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The CHF blood bath, explained

17 January 2015

48 hours into the CHF debacle, it’s always healthy to carry out some post-mortem analysis to learn the lessons of why it happened, and what we could have been done to weather it better.

Since we’ve done it, why not share it?

The macro-story: Black-Wednesday, redux

What happened is crystal-clear with the benefit of hindsight (as it always is).

The CHF is a currency safe-haven, albeit a rather illiquid one, since it’s only backed by a tiny and financially hypertrophic economy. Ever since the EUR crisis, everyone and their mother placed some of their safety net in CHF – so much so that the Swiss National Bank was forced to ¨intervene¨ to keep the level at 1.20 to the EUR.

The intervention mechanism was: whoever bought CHF close to 1.20 sold to one counterparty, and one counterparty alone – the SNB. In broker parlance, the SNB became the daddy of all market makers by being the only player in the market with “unlimited” access to CHF close to the 1.20 EUR/CHF cliff. This filled the balance sheet of the SNB with foreign currency reserves… above all with a boatload of EUR, for EUR area is the Swiss’ primary commercial partner and the home currency of nervous europeans who by now trust neither their “unbreakable” currency, nor their tax-agency (the latter being food for another post).

With the EUR crisis on its way back (it has never really left…), the EUR has gone on free-fall, and EUR reserves were drilling the daddy of all P&L hits in the SNB balance sheet. That was before Herr Jordan got Mario’s phone call kindly announcing QE. Herr Jordan’s press conference is (financial) history being written as we speak.

Black Wednesday on September 16th, 1992, George Soros hit the headlines. Actually, he didn’t until after the dust had settled.

On the January 15th Donnerstagsdebakel (made this up, but it’s fitting for Thursday is the day of Thor and Thunder, depending on the language you choose), someone else hit the Jackpot.

We don’t know the name of the winner yet: journalists are still chasing around for a name and a photo to head their scoop… but if you want an outline of his likely background, read on.

The (retail) micro-story: Dancing on a cliff

We (traders, brokers, broker-dealers, and dealers) went about our business, nonplussed.

Traders saw juicy price-action dynamics at that level, and brokers readily offered (leveraged!) trading access to the CHF. Again with hindsight, everyone was dancing on a cliff… not wondering too much what would happen if (actually, when) Hoover Dam fell.

Dancing-on-Glacier-Point-03

So far, all pretty standard, really.

The interesting (and sad) bit, and the one that has received the least early attention is that the Fall affected brokers (A-Book) and dealers (B-Book) in tragically different ways – just as you’d expect it, for brokers trade with customers and dealers trade against them.

This effect IS news, because what went belly up on Thursday is the capillary over-the-counter (OTC) system of broker-dealers that makes currencies flow world-wide.

a-book, aka involuntary (unprepared!) contingent market makers

The moment the previous market maker (the SNB) went on strike, Hover Dam fell and sent the EUR on free-fall against the CHF – which called the next market makers to action: customers short the CHF and their collateral posted with their agency-only brokers and Prime Brokers (we’re pure A-Book).

Once that was exhausted (the higher the leverage offered, the quicker), brokers’s and Prime Brokers’ stop-losses triggered, but there was no market, so the margin we had posted with our Prime Brokers was the market. We, a-book brokers became involuntary (and ill equipped) market makers of last resort, not against our retail customers, but our wholesale counterparties.

Technically we ran no risk since actually it was our customers shorting the CHF who got smacked. In practice, FXCM (and others!) now know better: you can’t hire an army of lawyers to track thousands of micro-debts because each debt is smaller than 30 min of lawyer fees.

So there you go.

If you’re looking for victims, you’ll find more than your fair share in the lines of pure agency Brokers and Prime-Brokers who catalysed spot foreign exchange flows between macro (Tier 1 Banks and Central Banks)market makers and micro (Hedge-Funds, retail traders, Tier 2 institutions) price takers.

b-book, unregulated retail bucket shops

The retail spot forex trading arena contains close to 1000 unregulated, undercapitalised, over-levered retail dealers (= bucket shops) who make markets against FX punters.

(How or why they are allowed to invest massive amounts into advertising to earn business in regulated markets escapes our understanding, but that’s for another blog post.)

More to the point, how did they fare? Just fine, thank you.

They kept the deposits of those short the CHF, as they always do – and they didn’t have any losses with wholesale counterparties to match (all they do is trade against customers, remember?).

So how about the winners? You can bet that many of those outfits will keep the P&L of winning customers (there was no market, re-quotes, blah-blah), as they always do. That’s when operating an unregulated casino comes in particularly handy.

So there you go.

