Saturday, August 12, 2017

How the big banks are banking off FX stupidity

We all know that the majority of people don’t know FX (Foreign Exchange) so this topic should come as no surprise.  However, it’s important for traders and investors to understand how the US banks are ripping off their clients, and the only reason they do it is because clients allow them, because they don’t understand how they’re being scammed.  What we are talking about is the retail deliverable foreign exchange market.  Deliverable currencies is FX that is ‘deliverable’ to a foreign recipient, for example if you want to pay up front for a hotel in France you’ve booked in advance for your summer vacation.  It’s not only retail but for the example here it is – someone walking into a branch and asking to make a foreign payment.  We’ll use Bank of America as the example, let’s look at their FX rates from their website, available here:
So here’s the first line of defense to this scam, which it can be fairly called (we will explain).  Only one side of the spread is displayed – this will depend when you are ‘buying’ or ‘selling’ but they will NEVER be displayed on the same time or on the same screen (then, normally intelligent people may be able to deduce they were being fleeced like a sheep).  Let’s calculate the total spread based on the above rates using simple FX math for the 2 currencies chosen for this example, Euro and Yen.
FX is quoted EUR/USD that means 1 EUR = 1.1820 USD – the spot FX spread is about 1.1820 / 1.1822 according to LCG Brokers from Fortress Capital; but the market is closed now (it’s Saturday, day of rest in FX).  Now if we want to calculate the inverse price, for EUR/USD using Bank of America’s tool, we need to use the 1/x (reciprocal) function seen on most common calculators.  So if EUR/USD is 1.12 the inverse (reciprocal) is .89.  If we use the same ‘spread’ to convert 1 USD = x Euro then we subtract 1.1820 – 1.12 = .062 or 620 pips.  .062 doesn’t sound like much of a spread, but if you look in % terms it’s 5.54% of the price.  If we add the same amount of pips (or percent, however you calculate) to the other side of the spread, it would be 1.244 – for a total spread of 1240 pips.  Common spot trading spreads can run as high as 2 or 3 pips for the real shady FX brokers from Asia or aggressive IBs.  1240 pip spread is laughable.  Now of course these customers are PAYING in foreign currency not TRADING foreign currency it would be impossible to trade over 1240 pip spreads – but this is the reality for these poor retail victims.  1240 pips is substantial if you’re sending more than $50 – so now let’s look at the shocking examples.  At these prices, if you sent 100,000 to Europe, that would be about $5,540 in spread.  Where does this $5k magically disappear to?  The markets?  No – it is booked as a profit on the bank’s balance sheet.  Recently we (Elite E Services, Inc.) sent a wire payment like this for $5,000 and the banker had the audacity to say that if Bank A (not Bank of America, we won’t reveal the name) did the FX conversion we’d save $10 on the wire payment fee!  We calculated that would have been $350 in payment to Bank A to save $10.
Now the critical thing for US readers to understand, this is a uniquely American practice which happens only inside the borders of USA.  If you are in virtually any other country, whether it be UK, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Switzerland – you’re going to get rates on such transfers which are HIGH but probably something like 50 pips maybe 100 pips in extreme cases.  If you do transfers more than 100,000 that can go down to as low as 25 pips.  So how can the banks get away with it in USA?  They are simply taxing people’s stupidity, because there are alternatives.  Companies like Fortress Capital offer deliverable payment services by using payment processors like Commonwealth Foreign Exchange to get the same foreign rates and save customers up to 90% on transfers.  But they require an application and would not open an account for a single individual customer (it’s mostly for corporates who do regular transfers).  Then of course there’s Currencies Direct who has offices in USA, and a number of other companies.
But the fact is that the banks have people by the short and curlies, there are not really many or any choices when you need to do a single transfer – and banks are making a small fortune from this.  Could this be considered a Monopoly?  Anti-trust issues?
They settled huge claims and have since reduced the spread (whereas now it’s 5.5% it used to be 7% – 8% !!) and companies like American Express (AMEX) no longer charge a ‘foreign exchange fee’ – that’s right, on top of this horrendous spread many providers used to charge a 1% or 2% ‘fee’ on top of this!  Outrageous!
The sad thing is that most in the retail market, even small retail customers with little or no investment accounts understand stock trading.  Forex is not so complex as it is sometimes presented by the banks – I’m sure they do this intentionally, they aren’t stupid.. This profit center is good for them and costs them nothing, it’s a risk-less profit that no one can complain about because ‘hey, it’s Forex.’
This is not the ONLY way the big banks are banking off people’s FX stupidity, but it’s the most petty way, and the most widespread.  Millions and millions of dollars of such transactions take place on a daily basis and the banks are happy to keep things like this.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Alpha Z Advisors Offers An Alternative To Options Investing

