The Credit Crunch – Is your Margin Lender or CFD provider a ticking time BOMB?


With the establishment of a working group by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to review with the intent to regulate the Over the Counter (OTC) market and AISC’s proposed changes to the Corporations Act to cover Margin Lending as a financial product, and ensure proper accounting and disclosure standards for off balance sheet activities in addition to putting in place new measures that are likely to require balance sheet strength for margin lenders and possibly over-the-counter (CFD) derivative providers, it is important to make sure that you consider the impact of any regulatory changes on your margin lender or CFD provider to ensure you are not dealing with a ticking time bomb.

If the regulation in the US can be used as a benchmark the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) recently approved increases to the (National Futures Association) NFA’s minimum capital requirement for Forex CFD members from $10 million as of October 31, 2008 to $15 million as of January 17, 2009, and $20 million as of May 16, 2009, resulting in many small Forex CFD providers becoming insolvent or being absorbed by larger providers. Although not Forex CFD provider’s non-bank margin lenders adopt a similar model, in that client money and positions are co-mingled, this means that a default by one client will result in losses being incurred by all clients if the provider is unable to sustain the amount of the default. A series of collapses by small Forex CFD providers, in addition to the collapse of Refco in 2005 resulted in the NFA putting in place these minimum capital requirements to ensure only CFD providers who are well capitalized and able to absorb client defaults can operate, ensuring non-defaulting client funds are protected.

The NFA plays an additional role in that it facilitates balance sheet transparency of Forex CFD providers, it requires all providers to submit their net capital position on a monthly basis, all of which are made public allowing consumers to independently asses the size of the their provider, although the NFA specifically regulates Futures and Forex providers had ASIC adopted a similar process for non-bank margin lenders perhaps the losses incurred by thousands of retail clients with the collapse of margin lenders Opes Prime and Lift Capital could have been avoided, after all both of these non-bank margin lenders operated under the same model as many of the Forex CFD providers in the US but on skinny balance sheets. Let’s hope AISC follow the lead adopted by their US counterparties and ensure the balance sheet transparency of Margin Lenders and CFD providers in Australia.

So who is next…………

It appears that all of the non-bank margin lenders in Australia have either collapsed or simply ceased to offer this service, all remaining margin lenders appear to be banks which do not co-mingle client positions, have been guaranteed by the government, are listed on the ASX, are APRA regulated and required to comply with strict Basel II capital requirements in addition to employing Sarbanes-Oxley standards. There appears to be no more undercapitalized margin lenders remaining that operate using the Opes Prime and Lift capital stock loan model, good news for most of us, but what about the CFD providers?

CFD providers are next on the list, many of which operate under a stock loan or equity SWAP model (institutional CFD) and co-mingle client funds meaning that if one client defaults and is unable to pay and the CFD provider is unable to make up the client default the CFD provider will become insolvent with all remaining clients losing all or a portion of their money, not dissimilar to Opes Prime or many of the collapsed Forex CFD providers in the US, including Refco.

In addition to you being subject to debts incurred by your CFD providers defaulting clients it is important to note that some CFD providers also deposit client funds with their counterparty or prime broker who provide leverage, often these client funds are well in excess of the margin required by their prime broker for their hedge positions (your CFD positions), this means that moneys that you maintain with your CFD provider even if you don’t have any open CFD positions will be put at risk in the event of default by another client or even the Investment Bank providing the Prime Broking or Stock Loan service, this is NOT true segregation of client moneys. Recently the collapse of Lehman Brothers led to many offshore CFD providers and hedge funds losing a substantial amount of client money, in many cases there were no open positions but all funds on deposit at Lehman Brothers were lost.

So what are some of the things you should consider when choosing your CFD provider?

1. Does your provider have a strong Balance Sheet?
It is important to note that client moneys declared as assets on the balance sheet are NOT the CFD provider’s money and are offset by a liability, which is to pay you the client back when you withdraw your money. In assessing the balance sheet you should also consider whether your CFD provider will be able to meet additional capital requirements similar to those adopted in the US by the NFA if they are introduced by ASIC in mid 2009. If your CFD provider is listed in Australia or overseas they are required to make their annual accounts public, however if they are unlisted you should ask them for a copy prior to opening an account, or if you already have an account ask them now! Most reputable CFD providers will provide their accounts to you without asking any questions or make them available on their website, if the provider does NOT make their accounts available you should exercise extreme caution.