If you’re looking for more victims, go find would have been genius… who discovered a tad too late that trading with an unregulated bucket shop is a variation on the age old “heads I win, tails, you lose” coin toss.

They could have been George Soros, but learnt the concept of counterparty risk instead.

Darwinex

We came out of this just fine, mainly because we did most things right, and partially because we were lucky.

What we did right was to anticipate the on-exchange move. We have been clearing all our flow with LMAX (a MiFID regulated MTF), partially because we think that there’s too much information asymmetry in OTC forex, partially because Exchanges facilitate clearing and settlement (go ask Saxo customers being re-quoted on their CHF trades), and generally because we think that on Exchange is the proper way of doing things.

We had minimal CHF exposure, both in absolute terms and in relative terms both to the bulk of our business and our capital base. We weren’t watching much (there was no need), took a tiny hit. 3-quarters design, 1 quarter luck, bottom line is we came out just fine, and a lot of our users are now migrating incremental funds to us, which is a great honor.

All in, this was the cheapest life-saving lesson we will ever learn. And you bet we’ve learnt it.

The road from here

It was probably going to happen, and the regulators were probably looking for a justification… and now they’ve got it.

The Spot currency exchange market is the biggest OTC market in the world. Because it’s also the oldest, it stayed OTC way after technology and common sense recommended the move on exchange. What held that back was the mess of having to put in place an alternative to the network of broker-dealers that kept currencies flowing, unknown to the general public and most of even informed people in finance . It was clunky alright, but it worked.

If anything blew last Thursday, it was the very internal pipes that kept the OTC foreign exchange market flowing. Tens of legitimate financial outfits will spend some time working out just how much they lost… others are simply gone. With the pipes gone, the regulatory ought to do do has become an urgency must do

If you have an opportunity to invest into a Multi-Lateral Trading facility that clears foreign currency, you can bet they’re going to be faceless big time winners of this, alongside the next George Soros. We, for one, have been trading with one because this bit we did see coming.

Last News

Amended Trading Hours for US Thanksgiving Holidays (23 and 24 November 2017)

21 November 2017

Please note the amended Darwinex trading hours for the upcoming US Thanksgiving holiday period on 23 and 24 November 2017 (all times are in UK – GMT time).  Instrument 23 November 2017 24 November 2017 FX 22:01 Wed – 22:00 Thu 22:01 Thu – 21:55 Fri DARWINS 22:01 Wed – 22:00 Thu  22:01 Thu – 21:55 Fri  COMMODITIES     Gold* […]

Please note the amended Darwinex trading hours for the upcoming US Thanksgiving holiday period on 23 and 24 November 2017 (all times are in UK – GMT time).

 Instrument 23 November 2017 24 November 2017
FX 22:01 Wed – 22:00 Thu 22:01 Thu – 21:55 Fri
DARWINS 22:01 Wed – 22:00 Thu  22:01 Thu – 21:55 Fri
 COMMODITIES    
Gold* 23:01 Wed – 17:59 Thu 23:01 Thu – 18:44 Fri
Silver* 23:00 Wed – 17:59 Thu 23:00 Thu – 18:44 Fri
Platinum* 23:00 Wed – 17:59 Thu 23:00 Thu – 18:44 Fri
Palladium* 23:00 Wed – 17:59 Thu 23:00 Thu – 18:44 Fri
US Crude* 23:00 Wed – 17:44 Thu 23:00 Thu – 17:29 Fri
Natural Gas* 23:00 Wed – 17:44 Thu 23:00 Thu – 17:29 Fri
 INDICES    
Australia 200 23:00 Wed – 22:00 Thu 23:00 Thu – 21:55 Fri
 Europe 50 23:00 Wed – 22:00 Thu 23:00 Thu – 21:55 Fri
France 40 23:00 Wed – 22:00 Thu 23:00 Thu – 21:55 Fri
Germany 30 07:00 – 21:00 07:00 – 21:00
Spain 35 07:00 – 19:00 07:00 – 19:00
Japan 225* 23:00 Wed – 17:59 Thu  23:00 Thu – 18:14 Fri 
UK 100 23:00 Wed – 22:00 Thu 23:00 Thu – 21:55 Fri
 US SPX 500* 23:00 Wed – 17:59 Thu 23:00 Thu – 18:14 Fri 
 US Tech 100* 23:00 Wed – 17:59 Thu 23:00 Thu – 18:14 Fri 
Wall Street 30* 23:00 Wed – 17:59 Thu 23:00 Thu – 18:14 Fri 
*Amended Darwinex trading hours.

As always, at info@darwinex.com we’ll be happy to assist you!