(GLOBALINTELHUB.COM) -- Dover, DE 8/8/2017 -- Global Intel Hub exclusive interview -- Elite E Services sat down with Mike Connor, Principal and Senior AP of Alpha Z Advisors, LLC – a trading advisor offering alternative investments based on strategies incorporating research on price anomalies, behavioral biases and institutional practices. In November of last year, Alpha Z Advisors LLC was ranked #1 Options Strategies Category by Barclay Hedge, a service that tracks funds’ strategies. So we wanted to learn more about on the Alpha Z Advisors strategy, as we have always supported options as a great way to not only hedge investments but also provide additional alpha to any portfolio. Also, futures options are generally traded on regulated exchanges – unlike FX which are mostly traded over the counter (OTC).
Who is Mike Connor?
Professional risk manager and former member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, who has more than 40 years’ experience in the futures and options industry.
What is the story behind Alpha Z Advisors?
Professor William Ziemba started Alpha Z Advisors, LLC with trading capital from friends and family. The initial investors were individuals he knew from the academic world in addition to a few referrals from the initial investors. The fund has grown in size from trading profits from the initial capital without attracting new investors.
How has the performance been?
2015 had great performance, more than 100% return, but it probably will never happen again due to a management decision to reduce initial margin to equity risk.
Why has it been so consistent?
The fund primarily trades options based on CME’s S&P 500 E-mini contract. Trading centers around the extreme prices of puts on the E-mini contract. The big money in trading options is made from being long, but returns are inconsistent (but the risk is usually very well controlled). The consistent money is made by being short options, but it comes with risk, and to stay in the game the risk has to be controlled.
How do you control the risk?
By properly hedging the positions either with other options or a futures position, and by margin to equity control. Short (selling) options positions are no different than an insurance company policies – you are selling price insurance. Like any insurance company, we’re going to have occasional disasters, like Katrina – but they should be manageable. Over a long time horizon, well managed market disasters should not prevent us from continuing to perform. We have had our share of ups and downs, and fortunately we have been able to survive all drawdowns. Good risk control and position sizing are the most important factors in any trading campaign.
What factors may impact the strategies’ performance?
Implied Volatility. Volatility is opportunity, but left unchecked it can be a horrible threat.
Considering the results, why do you think there’s not larger AUM?
Until recently we have not solicited publicly. This is our first concentrated effort at soliciting investors. In addition, we put together a minimum account size so high ($250K for the managed account, $100K for the fund). Our account size should eliminate many potential investors. We are looking for sophisticated investors that can take a part of their portfolio and take greater risk for a higher return.
How can investors ‘prove’ that the performance is ‘real’ – is there an institutional My FX Book ? There’s been a lot of CTA frauds that were real CTAs but used fake performance to lure investors – what assurances can we offer them about Alpha Z?
All the accounts – all the funds’ assets – all the performance results are compiled every month by an independent CPA firm. The statements themselves can be verified by the FCM.
Positions are manually stress-tested intra-day.
What makes Alpha Z Advisors LLC different than other CTAs?
I’m not sure if that’s the case, we have a very professional trading plan. You can go to Amazon and buy books published by our founder Dr. William Ziemba, actually he’s published more than 50 books on statistical abnormalities and opportunities in the stock market. It certainly does not mean we cannot lose, or have losing open positions – we are going to have losing positions there is no way around it. But overall, if we can control the risk and keep margin to equity at a reasonable level we should be able to survive during the bad times. We have, I think, enough excess margin to sit through a significant rise in implied volatility and still survive, if the positions and margin to equity can be properly controlled. Like any market position whether it is options or futures an unexpected giant gap opening is always a threat to open market position’s stability.
What makes the strategy different?
Trades are well positioned and I believe are market entry timing is very good. Our exposure is laid out over a broad time horizon (we don’t trade in nearby month, for example). If futures were a bullseye, you’d have to hit the target almost dead center to make a profit, with options, you can just hit the wall and still make a profit – of course, only with properly controlled risk and other parameters. I do not know how other CTA’s manage their positions and stress test their market risk, but I am confident our process is robust. What we do is not magic, it’s simply neutralizing the risk as much as possible, and there is a number of ways we accomplish that. It is all about understanding what the options can do if they move against you, and how you can respond adverse market activity.
The execution is done by a professional service. One way we keep our costs down other than accounting, is to try and soft dollar expenses through a soft dollar basis.
Customers are free to choose any brokerage house they want that clears at the CME. If customers do not have any preference, we are happy to set them up with our preferred FCM.
For more information contact:
Mike Connor
Or visit
This article/interview is for information/educational purposes only and is privileged, confidential and proprietary. This article/interview is NOT an offer to sell or a solicitation of any investment products or other financial product or services, is NOT an official confirmation of any transaction, or an official statement. Past performance is not indicative of future results. There is a substantial high and unlimited level of risk of loss in trading commodity futures, options, options writing, equities and off-exchange foreign currency products; such trading is not suitable for all investors.  Investors should only invest money they can afford to lose.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mysterious Trader With "Nearly Unlimited Bankroll" Said To Manipulate, Dominate Price Of Bitcoin

