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Brazil: High Frequency Trading in Brazil: Mirage or Miracle?

Christian Zimmer, Head of Quantitative Trading and Research, and Hellinton Hatsuo Takada, Quantitative Trader, of Itaú Asset Management reveal the truth about high frequency trading in Brazil.

Conference panels, discussions and articles on High Frequency Trading (HFT) generally start with its definition. The term HFT is like ‘Cleopatra’ – sexy and mysterious and everyone is keen to know more about it. But the term HFT speaks for itself, so is it wasting time to go over it again?

Probably, because the term ‘high’ only has meaning relative to an external point of reference, just like cold, hot, sweet or other adjectives. This subjectivity is all the more interesting, as it is extremely difficult to measure an investor’s  brief holding period in most financial markets and, therefore, determine if it really is ‘high’. Unlike in the US, where the exchanges do not register the origin of the trade, Brazilian regulation allows BM&FBOVESPA to identify the final client on every trade. Consequently, it is much easier to measure the holding period of an investor for each asset. Also, this rule is the means by which the exchange determines whether an investor’s trade is classified as a ‘day trade’ and is thus eligible for reduced fees.

Naturally, BM&FBOVESPA does not classify a trader opening a position in the morning and closing it at the end of the day as a high frequency trader. There should be far more trading than this to qualify as HFT.  But how much more? It depends on the exchange’s criteria and reference point for ‘high’.

Figures for HFT published by BM&FBOVESPA in their April 2011report show 3.9% of the BM&F segment is high frequency and 5.9% of the BOVESPA segment. Consequently, the reduced fees are presented to the Brazilian trading community as less of an issue, as they say there is evidence of HFT taking hold. But HFT volume is not really increasing and is still far off the US figures which are often cited at around 60-70%. After carefully observing BM&FBOVESPA market prices, it is easy to conclude that it would take some time (possibly hours) to have a change in the prices sufficiently large enough to pay the transaction costs.Remember that HFT strategies are very sensitive to transaction costs.

Our suggestion is to step away from making subjective references to ‘high frequency’. Instead, one should look at the underlying trading strategies. The incentives an exchange should create to attract flow must be adjusted to the strategies that are really needed. Each strategy deserves a different set of policies and this will help the diversification of the traders’ strategies.

A trader using a market maker strategy can live with exchange fees as long as the bid-ask spread is sufficiently high. If the spread narrows, the costs become crucial and the exchange must lower the fees in order to keep this client in the market. On the other hand, a directional trader has different issues; if the fees are high, a trader must wait longer for a relevant price move so that they can capitalize on their position. Contrary to the market maker, the directional trader loves to see narrow bid-ask spreads. There would be no need to lower fees when the spread is close. The same is true for the statistical arbitrage traders.

When looking at the third party analyses of HFT in the international markets, we often see that the most common strategy is the market maker approach. This fact is strongly influenced by market fragmentation, which we do not have in Brazil. Fragmentation creates new intermarket trades, which could qualify as arbitrage trades, but not necessarily as market maker trades. Fragmentation also makes exchanges and other venues compete for the customers that provide liquidity and, as a result, give incentives to market makers. As mentioned above, Brazil does not have a fragmented market and BM&FBOVESPA does not see it necessary to ask for more liquidity. At least not as long as international capital flows are strong and increasing. Liquidity is needed in second tier shares and below.

It remains to be seen whether the inventive BM&FBOVESPA program to exempt the officially designated market makers from exchange fees will be enough to stimulate other participants to trade. At least theoretically, this provides an entry/ exit point for statistical arbitrage traders. However, as long as the allowed spreads can be as large as 1%, the strategy might not be necessarily profitable. At this moment it is worth noting that most of the Brazilian statistical arbitrage trades are longshort trades in stocks focusing on preferred-common stock relationships (in Brazil they are known as PNON, with PN standing for preferred stocks and ON for common ones).