2. How is your and other Clients Money used?
Ensure that you read the disclosure documents carefully as many CFD providers will use your client money to facilitate hedge positions in their own name, often these are the providers with insufficient capital to pay for their hedge positions with their own funds. All providers are required to disclose how they use client funds in their disclosure documents, it is important to note that should the CFD provider pass on client funds to its counterparties who are often investment banks or brokers for the purpose of hedging your CFD transactions, not only will your funds be at risk as a result of other clients defaults, you will also face the credit risk of the investment banks or other brokers that the CFD provider deals with. CFD providers are not required to disclose who they hedge through in their disclosure documents so it is important to ask them upfront prior to opening an account, to ensure that their counterparties are not banks or brokers who are facing financial difficulties or collapse as was the case with Lehman brothers. You can check the S&P credit rating of all major investment banks and brokers on the S&P website below. S&P | Ratings > Find a Rating - US

3. Who regulates your CFD provider?
Ensure that you know who is watching your CFD provider, in Australia more often than not most CFD providers are solely regulated by ASIC, however some providers are banks and are also regulated by APRA and are already subject to stringent risk and capital requirements. Larger global CFD providers are also regulated by offshore regulators such as the NFA in the US who impose high capital requirements as outlined earlier; more often than not providers who are regulated in multiple jurisdictions around the world will show balance sheet strength and stability as each regulator has a very different capital requirement, however it is still important to review your provider’s balance sheet prior to opening an account and read the disclosure documents to ensure that you know which regulator is watching over your CFD provider in your jurisdiction.

4. Is your CFD provider listed on an exchange?
More often than not listed CFD providers will employ prudent risk management practices and ensure that their company is well capitalized as they have hundreds and sometimes thousands of independent shareholders to report to, often listed company’s also employ strict corporate governance processes which ensure that there is an additional layer of oversight monitoring the company’s management with breaches and capital adequacy matters being attended to immediately and not ignored. In the case of the collapse of Opes Prime in Australia in 2008 directors conduct and dealings are still being investigated, a similar collapse to that of Opes Prime occurred with Refco in the US in 2005, where prior to the collapse directors paid themselves $1.125 billion USD in dividends shortly before declaring bankruptcy in addition to concealing billions in bad debt.

You should read both articles below and note the similarities

Opes Prime Collapse,,23485903-23850,00.html

Refco Collapse News & Commentary

5. How long has your CFD provider been around?
Being able to stand the test of time over bull and bear markets is a good sign of risk management and balance sheet strength, a CFD provider with good prudential risk management practices and a large well diversified client base is more likely to survive all market conditions than a new market entrant whose income is derived from a only a handful of clients and has not been exposed to both bull and bear markets. This aspect should not be your sole consideration when choosing a CFD provider but should be used in combination with careful examination of the CFD provider’s balance sheet.

6. Is your CFD provider a Bank or owned by a bank?

CFD providers that are banks and regulated by APRA may offer you additional protection over the funds held in your CFD account through the recently introduced Government Guarantee Scheme, this will ensure the money that you have on deposit will not be lost if the CFD provider becomes insolvent. CFD providers that are Banks do not use client moneys to finance their hedging transactions due to their strong balance sheet position as such many of the risks relating to client or bank defaults are minimized, especially if the bank is also a listed entity, which most large cap Banks are.

7. Does your CFD provider have proper risk management practices?

Be wary of CFD providers that offer low margins or CFDs over illiquid small cap stocks. CFD providers that offer this service must employ prudent risk management practices, you should ensure that if your provider does offer such CFDs they are a bank, listed or regulated by APRA and employ the Basel II Accord.

