Thursday, July 28, 2016

State Street forex settlement is notch in belt for Madoff whistleblower

The U.S. government finally heard Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos loud and clear.
Markopolos, and his whistle-blower group Associates Against FX Insider Trading, were key players in a $530 million settlement announced Wednesday against State Street Bank and Trust Company for allegedly cheating several government bodies on the pricing of their foreign exchange transactions. Markopolos declined to comment.
In a joint announcement on Wednesday the DOJ, SEC, and DOL said that State StreetSTT, +2.67%   will pay $382.4 million, including $155 million to the Department of Justice, $167.4 million to the SEC and at least $60 million to pension plan clients to settle allegations that it deceived some securities custody clients on when it priced foreign currency exchange transactions. The alleged misconduct took place from 1998 to 2009.
The bank also agreed to pay $147.6 million to settle private class action lawsuits filed by bank customers alleging similar misconduct, the Justice Department said.
Markopolos’ group filed its largest forex case originally in California, on behalf of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. That suit was settled last November. Additional cases filed via False Claims Act whistleblower statutes in Virginia, Florida, New York State and Washington state have also already settled. Markopolos and his group have already been paid for their whistleblower efforts based on those settlements.
The payouts conclude almost all of the investigations State Street has faced since 2009, when Markopolos filed the California lawsuit. Associates Against FX Insider Trading and Markopolos are not named in the latest State Street settlement announcements, but Markopolos has previously acknowledged his involvement in the case.
State Street safeguards clients’ securities as part of its custody business and offers indirect foreign currency exchange trading when clients buy and sell foreign currencies as needed to settle transactions, such as interest and principal payments from foreign bond issuers.
State Street admitted in its settlement with the DOJ that it generally did not price FX transactions at prevailing interbank market rates, contrary to what it told certain custody clients. State Street admitted that FX transactions were marked-up or marked-down from the prevailing interbank rate.
State Street allegedly misrepresented to custody clients that it provided “best execution” on FX transactions, that it guaranteed the most competitive rates available on FX transactions and that it priced FX transactions based on a variety of factors. Instead prices were largely driven by hidden mark-ups that maximized State Street’s profits.
Markopolos has also filed a whistleblower claim in the SEC case. It may be at least two more years before that payout occurs based on similar cases.
A State Street Bank spokeswoman said that the negotiated settlement agreements are expected to resolve, subject to the courts’ final approval, the pending litigation and regulatory matters in the United States related to its indirect foreign exchange business.
“Each agreement depends upon certification, for settlement purposes, of a class of State Street’s custody customers that executed indirect foreign exchange transactions with State Street between 1998 and 2009, and final approval by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts of the settlement agreement between State Street and the class,” she said. “Matters of this nature can drain both time and resources; so where possible and appropriate we feel it is in our and our clients’ best interests to pursue settlements. Our previously established reserve will be sufficient to cover all costs associated with these agreements.”
Since the lawsuits were filed the foreign exchange markets have gone from an opaque, manual quote market to a fully electronic market where real-time quotes and historical information is available to institutional and retail customers. Every major bank that acts as a forex dealer has its own quoting and execution platform and multi-dealer platforms have sprung up that offer competitive quoting on worldwide currencies.
Checking on rates in advance or verifying after the fact was very difficult to do in the past. Calling around for competitive rates opened a customer up to potential front-running of the trade by other dealers.
He and other whistle-blowers filed a similar case against Bank of New York Mellon Corp. BK, -0.25%   in Massachusetts. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the New York City pension funds by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in 2011 against Bank of New York Mellon Corp for allegedly shortchanging the funds in foreign currency exchange transactions is still pending.
The New York City BONY Mellon suit is the last open forex case for the Markopolos group.
The SEC has already fined Bank of New York Mellon $30 million in June for misleading certain of its custodial clients about pricing when executing standing instructions for foreign currency transactions.
Markopolos spent years on Bernie Madoff’s trail and tried to warn regulators about the fraud, but he was largely ignored. It’s a frustrating experience he documented in his book, No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What If Brexit Doesn't Happen?