It is also interesting to look at statistical arbitrage trades that are latency dependent, i.e. true arbitrage trades. Are these the ‘true’ high frequency traders? If there are only a few trading opportunities per day, it does not seem as if BM&FBOVESPA could classify them as high frequency. Latency sensitive traders typically use what the exchange refers to as the DMA3 (clients directly sending orders through a connection to the exchange) or DMA4 (co-location) categories. Trades through these categories can easily be measured. Unfortunately, the ability to measure the latency sensitive flow is lost because the DMA3 category is also used for any direct sponsored customer trades, so all that remains is to  measure the flow from the co-location model.

If we use the DMA4 numbers as the reference point for HFT, then we reach a HFT participation figure of 2.8% in the BM&F segment and about 2% in the BOVESPA segment (as at April 2011). The BM&FBOVESPA DMA4 measurements are significantly lower than their HFT percentages. This suggests they accounted additional strategies into this pool, such as market making strategies. Theoretically market makers could have contributed to this figure, but because of a very narrow spread in the high volume stocks and high fees, it is reasonable to assume that the market making strategy does not contribute too much to the HFT volume.

One might argue that there are still the directional trades. Yet, as this strategy needs a certain price move before it can make money and the number of trades per day is limited. On the other hand, the number of traders that might be using this strategy is not limited, as the models are nearly all different. There are only about ten Brazilian players able to successfully run intraday directional trades. Perhaps we should conclude that the international players have better models or a better understanding of the market?

Recently, BM&FBOVESPA announced a new pricing model for high-frequency traders, which uses the Average Daily Trading Value (ADTV) to calculate fees in its equity market. Fees range from 0.019% for R$20 million ADTV up to 0.01% for firms trading over R$500 million ADTV. Ironically, almost no firms were able to qualify as ‘high frequency’ players within the exchange’s cost reduction program.

Source:FIXGloabalTrading, 15.06.2011

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Filed under: BM&FBOVESPA, Brazil, Exchanges, Latin America, Trading Technology, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Schwab’s Commission-Free ETFs: A Watershed Event

On November 3, 2009, marked a watershed event for the ETF landscape. It’s the day that Schwab (SCHW), absent from the ETF industry for past 16 years, upped the ante for any company thinking about getting into the business. Charles Schwab Investment Management, Inc. launched its first four ETFs.

At first glance, the new Schwab ETFs are nothing special – just four broad based core holdings, just like dozens already available from other fund companies. But look closer, and you will see they are also the lowest fee funds within each of their respective asset classes.

Look yet again, and see that these ETFs are also commission-free for Schwab brokerage customers. This is historic. Just as no-load no-transaction fee mutual funds changed the mutual fund landscape, commission-free ETFs will forever alter the way that ETFs are perceived. With this one change, nearly every argument in favor of mutual funds instead of ETFs goes away. Dollar cost averaging? No longer costly with commission-free ETFs. Small account size? Not a problem anymore.

Schwab has arrived, and they didn’t do it quietly. Now all eyes will turn to the competition to see how they react. Will other brokerage firms roll out their own ETF brands? Will iShares and SPDRs get into the discount brokerage business? “Strategic alliances” will be discussed, but in all likelihood are not feasible since there are not enough fees to share. Schwab has erected a significant barrier to entry and is now well positioned to go after the lucrative 401k market.

The four new ETFs launched by Schwab:

  • Schwab U.S. Broad Market ETF (SCHB) (SCHB overview) will track the Dow Jones U.S. Broad Stock Market Index with a 0.08% expense ratio. The underlying index represents the largest 2,500 U.S. equities and is float-adjusted market cap weighted.
  • Schwab U.S. Large-Cap ETF (SCHX) (SCHX overview) will track the Dow Jones U.S. Large-Cap Total Stock Market Index with a 0.08% expense ratio. The underlying index represents the largest 750 U.S. equities and is float-adjusted market cap weighted.
  • Schwab U.S. Small-Cap ETF (SCHA) (SCHA overview) will track the Dow Jones U.S. Small-Cap Total Stock Market Index with a 0.15% expense ratio. The underlying index represents the stocks ranked 751–2,500 of the largest 2,500 U.S. equities and is float-adjusted market cap weighted.
  • Schwab International Equity ETF (SCHF) (SCHF overview) will track the FTSE Developed ex-US Index with a 0.15% expense ratio. The underlying index covers1,400 large cap and mid cap stocks from more than 20 developed international markets.

