ICAP, among other things, to pay a $65 million civil monetary penalty, and cease and desist from further violations as charged. Pursuant to the Order, ICAP and ICAP plc also agree to take specified steps to ensure the integrity and reliability of benchmark interest rate-related market information disseminated by ICAP and certain other ICAP plc companies.
In a separate statement about the settlement order, CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler said that:
Today’s Order against ICAP once again shows how LIBOR, a critical benchmark interest rate not anchored in sufficient transactions, has been readily rigged. Unfortunately, this is yet another reminder of why we have to coordinate internationally to transition to an alternative to LIBOR to best restore the integrity to markets.
Today’s Order also highlights the importance of Congress’ reforms through the Dodd-Frank Act to bring oversight to swaps trading platforms. Required registration of swap execution facilities becomes a reality next week, finally closing exemptions that had allowed for unregistered, multilateral swaps trading platforms.
The CFTC press release also points out that:
In a related action, the United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a Final Notice regarding its enforcement action against ICAP Europe Limited and imposed a penalty of £14 million, the equivalent of approximately $22.4 million.
In a press release today Argon Design from Cambridge in the UK have announced what they describe as:
A high performance trading system using a heterogeneous mix of technologies to minimize trading latency.
The mix of technologies is provided by their use of the Arista Networks 7124FX application switch which:
Includes an Altera FPGA with hardware-level access to 8 of its 24 10Gb Ethernet ports and an x86 domain based on Intel’s Xeon processors.
According to project's "case study" on the Argon web site, they have:
Developed a prototype system where market data feed analysis and fast-path trade execution is performed directly on the switch under rules determined in parallel on “traditional” processors.
Direct FPGA access allows data feeds to be parsed and analysed as close as possible to the feed handlers. Similarly the heterogeneous processor mix in the switch enables other related functions to be undertaken and orders executed back onto the wire. Deployed in CoLo at the trading venues as part of the day to day mix of technology found in the racks today – this technology can take the design and performance of trading functionality to a higher level of performance.
Argon have quantified this "higher level of performance" by:
Using the test harness developed for the Finteligent Trading Community program, the latency measured was reduced by a factor of 25 over pure x86 designs tested by the program. For the measured leg in the test harness, latency was reduced from a previous best of 4,600ns to 176ns for algorithmically generated trades executed to the simulated market.
The enhancement in performance was achieved by providing a fast-path where trades are executed directly by the FPGA under the control of trigger rules processed by the x86 based functions . The latency is reduced further by two additional techniques in the FPGA – inline parsing and pre-emption.
As market data enters the switch, the Ethernet frame is parsed serially as bits arrive allowing partial information to be extracted and matched before the whole frame has been received. Then, instead of waiting until the end of a potential triggering input packet, pre-emption is used to start sending the overhead part of a response which contains the Ethernet, IP, TCP and FIX headers. This allows completion of an outgoing order almost immediately after the end of the triggering market feed packet. The overall effect is a dramatic reduction in latency to close to the minimum that is theoretically possible.
Here's a video Argon have produced showing their prototype system's performance being assessed using the Finteligent test harness:
If you listen carefully you will note that Argon are claiming that:
The switch makes market orders based on market information with end of packet to end of packet response times of about 170 ns.
According to that press release once again, Arista's Regional Director for Financial Services Paul Goodridge commented that:
This is exactly the kind of practical application we are looking to see from the market with our 7124FX product and we are delighted and impressed with Argon Design’s commitment and approach. This joint venture exemplifies Arista’s innovation and further highlights the real value of Arista’s EOS (Extensible Operating System) and its ability to take programmability to the Ethernet switching market.
I've now managed to speak to Paul, and I asked him about that programmability. As suggested by the 7124FX datasheet, EOS is essentially off the shelf x86 Fedora 14 Linux, but a good knowledge of Verilog will come in handy if you find you need to program the FPGA itself. When I asked about development systems Paul suggested a good first step would be to get hold of an Altera Stratix III or IV Development Kit, which are more readily available and also an awful lot cheaper than a 7124FX! In conclusion I asked Paul if there was anything he'd like to add to what he'd said in the Argon press release. He stressed:
Arista's focus on the empowerment of our customers, and the deterministic performance of our switches.
It seems that with a modicum of additional programming Arista's customers will soon be empowered to start deterministic high frequency trading at close to the speed of light! The only drawback is, of course, that the price of this sort of kit is fairly astronomical too.
[Update - Argon Design have kindly provided us with this white paper for you to read at your leisure]
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In a news release yesterday FXCM announced that:
Its U.S. subsidiary Forex Capital Markets LLC has agreed to assume the forex accounts of Alpari US LLC.
On Friday, September 27, 2013, accepted Alpari U.S. accounts will be transferred to FXCM U.S. after the close of trading.
After a detailed market review, Alpari selected FXCM because of their strong U.S. presence, financial stability, platform synergies and execution capability. Alpari U.S. clients will be transitioned from Alpari’s MetaTrader 4 (“MT4”) platform to the FXCM MT4 Platform and should see minimal changes in platform functionality. FXCM’s upgraded MT4 platform integrates seamlessly with its No Dealing Desk forex execution.
The deal affects all U.S. resident MT4 clients of Alpari US LLC.
Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
At this time the Alpari U.S. web site remains strangely silent on the matter.