  • There's an unlikely, but possible scenario in Britain, where politicians would not enact article 50.
  • If Britain doesn't Brexit - what would happen? A GBP reversal?
  • Confusion exists about where politicians stand on this issue.
Something not talked about in the mainstream financial news - the nuances of Brexit. The markets seem to think that Brexit is a 'done deal' - the people voted, and that's it. But what if Brexit didn't happen?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

EES: The Forex Monopoly

Forex is a Monopoly, controlled by a small 'cartel' of big banks.  That's changing, and changing fast - as a number of non-bank FX participants are replacing the traditional 'big 12.'  As we explain in Splitting Pennies - the fact remains, if a small group of companies controlled and manipulated the price of any other market, they'd be shut down faster than you can say "Anti-Trust."  
A short list of things that are unique about FX:
  • No "Insider Trading" rules.  Yes, that's right!  No insider trading rules.  Don't believe it, confirm it.
  • Trades 24/5 - no 'market times'
  • People need FX - businesses need currency to operate (People don't need stocks)
  • FX is an openly manipulated market (but, each central bank can only manipulate its own currency)
The most important thing stock traders need to understand about Forex
There's a phenomenon in FX we can call ultra high latency information arbitrage.
During Brexit, it took the GBP/USD hours to go down, in total more than 20 hours from peak to valley.  If you missed the first move down, it was easy to catch the 2nd, or the 3rd, or the 4th.  Brexit is the most bright, obvious example but not the only one - it happens nearly every week. 
Coup in Turkey?  Risk on.  Failed coup?  Risk off.
In the stock market, when there's news, not a moment goes by that the market absorbs it.  In fact, the information knee-jerk in stocks is so quick and usually so severe, traders have strategies designed to buy into the panic information leak selling.
It's not possible to trade on information in stocks because it happens so quickly, even if you use algorithms and subscribe to Reuters 'ultra low latency' data service, there's almost no opportunity there.  But in FX, it can take the markets tens of hours to absorb PUBLIC information.  No one had 'insider' knowledge about Brexit.  GBP/USD went down slowly, very slowly, over a period of many hours.  Spreads widened, but not to levels that would impact trading. 
But with FX, there's good news.  You don't need to own the FX Monopoly, to generate some Monopoly money.  But in FX, you can take your profits and spend it in your local shop (Children, don't try to spend Monopoly money, it's illegal).  FX - it's like the Monopoly for adults!
If you want to get started looking at investing, checkout Fortress Capital Forex

Monday, July 25, 2016

EES: What investors need to know about USAs FOREX rules

US lawmakers dropped a nuclear bomb on the Forex industry called "Dodd-Frank" which implemented a series of rules and regulations that killed all life in the budding Forex industry, in USA.  We explain this is detail in Splitting Pennies - Understanding Forex; the rules are widely misunderstood, and widely catastrophic for trading Forex.  You can read more about this massive legislation here, in summary. 
A summary of the rules, that impact Forex traders:
  • 50:1 leverage, no cross netting (meaning, if you are long EUR/USD and long USD/CHF, it eats into margin calculation twice, even though you're nearly flat in the USD)
  • No hedging (cannot BUY and SELL same pair in the same account)
  • FIFO (First in, First out - this means you must EXIT each position in the same order in which you ENTERED, per pair).
A summary of the rules, as they impacted Forex brokers who offer access to the Forex markets:
  • Increased and more strict netcap rules, meaning that in reality, you need $50 Million or more in free cash sitting in an account, with no liabilities (wait a minute - sounds like a public company should be in violation?? ahem)
  • Increased fees to NFA, both in fixed fees and per trade transaction fees for use of FORTRESS system (which were happily passed on to the client)
  • More regulatory costs and complexities, meaning that a large investment was needed in dealing with new rules, not only in money but increased operational complexity
A summary of the impact this had on traders:
  • Mostly, traders stopped trading Forex, as these rules made it even harder to make money in an already difficult market
  • Traders went overseas.  Those who could afford, established residency or corporations in foreign countries, in order to continue trading Forex at reasonable venues (which, in parallel, were developing new cutting edge market making technologies) in the UK, Australia, and others.
A summary of the impact this had on brokers:
  • Forex brokers mostly closed their US operations.  Some closed completely, selling their operations to the remaining players.  Others, decided to go overseas (and remain living in USA).
  • The remaining brokers, colluded in solidifying their monopoly on the US Forex market
But, the new Forex rules did not accomplish what they supposedly set out to do:
  • The hedging rule doesn't prevent CTA accounting fraud, and it doesn't save the customer money, if anything it increases costs to the customer, as those who really want to hedge are forced to go overseas or open 2 accounts and building a system to accomplish the same thing
  • PFG, MF Global were regulated firms.  PFG, had an aggressive compliance department that insisted on following rules above and beyond requirements.  Their compliance would check partner websites for potentially offensive content.  They supplied (see image below) 60 page Disclosure Documents as templates to CTAs, with over the top boilerplate and legalese:
A lot of help that was.
If you want to get started looking at investing, checkout Fortress Capital Forex