Online trades of Schwab ETFs are commission-free at Schwab, while trades of third-party ETFs are still subject to commissions.

Unfortunately, the first day of trading had some glitches. SCHA traded at the wrong price for the about the first ten minutes with those who bought early receiving about a 10% discount from NAV, unless those trades get busted. SCHX appeared to have a similar problem but fewer shares were involved. Market makers had trouble maintaining the appropriate depth on SCHB, and it appears some larger orders created price spikes. SCHF had the most orderly first day of the bunch.

Schwab expects to offer four additional ETFs in December: Schwab U.S. Large-Cap Growth ETF (SCHG), Schwab U.S. Large-Cap Value ETF (SCHV), Schwab International Small-Cap Equity ETF (SCHC), and Schwab Emerging Markets Equity ETF (SCHE).

Source: Seeking Alpha, 04.11.2009

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Asian stock exchanges find ways around falling volumes

The financial crisis has reduced profits for Asia’s stock exchanges, but they are finding a variety of opportunities to grow revenues.

It’s a tough time to be an Asian stock exchange. A new study by Celent finds all of them suffering lower trading volumes, lower margins and reduced profits as a result of the global financial crisis and the introduction of alternative trading systems — at a time when new regulations and risk management issues are likely to impose additional challenges. Click here for original article.
Exchanges are, however, finding a variety of ways to maintain their position, and in many ways, may be in a better position than counterparts in Europe and America to grow.

On average, Asian exchanges enjoyed robust growth in the years before the crisis, with an almost 30% compound annual growth rate in revenues from 2005 through 2007. But in 2008 this reversed: for example, Singapore’s exchange saw net profit down 40% in the first three quarters of 2008; Hong Kong’s exchange saw revenues fall by 10% and profits down 17% in 2008. The news is similar for others in the region.

These declines are due to the lack of listings and steep declines in both cash and derivative trading. These had a knock-on effect on other revenue-generating services offered by exchanges, including clearing and information products.

Celent reckons these losses are not going to be easily reversed in 2009. Exchanges are relying more on new initiatives to maintain their quasi-monopolistic positions and their profitability.

These include trying to attract cross-border listings in emerging markets, going head-to-head with the likes of NYSE, Nasdaq and the London Stock Exchange. The Korea Exchange, for example, has entered into equity stakes in the new bourses of Laos and Cambodia, partly in order to get new companies there to cross-list in Seoul. Singapore’s exchange has a partnership with the provincial government of Fujian to attract its companies. Hong Kong and Shanghai have signed a number of collaborative measures.

Trading is the biggest revenue generator, and has come under pressure from the rise of alternative systems such as Instinet and Liquidnet, and from the promotion of dark pools by broker dealers or the likes of ITG.

However, in Asia, such alternatives do not threaten exchanges as they have done in the United States, in part because Asian bourses enjoy monopolistic positions among fragmented, less liquid markets. This has prevented alternatives from being able to undercut the exchanges on pricing or service, despite the anonymity they offer. In Hong Kong, alternative platforms actually operate as members of the exchange.

Only in Japan is there a true alternative market, with 2% of all electronic trading executed on true off-exchange platforms, and crossing networks are popular.

Nonetheless the exchanges can’t be complacent, and are improving their products and their pricing. This includes upgrading their systems to be faster and accommodate more trades, and improving their market-data services. Singapore is working to attract more algorithmic traders, both through operational improvements and perhaps fee cuts. Korea Exchange’s introduction last year of KoreaCross, a VWAP anonymous electronic platform for local and international institutional investors, will also spur block trading. Taiwan is taking similar action.