It was over three years ago, back in May 2014, when we wrote "How Bots Manipulated The Price Of Bitcoin Through "Massive Fraudulent Trading Activity" At MtGox" in which we first demonstrated one of the more striking observed "bot-driven" bitcoin manipulation schemes, in this case related to the infamous collapse of the now defunct Mt.Gox bitcoin exchnage.
As we wrote at the time, a number of traders began noticing suspicious behavior on Mt. Gox. Basically, a random number between 10 and 20 bitcoin would be bought every 5-10 minutes, non-stop, for at least a month on end until the end of January, by what appeared to be two algos, named later as "Willy" and "Markis." Each time, (1) an account was created, (2) the account spent some very exact amount of USD to market-buy coins ($2.5mm was most common), (3) a new account was created very shortly after. Repeat. In total, a staggering ~$112 million was spent to buy close to 270,000 BTC – the bulk of which was bought in November.
"So if you were wondering how Bitcoin suddenly appreciated in value by a factor of 10 within the span of one month, well, this is why. Not Chinese investors, not the Silkroad bust – these events may have contributed, but they certainly were not the main reason. But who did it? and why?"
Of course, in the end this alleged manipulation did not help Mt.Gox which eventually collapsed in what has been the biggest case of cryptocoin fraud in history.
We bring up this particular blast from the past, because in the latest case of bitcoin market abuse - with Bitcoin trading at all time highs above $3,000 - Cointelegraph reports of rumors swirling about a trader "with nearly unlimited funds who is manipulating the Bitcoin markets." This trader, nicknamed "Spoofy," received his "nom de guerre" because of his efforts to “spoof” the market, primarily on Bitfinex.
Of course, spoofing is what Navinder Sarao pled guilty of last year, when regulators inexplicably changed their story, and instead of blaming a Waddell and Reed sell order for the May 2010 flash crash, decided to scapegoat the young trader who allegedly crashed the market due to his relentless spoofing of E-mini futures (and also making $40 million in the process of spoofing stock futures for over five years).
It now appears that a spoofer has once again emerged, only this time in Bitcoin.
For those unfamiliar, spoofing is simple: it is the illegal practice of placing a large buy order just below other buy orders, or a large sell order just above other sell orders, then cancelling if it appears that the order is about to be hit or lifted. The idea is to make traders think that somebody with deep pockets is getting ready to buy or sell, in hopes of moving the market. If traders see a sell order of 2000 Bitcoin they may rush to panic sell before the whale crashes the price. And vice versa on the bid-side.
As an example of Spoofy's trading pattern, here is a breakdown of a typical "trade" by the mysterious entity as noted by BitCrypto'ed who first spotted the irregular activity: Spoofy is a regular trader (or a group of traders) who engages in the following practices:
  • Places large bids ($2 million and up) for Bitcoin, usually just under a smaller bid order, only to remove them once someone starts to sell. These orders usually have a lifetime of minutes, or sometimes as short as 5–10 seconds to manipulate the price up (more common)
  • Places large asks ($2 million and up), for Bitcoin when he wants the price to go down, or stop going up (less common)
  • Occasionally ‘Spoofy’ will allow orders deep in the orderbooks to remain for a few hours, usually $50–$100 below the current price. For example, during the recovery above $2,000, he had roughly 4,000 BTC of false orders in the $1,900 range that were unlikely to execute, and ultimately were never executed.
As noted above, spoofing is actually illegal - as ultimately the trader has no intention of ever executing the publicized trade - but as Bitcoin markets are largely unregulated, it’s a very common practice.
What is unusual in this case is the nearly unlimited bankroll that Spoofy has at his disposal: He regularly places orders approaching $60 million.
Even more unusual is that, as cointelegraph reports, most of Spoofy’s activity occurs on a single exchange: Bitfinex. This exchange came under fire earlier this spring when Wells Fargo cut off their banking ties. As a result, it’s virtually impossible to deposit fiat on Bitfinex without going through intermediaries.
Yet unlike most Bitfinex traders, Spoofy appears to have special privileges, and has massive sums of both fiat and Bitcoin at his disposal on that exchange, likely one of the only traders who does.
* * *
In addition to spoofing, "Spoofy" also engages in wash trading, or effectively trading with himself. As BitCrypto’ed points out in a recent blog post:
“Spoofy makes the price go up when he wants it to go up, and Spoofy makes the price go down when he wants it to go down, and he’s got the coin… both USD, and Bitcoin, of course, to pull it off, and with impunity on Bitfinex.”
The BitCrypto’ed blog also describes Spoofy’s wash trades, when he trades with himself by either selling into his own buy orders or vice versa. Wash trading at high volumes can induce a frenzy of buying or selling, as other traders respond to the high trading volume. Spoofy can execute wash trades at very low cost, about $1,000 per million dollars of volume.
A single entity (entity could be a trader, or a group of traders), single handedly wash traded 24,000 Bitcoins in shorts. In order to do this, you would need to have at least 24,000 BTC on Bitfinex and the USD to buy them with.
When Bitfinex announced its plan to distribute Bitcoin Cash, it initially planned to distribute Bitcoin Cash to holders of short positions. Immediately following that announcement, a single trader short sold tens of thousands of Bitcoin all at once. It’s likely this trader was Spoofy himself, hoping to acquire as much Bitcoin Cash as possible.
The large number of shorts on Bitfinex also led many to believe that an epic short squeeze was coming, and many Bitcoin traders purchase coins in expectation of this. Suddenly, he “claimed” all of his own shorts, closing them using his own Bitcoin. The number of shorts dropped drastically, yet without affecting the price at all.
Bifinex itself admitted the manipulation on August 2, one day after the fork:
“After the methodology announcement on July 27th, several accounts began large-scale manipulation tactics in an attempt to obtain BCH tokens at the expense of exchange longs and lenders on the platform, causing the distribution coefficient to artificially plummet.