Thursday, July 21, 2016

EES: Everyone is a Forex investor

Whether you know it or not, everyone is a Forex investor.  As we explain in Splitting Pennies - Understanding Forex - just by going grocery shopping, you're trading Forex.  If you use US Dollars, you are trading Forex.  If you have a savings account based in US Dollars, you are investing in Forex.
Brexit was a great example of FX being in focus, but there are many.  Every week there's an FX event, whether it be a coup or failed coup in Turkey, an NFP surprise, or cheif traders being arrested at JFK airport.
ANY global event is an FX event, ANY market event is an FX event, but NOT ALL market events are FX events.  FX is the superset of markets.  Remember, stocks are settled in US Dollars.  That's changing, with all the Bitcoin and blockchain proposals, but we're still years if not decades away from signficiant paradigm shift in that regard.
Investors are starting to take note of FX.  Forex is becoming part of a mainstream discussion on Wall St., although behind the scenes.  This is happening in parallel with a restructuring of the market dyamics on a technical level.
Solid reasons that any portfolio should include FX strategies:
  • Mainstream investments show a diminishing return
  • The stock market can't go up forever
  • FX provides opportunities not seen in other markets
  • Although there are risks, the risks have a different nature, and there are also more opportunities 
Although everyone is a Forex investor, the majority are always losing.  They are losing slowly through the rapid deterioration of the currency.  Many investors make up for this with high yield investments - but they are rare in a ZIRP and coming NIRP.
Forex provides a means to diversify this risk, for investment professionals, investors, quants, corporations, pension funds, and basically anyone - even for the retail investor who only has $1.  Yes, you can open an account with Oanda for only $1.  This is where we derived the name for our recent book "Splitting Pennies" - Currencies in normal markets don't change too much.  Brexit was an exception.  So in order to profit from Currency trading, leverage is used, thus multiplying risks and profits too.  Forex trades are divided up so small, the smallest unit is called a "PIP" which is 1/10,000 th of a currency.  
If you're not already starting the move into Forex - don't worry, it will happen with or without you.   If you want to give yourself a heads up, checkout Splitting Pennies - the pocket guide designed to instantly make you a Forex genius!
If you want to get started looking at investing, checkout Fortress Capital Forex

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

HSBC Global Head Of FX Cash Trading Arrested At JFK Airport

A historic event took place moments ago when Mark Johnson, the global head of cash FX at HSBC was arrested at JFK airport for his role in a "conspiracy to rig currency benchmarks", and specifically for frontrunning customer orders. He is the first person charged by the US in the ongoing FX rigging probe.
As Bloomberg reports, a "senior manager at HSBC Holdings Plc was arrested in New York for his role in a conspiracy to rig currency benchmarks, according to two people familiar with the matter, becoming the first person to be charged in the Justice Department’s three-year investigation into foreign-exchange rigging at global banks."
From Johnson's bio:
Johnson is global head of foreign exchange cash trading at HSBC, based in London. Prior to joining HSBC in 2010, he was founding managing partner and chief investment officer at Johnson Stewart Partners. Before that, he was global head of trading at Deutsche Bank.
More details:
Mark Johnson, HSBC’s global head of foreign exchange cash trading in London, was taken into custody at John F. Kennedy International Airport Tuesday and is scheduled to appear before a judge in federal court in Brooklyn Wednesday morning, said the people, who asked not to be named because the case hasn’t been made public. He’s charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the people said.

According to Bloomberg, Johnson’s arrest comes more than a year after five global banks pleaded guilty to charges related to the rigging of currency benchmarks. HSBC, which wasn’t part of those criminal cases, in November 2014 agreed to pay $618 million in penalties to U.S. and British regulators to resolve currency manipulation allegations. HSBC, which still faces investigations by the Justice Department and other authorities for the conduct, has set aside $1.3 billion for possible settlements, according to an August filing.