Other important initiatives that are sweeping the region are the development of derivatives trading and cross-border initiatives.

With regulation likely to encourage the OTC derivatives market to move onto an exchange, exchanges are trying to develop products that are standardised and easy to use, but also provide the benefits of OTC trades. For example, Korea Exchange has begun a market-making scheme to provide liquidity to 10-year Korea treasury bond futures. It has also allowed Eurex to list, trade and clear daily futures on Kospi 200 options worldwide after Korean trading hours.

Southeast Asia has seen five nations form an Asean electronic trading link, which should allow investors in their markets to trade regional securities through local brokers. Other examples of international initiatives include the Tokyo Stock Exchange taking a 5% stake in SGX in 2007, as part of a plan to give Tokyo access to superior technology.

The next most active area for growth is in product development, with Islamic products at the forefront. The idea is to attract investment from the Middle East. Last year, SGX listed Singapore’s first sharia-compliant ETF covering 100 eligible Japanese companies. Carbon emission products are also expected to grow, with Japanese bourses at the forefront.

Taken together, these and other initiatives should be enough to keep Asia’s exchanges on the path to growth, thanks to the region’s strong economic fundamentals and GDP growth prospects.

Source:, 25.05.2009 by Jame DiBiasio

Filed under: Asia, China, Exchanges, FIX Connectivity, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Library, Malaysia, Market Data, News, Singapore, Trading Technology, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mexican Senate to limit Excessive Credit Card charges by foreign banks, observed by U.S. Senate

[16.04.2009] Mexico’s Senate banking committe approved changes to the financial services law. The Central Bank will be allowed to set limits on the rates that commercial banks can charge on loans.

Banco de Mexico will not set of specific limits to rates; instead, the central bank will set references as to how much banks should be charging for the loans and also have the ability to highlight to the public which banks are charging more than others. “Banco de Mexico will ensure that institutions give loans or credit in accessible and reasonable conditions, and it will take corrective measures so that operations are offered under those terms,” the bill says.

The initiative will now move to the floor of the Senate. The bill doesn’t specify a maximum interest rate. Instead, it calls for policy makers to cap interest rates if they are deemed to be too high or if they prevent low-income Mexicans from obtaining credit.      The legislation would prohibit banks from charging fees that “distort healthy banking practices,” according to the initiative. Banks wouldn’t be able to charge fees for consulting account balances under the measure.

Source: IXE 16.04.2009

[26.03.2009] Two Mexican Senate committees approved proposals to overhaul financial sector regulations that if passed into law would give authorities greater scope to limit the interest rates and commissions that banks charge their customers.

Mexico is not alone. The U.S. Senate Banking Committee will meet on March 31 to consider pro-consumer credit card legislation.

The current credit cards comissions and interest rates in Mexico, charged by foreign banks are the higest in the World and cause to great concern for social instability, for example:

HSBC                 charges 72% p.a. in Mexico  vs.  16%  in the UK

ScotiaBank     charges 61% p.a. in Mexico vs.  18%  in Canada

BBVA                 charges 80% p.a. in Mexico vs. 25% in Spain

Citi/Banamex charges 77% p.a. in Mexico vs.   9% in the US

According to Mexico Bankers Association (ABM) in 2008 there where  26.2 milion credit card holding individuals, which spend  478 Bn pesos ( 33.7 bn US$).

Credit cards might as well be the next bubble to burst, see the Reuters special on consumer credit concerns.

The Finance Commission and the Legislative Studies Commission approved the bill late Wednesday with the backing of senators from the three largest political parties. The commissions said they hope to submit a final draft to the full Senate as soon as possible, according to a Senate press release.

The measure would then be sent to the lower house. The plan would give the Bank of Mexico greater power to regulate commissions and interest rates, ban fees for checking balances at bank branches and require lenders to offer a basic credit card product without “excessive charges.”

Fees and commissions of close to 56.3 bn pesos (3.97 bn US$) last year accounted for about 27% of banks’ operating income, according to National Banking and Securities Commission data.