We have determined that this kind of manipulation?—?including wash trading and self-funding shorts?—?is in violation of Bitfinex’s terms of service. Those who intended to take unfair advantage of the circumstances surrounding the BCH distribution at the expense of other users have been sanctioned accordingly.”
Interestingly, BitCrypto'ed claims that Spoofy isn’t limited to just Bitcoin, and that shortly after this ‘trader’ was ‘sanctioned’ by Bitfinex, another interesting thing happened: ETCBTC shorts immediately disappeared on August 1.

Here we can see how the ETCBTC shorts simply vanished, from 60,000 ETC short, to a low of 93 ETC. But let’s not just look at ETCBTC, what about ETCUSD?


A giant middle finger. Notice the dramatic increase and decrease in longs with no effect on price.

I'm not sure what to make of these, but it calls into question the legitimacy of this data. The point I’m trying to make by showing the ETCBTC/ETCUSD margin pairs also engaging in very funny business at the same exact time, how are we supposed to know that the BTCUSD longs on Bitfinex are not also subject to this manipulation?

ETCBTC Shorts = Clear evidence of manipulation
ETCUSD Longs =Clear evidence of manipulation
BTCUSD Shorts = Clear evidence of manipulation (and admitted by Bitfinex)
BTCUSD Longs = BTCUSD Longs in terms of USD, has never been higher in Bitfinex’s history. See the green line.

It's not just Bitfinex: Spoofy’s activity also drives crypto prices on other exchanges, as arbitrage takes place. Because BItcoin is so thinly traded, a single large “whale” can potentially move the entire market.
Just like in US stock markets where HFTs find instant price arbitrage opportunities, with the help of extensive spoofing, the same takes place in bitcoin exchange.
People underestimate how much exchanges follow each other. Manipulation on one exchange will affect prices on other exchanges. You have traders that watch all of the exchanges and if one exchange starts to pull ahead, they too buy on cheaper exchanges.

You don’t just have people, but you also have bots that will do the same thing, so price reactions can be immediate.
Just like equities. And while Spoofy is certainly exercising outsized control over the Bitcoin price, it is uncertain how much of an affect this is having across all the markets. The price is currently rising, having finally surmounted the $3,000 barrier. The only problem? Nobody knows how much of this increase is organic and sustainable, and how much is due to the market manipulation of Spoofy and others.
Finally, nobody knows who he is:  The identity of Spoofy remains a mystery. He may be i) a single trader, ii) a large OTC trading firm or group of colluding traders, iii) or even the Bitfinex management themselves. He sometimes seeks to drop Bitcoin price, and sometimes acts to increase it. One thing is certain: one single trader seems to have a "central bank"-like impact on the entire crypto market.