Rob Sherman, an HSBC spokesman, and Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.
Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve banned former UBS Group AG trader Matthew Gardiner from the banking industry for life for his role rigging currency benchmarks.  Gardiner used electronic chat rooms, with names including The Cartel and The Mafia, to facilitate the rigging of foreign-exchange benchmarks and to disclose confidential customer information to traders at other banks, the Fed said in astatement Tuesday. That matter is separate from the one involving Johnson, the people said.
Recall that DOJ unwillingness to prosecute HSBC was the ultimate catalyst that prompted former AG Eric Holder to admit thatsome banks are "too big to prosecute." Perhaps with this arrest things are slowly starting to change.
Now, if frontrunning clients is officially an arrest-worthy offense, we can't wait for the DOJ to unleash a crackdown on criminal HFT algos whose only purpose in "life" is to do just that.

Monday, July 18, 2016

8 Types of Investors That Entrepreneurs Need to Avoid

Don’t assume that all investors are the same, just because their money is always the same color. Every entrepreneur should do the same due diligence on a potential investor that smart investors do on their startups. Check on their track records, values and management style. Taking on an investor is a long-term relationship, like getting married, that has to work at every level.
Let’s just say that every investor is different, without trying to define what is good or bad for you and your startup. Investors are human and subject to human tendencies, whether they are your rich uncle, an angel investor with personal funds or a venture capital investor with institutional money. Here is a summary of some key investor stereotypes that generally need to be avoided:

1. Investment sharks

I’m not talking about the Shark Tank TV show, but some might say the panel fits the definition. While the majority of investors are looking for a win-win deal, there are investors who like to prey on entrepreneurs who have little financial experience, don’t read the term sheet or are simply desperate for a deal. Seek out advisors to help you avoid these investors.

2. Investors who love to litigate

We all know that startups don’t have money to fight in court, so it’s easy for a few unscrupulous investors to jump to the conclusion that intimidation and lawsuit threats can improve their returns and control after the money changes hands. Here is where checking the track record pays off. Don’t assume you will be the exception.

3. Imperial investors

These are investors with such massive egos that they expect to dictate both the terms of the investment as well as all future strategic decisions of your startup. Unless you are preparing to work for Donald Trump someday, I recommend that you skip this investor in favor of a more equal partner.

4. Legal eagle investors

Negotiating terms is normal before the investment, but once the check is cashed, you don’t want to be second-guessed on every action. Be wary if the term sheet is a document longer than your business plan. Violation of abstract clauses may be used as a way to push you out, take over the company or pull the investment.

5. Academic coach investors

Coaching should be expected and appreciated, but you don’t have time for constant tutorials on how to run a business. A good advisor and mentor will tackle questions and then offer key insights. If an investor spends more than a day at your office before the check is written, it may be time to check your patience meter.

6. Pretend investors

These are “wannabe” investors who don’t have the means, or former entrepreneurs who don’t want to leave the arena. They always have one more issues to investigate or another set of questions, but never bring the checkbook. After a rational allocation of your team’s time, ask for a definitive close and be willing to walk away.

7. Investors without a clue

Many wealthy people make poor startup investors. They have long forgotten (or never knew) the challenges faced by a startup business. Many great real-estate people and doctors fall into this category. A synergistic long-term relationship in your business is not likely. Ask them for an introduction to wealthy business friends.

8. Investors for a fee

These are people who rarely invest their own funds, but promise to find the perfect match and live off a percentage of the action and preparation fees. They may be licensed investment brokers or consultants cold-calling real investors. The challenge is performing due diligence on the real investor.
Proactively seek out and build relationships with investors who interest you, rather than passively wait for potential investors to approach you. Finding investors is best done by talking to peers and attending networking events. Cold calling or emailing strangers will likely get you a sampling of all the eight stereotypes defined here.
Finally, you need to learn what investment terms make sense for your startup and craft your own term sheet, rather than rely on one being presented to you. Start with some legal advice from a source you trust. Do your homework and networking, but don’t chase investors like a one-night stand and expect it to lead to a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.