Five of Mexico’s top seven banks are owned by foreigners. Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBV) and Banco Santander SA (STD) of Spain, Citigroup Inc. (C) of the U.S., HSBC Holdings PLC  ( HBC) of the U.K., and Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS) control 68% of bank loans and 69% of deposits.

Source: El Financiero, El Economista,Dow Jones,Reuters,AFP  26.03.2009

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Asia’s Private-Banking shakeout to intensify, says UBS

Asia’s private-banking industry will experience a “big shakeout” as the global recession saps investors’ appetite for risk and drives down fees, according to UBS AG. 

The Zurich-based bank, Switzerland’s biggest, and other firms will have to cut compensation, the biggest cost component of the business, said Tee Fong Seng, Head for Key Clients in Asia-Pacific at UBS’s wealth-management unit. Costs haven’t declined with revenue after the industry grew, “maybe a bit too aggressively,” in the last few years, he said. 

“There was a sense of optimism leading up to 2005, 2006, 2007, and things just received carried away,” Tee said today at an industry conference in Singapore. “The present business model of banking is not sustainable, it has to change. Revenue is coming down.” 

Assets under management at UBS’s private-banking unit in the region have fallen “substantially,” after growing to more than US$200 billion in 2007 from US$75 billion at the end of 2004, he said. 

The wealth-management industry is seeking to win back the trust of clients whose wealth has been eroded by global financial turmoil. Individuals worldwide with more than US$1 million probably saw the value of their assets shrink by about 20% to 25% in 2008, Stephen Wall, a London-based director at Scorpio Partnership Ltd, said in an interview. 

Cutting Edge 
In 2007, wealthy people’s assets rose 9.4% to US$41 trillion, while the total number of high-net-worth individuals rose 6%, according to the latest survey by Capgemini SA and Merrill Lynch & Co. 

Clients prefer “simple direct investments” in equities, bonds and precious metals, shunning “complex structured products” that pay higher fees, said Kwong Kin Mun, head of private banking in South Asia at Singapore-based DBS Group Holdings Ltd 

“When we go back to clients with terms like ‘innovation’ and ‘cutting edge,’ they are really viewed with suspicion and in some cases disgust,” Kwong said. “The credit crunch right now has developed into a kind of a revenue crunch and the whole industry is trying to find the right model.” 

If the “risk aversion” lasts for another nine to 12 months, it will have “tremendous impact on the wealth management industry,” Kwong said. “Most of us have built our models on a very bullish assumption.” 

High Costs 
Private banks competing to manage the region’s riches were recruiting senior bankers from their competitors as recently as two-years ago, leading pay to escalate. Private bankers will have to be “more realistic” in their salary expectations, UBS’s Tee said. 

Costs that were built up in the past were “well taken care of by the revenue generation,” he said. 

New York-based Morgan Stanley is trying to cut its “variable costs,” said Tan Su Shan, the bank’s head of wealth management in Southeast Asia and Australia. “We’ve come to realise that our fixed costs have been too high,” she said. 

Aggressive Strategy 
“Three or four-years ago, most of the industry players realised that excesses had built up, but none was brave enough to stand against this very strength,” said DBS’s Kwong. “Most, if not all, of the industry players continued to carry out a very aggressive growth strategy on the premise that perhaps Asia would take over the driver’s seat in world economic growth and therefore private wealth would continue to grow incessantly.” 

Financial institutions worldwide have reported US$1.3 trillion of losses and shed more than 286,000 jobs since the US subprime mortgage market collapsed, data compiled by Bloomberg show. 

“The modern wealth management market has never been through a decline like this,” said Scorpio Partnership’s Wall. “It’s been experiencing about 15 years of growth and it’s become a massively professional industry. Now it appears that all the professionalism didn’t work, it’s become a basic average man-on-the-street investor kind of process. Banks haven’t lived up to expectations.” 

Source: Bloomberg, 27.03.2009

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