DARWIN conditional orders in live environment

14 November 2017

We have the pleasure to announce that we are finally rolling out DARWIN conditional orders in the live environment. Demand was so strong, this just couldn’t wait any longer! Conditional orders for live accounts The DARWIN Exchange now supports conditional orders in the live environment. Investors may now enter conditional orders so that when a […]

We have the pleasure to announce that we are finally rolling out DARWIN conditional orders in the live environment. Demand was so strong, this just couldn’t wait any longer!

Conditional orders for live accounts

The DARWIN Exchange now supports conditional orders in the live environment.

Investors may now enter conditional orders so that when a DARWIN quote:

  • Falls to a certain level, they buy it (Buy limit)
  • Rises to certain level, they buy it (Buy stop)
  • Falls to a certain level, they sell it (Stop Loss)
  • Rises to a certain level, they sell it (Take Profit)

NB: we’ve disabled Buy stops for now – we will activate them once everyone is comfortable with the other 3 limit order types.

 

In order to launch conditional orders in the live environment, we’ve also had to launch another much demanded feature – DARWIN candle charts.

Introducing DARWIN candle charts

We’re introducing candle charts, not for the purpose of charting, but to be as transparent as possible on whether DARWIN quotes hit a given level.

Candles represent a given time interval and have:

  • Opening quote: the first quote at the start of the interval represented by the candle
  • Closing quote: the last quote during the interval represented by the candle
  • High: highest quote in the interval
  • Low: lowest quote in the interval

Note that due to differences in the frequency of tick price movements and duration of candle periods, the close quote for a candle need not necessarily match the open quote for the succeeding candle.

Price granularity

Price granularity is a trade-off between accuracy/transparency and computational efficiency. Pick too little, and compromise transparency. Pick too much, and waste resources.

This is why we’ve opted for a 3-Tier approach:

  • Second level granularity: on quotes in the DARWIN platform since 15 August 2017
  • Minute granularity:  for the period between IPO/validation of the Darwin in question and the 15 August 2017
  • Hourly granularity: for the period pre Darwin IPO/validation, when there were no investors in the DARWIN. Transparency requirements are lowest – these are “fictitious” quotes that no investor experienced!
  • Exception on DARWIN re-sets: on occasions, owing to some execution issue on a DARWIN’s underlying strategy, DARWIN equity curves must be “simulated” back to what they would have been barring the execution issues. For the period where the curve has had to be re-created, or needs to be recreated in the future, granularity will be on an hourly basis (just like pre-IPO), and not on a minute/second basis as you would otherwise expect.

You might ask yourself, “Why only second level granularity from 15th August 2017?”. Well, it’s simple really. We simply didn’t think that we would need this level of detail.

Separately, we are aware that the treatment of exceptions is sub-optimal. Be assured however that there’s ongoing work both to minimise the probability of execution disruptions and to resolve the mismatch between the actual and “optimal” DARWIN equity curve. Unfortunately this is not a trivial issue, so it will take time to fix.

Drawdown calculation

We will continue to calculate Drawdowns off the “Return Chart”. Note that this still doesn’t reflect the “Min” Candle – we’re working  on fixing this. Meanwhile, we preferred to release the candles over waiting for ironing out all related issues.

Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to your feedback on how to improve the platform!

And the DarwinIA winners are…

1 November 2017

The October edition of our DarwinIA trading challenge came to its end. Below you can find the 48 winners of our € 4,000,000 notional allocation for a 6 month period. Place DARWIN Notional allocation 1st TKT € 300,000.00 2nd UYZ € 250,000.00 3rd ZXW € 210,000.00 4th DLF € 170,000.00 5th FEG € 150,000.00 6th […]

The October edition of our DarwinIA trading challenge came to its end. Below you can find the 48 winners of our € 4,000,000 notional allocation for a 6 month period.