Friday, July 15, 2016

How To Legally Steal $35,000 From Vladimir Putin

Jim Rogers told me to come here.
We were having dinner a few weeks ago in Singapore, and Jim had just returned that morning from Russia full of optimism for the improving economy.
I had been meaning to come back here anyhow to scout out private equity deals.
But after hearing Jim’s take on Russia having just met with a lot of the country’s business elite, it really lit a fire.
As I’ve written so many times in this letter, I’m really a pathetic tourist. I’ve been to Paris countless times and have never bothered to visit the Eiffel Tower.
When I travel, it’s to either build and maintain relationships, or to put boots on the ground and seek out risks and opportunities first hand.
On my return to Russia, the country has not disappointed.
You’ve probably heard about how the Russian economy has been depressed over the last few years.
Much of this was due to international sanctions imposed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 against the wishes of Ukraine, Europe, and pretty much the whole world.
Russia’s credit rating was downgraded, and foreign businesses and investors started pulling their money out en masse.
The capital flight was extreme. Between 2014 and 2015, $210 billion fled Russia, more than 10% of the country’s GDP. That’s an enormous figure.
Then the price of oil collapsed– from $115 in June 2014 to less than $30 just over a year later. Natural gas and other major commodities also fell.
Bear in mind that oil and gas exports are a major component of the Russian economy, so the effects were devastating to both GDP and financial markets.
Russia’s economy didn’t just contract. It shriveled. And the stock market crashed.
On top of everything else, the Russian ruble went into freefall, losing 35% of its value in a matter of months.
This made imports a LOT more expensive, dramatically pushing up the rate of inflation.
Russia has essentially been suffering the worst combination imaginable– consumer price inflation, economic contraction, capital flight, credit downgrades, international sanctions, stock market crash, currency crisis– all simultaneously.
Frankly it’s pretty miraculous this place didn’t descend into Venezuela-style chaos.
But it didn’t. In fact the situation has stabilized and a lot of data shows the economy is turning around. The worst seems to be over.
And yet opportunities still abound.
For example, the Russian stock market is still incredibly cheap.
The average Russian company is selling for just 7.5 times earnings and 20% less than its book value. Plus it pays more than a 4% dividend.
This is like buying a dollar for 80 cents and receiving 3.3 cents on top of that each year.
(US stocks sell for 25 times earnings and 200% MORE than book value, meaning they are historically overvalued and very expensive compared to Russia.)
In addition to stocks, the Russian currency is still far below its historic average.
Aside from making the country dirt cheap for anyone with foreign currency, I discovered something very interesting today:
Some of Russia’s coins are now worth less than their metal values.
I’ll explain– all coins are made of some metal, usually some combination of nickel, copper, etc. And that metal has a certain cost.
A dime coin in the US, for example, has about 1.2 cents worth of metal, mainly copper (91%) and nickel.
So if you melted down a US dime, which has a 10 cent face value, and sold off the metal for 1.2 cents, you’d lose 8.8 cents in the process.
The Russian ruble has become so cheap, however, that some of its coins are basically worthless.
The 1 kopek coin, for example, is the smallest denomination Russian coin that’s worth 1/100th of a ruble.
At current exchange rates that’s $0.00015, or about 0.015 cents! It’s nothing.
And yet each kopek coin is comprised of 1.5 grams worth of copper, nickel, and steel; and the melt value of these metals is worth a hell of a lot more than 0.015 cents.
In fact Russian coin dealers have estimated that the metal value of this coin is worth more than THIRTY FIVE TIMES its face value.
That’s quite a return on investment.
So theoretically $1,000 worth of these coins could be worth more than $35,000 in profit because of the metal value.
Now, I’m not suggesting you book a flight to Russia to scoop up and melt down all the coins you can find.
But it’s worth pointing out that these sorts of anomalies don’t come around too often. And when they do, it’s important to pay attention.
Jim Rogers is one of many legendary investors who has been buying in Russia. Templeton’s Mark Mobius has called Russia the “bargain of the century.”
He may be right. Russia is incredibly cheap.
That’s not to say it can’t get cheaper. Or that it can’t stay cheap for a while.
There has to be a catalyst in order for all the pent-up value to be realized.
But that seems to be happening now. Slowly. Russia is mending fences with Europe. Oil prices have climbed 40% from their lows. Capital is returning. It’s getting better.
18th century British banking mogul Baron Rothschild is often quoted as saying “Buy when there’s blood in the streets [even when that blood is your own].”
That may be too hardcore for most investors.
I prefer to buy when assets are still ultra-cheap, but there are obvious signs that things have turned around.
That time seems to be now.