Capital Comparison

CFD Provider
Capital (assets-liabilities) excluding client funds (2008)

E-trade (ANZ Bank)
AUD $26,552,000,000

Commonwealth Bank
AUD $26,137,000,000

Macquarie Bank
AUD $10,281,000,000

MF Global
USD $2,434,200,000 / AUD equiv $3,863,809,523

Saxo Bank A/S
DKK $11,910,960,000 / AUD equiv $3,226,089,847

City Index (ICAP)
GBP £833,400,000 / AUD equiv $1,862,682,117

IG Markets
GBP £471,722,000 / AUD equiv $1,054,254,103

CMC Markets
GBP £104,300,000 / AUD equiv $233,122,253

USD $138,518,295 / AUD equiv $218,237,303

GFT Forex

USD $73,808,315 / AUD equiv $116,179,77

Easy Forex

USD $10,606,977 / AUD equiv $16,706,706

Sonray Capital Markets
AUD $0*

First Prudential Markets

AUD $0*

*Accounts are not made publicly available.

The information above is believed to be correct as the time of writing (Jan 2009) and obtained from the references below which include annual accounts and NFA filings. You should use the accounts provided by your CFD provider in conjunction with your own research and advice sought from your financial adviser to determine which CFD provider is appropriate for you and consider the amount of capital that you are prepared to lose prior to making your choice.

The references below contain links to accounts of most CFD providers, however some providers do not make their accounts available, if you are unable to obtain accounts form these providers you should exercise additional caution prior to dealing. You should be careful and not use CFD providers as banks if they are not one and only keep minimal cash balance in your account (but enough to meet you margin requirments) to avoid the risk of losing additional funds in the event of insolvency.

You should consider all risks when choosing a CFD provider including those outlined in the providers disclosure documents to ensure that you do not end up in a line with all of their other clients and creditors to get you money back if or when the time bomb explodes.


Commonwealth Bank,00.pdf

E-trade (ANZ Bank)

Macquarie Bank
Prime. MQ Prime integrated online investing and trading

IG Group Holdings Plc
IG Group - Homepage
IG Markets - CFDs, forex, indices

Saxo Bank
Saxo Bank - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Forex trading and Currency trading by Saxo Bank

CMC Markets Plc
CMC Markets Australia
Welcome to CMC Markets

MF Global
CFDs (Contracts for Difference) Trading Platform ?

City Index – ICAP
ICAP plc | Annual Report 2008
City Index Australia - CFD trading online

First Prudential Markets
CFD Trading, Online Share Trading Australia - First Prudential Markets

Sonray Capital Markets
Margin Forex, CFD, Equities and Futures Trading Australia - Sonray Capital Markets
SONRAY GLOBAL | - Multi Product Online Trading Platform

FXCM - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Forex | currency trading | forex trading | forex broker
Forex Capital Markets Company Profile | FXCM is one of the largest Forex Brokers
Forex | currency trading | forex trading | forex broker

GFT Forex
GFT Foreign Currency Trading & Software: About Global Forex Trading
Forex | Spot Forex Trading | CFDs | GFT Australia

Easy Forex
Online Forex Trading| Easy-Forex

Lehman Brothers
Gulfnews: Lehman Brothers collapse deals fatal blow to several hedge funds
Picking over the Lehman carcass - The Banker

Lift Capital version_.pdf

Opes Prime
Man loses all in Opes Prime collapse | Herald Sun
Mediation talks to resume over Opes Prime
Authorities probe Opes Prime collapse - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Other references
U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Reserve Bank of Australia - Home Page
Australian Prudential Regulation Authority
Securities Commission
Basel II Accord - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Financial Services Authority
Monetary Authority of Singapore
Basel II implementation in Australia
Securities and Futures Commission
Financial Services Agency
China Banking Regulatory Commission
Ontario Securities Commission || Commission des valuers mobilières de l'Ontario
National Futures Association - NFA is a regulatory service provider for the derivatives markets
SFBC - Swiss Federal Banking Commission
Market Scholar
Great article, you should tray and publish it in major Australian newspapers ( perhaps a smaller version)
By the way my situation with Sonray was All cash held .. lost now
But couple of questions,
Would you agree that in Australia as on today unless you deal with ASX participant broker you risk your money with all other OTC CFD providers!
1) Even if one deals with Comsec ,CFD , they won;t be covered by the National Guarantee fund.
2) Even if one deals with an Australian branch of international big firm like IG, CMC or FXCM .. Australian Laws do not protect client money.. if fraud happens or teh Australian branch goes belly up THERE IS NO PROTECTION. UNLIKE FSA UK!