Place DARWIN Notional allocation
1st TKT € 300,000.00
2nd UYZ € 250,000.00
3rd ZXW € 210,000.00
4th DLF € 170,000.00
5th FEG € 150,000.00
6th VQB € 140,000.00
7th MOW € 130,000.00
8th HTS € 120,000.00
9th VTJ € 110,000.00
10th STP € 110,000.00
11th JCZ € 110,000.00
12th CLA € 100,000.00
13th LVS € 100,000.00
14th NWU € 100,000.00
15th PUL € 90,000.00
16th LDR € 90,000.00
17th PHD € 90,000.00
18th DFL € 80,000.00
19th AGD € 80,000.00
20th CNU € 80,000.00
21st KGL € 70,000.00
22nd PEW € 70,000.00
23rd KYQ € 70,000.00
24th AXF € 70,000.00
25th FGC € 60,000.00
26th QTN € 60,000.00
27th VNE € 60,000.00
28th ECC € 60,000.00
29th FYW € 60,000.00
30th PUD € 60,000.00
31st ERQ € 50,000.00
32nd DZL € 50,000.00
33rd PMZ € 50,000.00
34th BNX € 50,000.00
35th WBH € 50,000.00
36th LLZ € 50,000.00
37th FTT € 50,000.00
38th KWC € 40,000.00
39th OOG € 40,000.00
40th NGS € 40,000.00
41st SRK € 40,000.00
42nd XYP € 40,000.00
43rd NAU € 40,000.00
44th VHI € 40,000.00
45th ONE € 30,000.00
46th FER € 30,000.00
47th BYC € 30,000.00
48th PUZ € 30,000.00

Darwinex Amended Trading Hours due to German Public Holiday (31 October 2017)

27 October 2017

Please note the amended Darwinex trading hours for the upcoming Bank Holiday in Germany on 31 October 2017 (all times are in UK time).  Instrument Trading Hours  FX 22:05 Mon – 22:00 Tue   DARWINS 22:05 Mon – 22:00 Tue  COMMODITIES   Gold 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue Silver 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue Platinum 23:00 Mon – 22:00 […]

Please note the amended Darwinex trading hours for the upcoming Bank Holiday in Germany on 31 October 2017 (all times are in UK time).

 Instrument Trading Hours
 FX 22:05 Mon – 22:00 Tue
  DARWINS 22:05 Mon – 22:00 Tue
 COMMODITIES  
Gold 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
Silver 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
Platinum 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
Palladium 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
US Crude 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
Natural Gas 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
 INDICES  
Australia 200  23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
 Europe 50 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
France 40 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
Germany 30* Closed
Spain 35 08:00 – 19:00
Japan 225 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
UK 100  23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
 US SPX 500 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
 US Tech 100 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
Wall Street 30 23:00 Mon – 22:00 Tue
*Amended Darwinex trading hours.

As always, at info@darwinex.com we’ll be happy to assist you!

General Election in Japan (22 October 2017)

18 October 2017

Please note that the Japan General Election is coming up this Sunday (22 October 2017). The outcome of the election could result in market gapping in JPY pairs when market opens. Please make sure you are comfortable with the open position exposure on your Darwinex account and that you have sufficient margin cover going into the weekend […]

Please note that the Japan General Election is coming up this Sunday (22 October 2017).

The outcome of the election could result in market gapping in JPY pairs when market opens.

Please make sure you are comfortable with the open position exposure on your Darwinex account and that you have sufficient margin cover going into the weekend prior to market close at 22:00 (UK time) on Friday (20 October 2017).

As always, at info@darwinex.com we’ll be glad to assist you!

 

End of Daylight Saving Time in Europe (29 October 2017)

Please note that Daylight Saving Time ends in Europe on Sunday 29 October 2017 but our MT4 server time is NOT changing until Sunday 5 November 2017 (when Daylight Saving Time ends in the US). This means that there will be 1 week (29 October through 3 November 2017) where some markets will open 1 hour earlier in GMT […]

Please note that Daylight Saving Time ends in Europe on Sunday 29 October 2017 but our MT4 server time is NOT changing until Sunday 5 November 2017 (when Daylight Saving Time ends in the US).

This means that there will be 1 week (29 October through 3 November 2017) where some markets will open 1 hour earlier in GMT time (i.e. FX market will open at 21:01 GMT instead of 22:01 GMT; commodities will open at 22:01 GMT, etc.).

 Instrument Trading Hours
 FX  21:05 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 21:01 daily) 
  DARWINS 21:05 Sun – 21:00 Fri (except 21:00 – 21:01 daily)
 COMMODITIES  
Gold 22:01 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 20:59 – 22:01 daily)
Silver 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
Platinum 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
Palladium 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
US Crude 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
Natural Gas 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
 INDICES  
Australia 200 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
 Europe 50 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
France 40 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
Germany 30 07:00 – 21:00 (Mon – Fri)
Spain 35 07:00 – 19:00 (Mon – Fri)
Japan 225 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
UK 100 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
 US SPX 500 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
 US Tech 100 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)
Wall Street 30 22:00 Sun – 20:55 Fri (except 21:00 – 22:00 daily)


Trading hours will return to normal on Sunday 5th November 2017
, allowing for the daily candle to close at the end of trading in New York each day which is widely considered the end of the trading day.

As always, at info@darwinex.com we’ll be glad to assist you with any question you may have!