Free blow up insurance?

Posted On 19 Jan 2015
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raised hands

Last week’s drama with the collapse in the EURCHF peg hammers home an uncomfortable truth: you can lose more in your account than you deposit.

Trading on leverage is inherently dangerous. Although an instant 20% move in a major currency is a once in a lifetime event, it goes to show just how quickly the markets can charge over alleged safety features.

Did placing a stop loss at 1.19 for an open EURCHF trade do any good last week? Not a bit! As soon as the market breached 1.20, it instantly gapped down 10%.

When markets go bidless, it means that there is no liqudity in the market. That’s jargon that means everyone is too scared to do any buying or selling. There literally is no price at the moment where anyone is willing to trade.

It was at 1.20. The next thing you see is 1.08 and the price falling fast.

I was fortunate enough to be awake at 3 a.m. when the proverbial cow-pie hit the fan. Although I’m an alogrithmic trader, I confess that my immediate instinct was to hop on the bandwagon and buy!, Buy!, BUY! all the Swiss francs that I could handle (when you go short EURCHF, you’re selling euros and buying francs).

Every inch of my body wants to go short with the $EURCHF collapse, but I run an algo system and I’m sticking to it.

— (@_OneStepRemoved) January 15, 2015

The way I coped with the urge was to IM a friend and pass a running commentary on the insanity. Posting on Facebook and Twitter also kept me busy. Basically, it was a strategy to keep myself wholly occupied and distracted so that I wouldn’t be tempted to jump in.

I’ve seen mega moves before and, more importantly, I know from experience how badly people can get hurt. My favorite war story from working as a broker was a wealthy client in Kuwait that opened an account with $250,000 the night before NFP. He went long on 100:1 leverage and of course the report was the complete opposite of expectations. The market gapped instantly and before his trade could close, his account balance was -$20,000.

You don’t read stories like this on the forums because… who on earth wants to go advertise their financial destruction on the internet? It’s embarrassing and, if we’re honest with ourselves, that person is probably doing everything humanly possible to not think about their situation.

Nobody raised their hand to tell me about catastrophic losses in the CHF

Free insurance

The primary reason to trade with maximum leverage is because it’s like free insurance against devastating losses. You never know when a peg will go bust or the next 9/11 is going to happen.

Let’s game this out. You were long USDCHF on Thursday and there was no stop loss in the world that could protect you against an instant 10% gap. Consider two scenarios:

  • You had a $30,000 account balance and were trading an institutional level of leverage like 5:1. That means your position value was 30k * 5 = $150,000. The instant gap created a loss of 10% * $150,000 = $15,000.
  • You had a $3,000 account and were trading the “crazy” leverage of 50:1. The position value was also $150,000 and yields a $15,000 loss.

Now let’s talk about what happens in the real world. In the first sceario, the money is on deposit with the broker and you 100% have lost $15,000. It’s a guaranteed fact and you can safely kiss the money goodbye.

In the second scenario, you may legally owe the broker $12,000 (3k-15k=-12k). However, what is the broker’s likelihood of recovering the money? If you’re in the UK and you trade at Pepperstone in Australia, they’d have to sue you in an Australian court. The attorney’s fees alone would be several thousand dollars. And most convincingly, you probably don’t have any assets that the court could award to the broker.

Even if you are in Australia, think about all the bad PR hitting the forums when the big dog starts suing little retail traders. There’s almost no business-case for pursuing the negative balances of retail forex traders.

You’re going to see a lot of hooplah this week about brokers “forgiving negative balances.” It’s great PR and it’s the best way for them to play it. They know darn well that there’s almost no chance of recovering that money. It’s the best way to turn lemons into lemonade because the brokers lost an epic amount of money.

How to protect yourself

Chris Zimmer, the programmer here at OneStepRemoved, sent me this as soon as the day ended.

I was already on board with it but this recent event makes your method of pulling money out of FX accounts look very obvious.

I just checked and the USDCHF dropped over 1600 pips on that bar. That really hits close to home as we could have easily been Long that pair and something tells me any stop would not have been filled.

Trade on leverage and, for goodness sake, withdraw the money at regular intervals. Nobody can take it away if you don’t keep it in their hands.

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