Despite what the pundits and talking heads are passionately and energetically discussing on business news networks the world over, global markets are not in turmoil. While the calculus of a market repricing may seem messy (and it sometimes is), the reality is that markets are doing what they do best: putting a present day price on a picture of the future. In many ways, the outcome of the ‘unpredictable’ is somewhat predictable: buyers and sellers have different opinions on what something should be worth and volatility ensues until these two groups come to some consensus. For DIY investors and clients of discount brokerages, events like the Brexit also lead to some likely (if not predictable) scenarios when a trading system or two just can’t withstand the rush of orders.
In this week’s roundup, we take a look at the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote on two Canadian discount brokerages and the lessons DIY investors can learn from them. On the topic of ‘what happens next’ we preview the deals and promotions landscape heading into July to see which offers may be going on a permanent vacation. From there we’ll take a look at the chatter on Twitter and from the investor forums to see what investors had to say during this very volatile week.
Vote of Confidence
A convenient way of contextualizing the Brexit referendum reaction is by understanding that markets act as a great big voting machine on what the world of tomorrow should be worth today.
What is clear in the aftermath of the Brexit vote was that investors had priced in one view of the world heading into the vote and, upon confirmation, they had to reprice the future to accept a new version of events.
For online brokerages, the ensuing volatility is great for bottom line. With all of the uncertainty, investors of all activity levels either foolishly or fearlessly venture into the price melee to bargain hunt or to unload risky assets. Either way, a commission is generated and the brokerage gets paid. That is, of course, if the order is executed.
Despite the “uncertainty” of what’s going to happen next in the markets, there are a few “certainties” about how DIY investors can navigate big market dislocations such as the Brexit.
First, there’s usually a huge spike in volumes and trading activity as speculators scramble to adjust positions and react to opportunities. DIY investors should be prepared for just about anything, including having to wait to access markets or market quotes when platforms go offline or to have an alternate means of executing an order (i.e. know your discount brokerage’s phone number) to either get into or out of a trade. While it is not a guarantee, the trading desks of larger firms have more resources during times of increased trading activity to handle orders over the phone.
Interestingly, even though these kinds of high volatility events can occur with some warning, many online brokerages continue to suffer slowdowns or outages because of the trading volume. Not getting client orders to market or enabling clients to be able to trade is a costly misstep so the more a brokerage is equipped to handle these heavy order day scenarios, the more likely a DIY investor can participate.
For example, the morning after the Brexit vote, clients from several Canadian online brokerages including Virtual Brokers and TD Direct Investing, suffered slowdowns and interruptions to online trading.
A good question to ask is which brokerage can withstand these kinds of spikes and a good place to look is online and whether there are complaints about outages or not.
One online brokerage that has been somewhat more vocal about the kinds of capacity their platform can handle has been Interactive Brokers. Earlier this year on a quarterly conference call, founder and CEO Thomas Peterffy, referenced ability of Interactive Brokers to handle trading volume surges and earlier today, an article from Marketwatch highlighted just how prepared Interactive Brokers’ systems were in the case of an unexpected Brexit outcome.
Another point to keep in mind is simply that as a DIY investor, there is a significant risk to the technology infrastructure supporting trading networks. There are so many complex moving parts involved in online trading that expecting a trade to execute or expecting to have access to markets is not the same thing as a guarantee of availability, something that many brokerages place in the fine print on a discount brokerage account agreement. When or if technology fails, discount brokerages appear to be off the hook (although clients will try to hold them accountable).
So, for DIY investors and active traders volatile markets are a double-edged sword: To really be able to capitalize on volatility, individual investors, especially active traders, need too wade into markets when they’re dislocated. On the other hand, it is at those time that reliability of access, availability of shares to short, execution times or the resiliency of a network become real risks to consider.
Unfortunately, none of those risks make it into the marketing or advertising pitches put forward when brokerages want users to open an account. Taking a cue from the Brexit itself, the lesson for traders or aspiring traders is simple: wanting (or needing) to get out is very different than the mechanics of doing so.
In last week’s roundup we highlighted a comment from an investor forum discussion in which clients of RBC could use their reward point program (RBC Rewards) to pay for commissions on a trade at RBC Direct Investing. This past week, CIBC Investor’s Edge crossed our radar as they posted a message to website visitors that CIBC’s reward points (Aventura or Gold Bonus) can also be used towards funding an Investor’s Edge account.
According to the details, points holders can redeem a minimum of 12,000 points for $100 which is similar to the RBC Direct Investing point redemption minimum.
In addition to CIBC Investor’s Edge and RBC Direct Investing, National Bank Direct Brokerage also lets clients who have certain MasterCards redeem points at the rate of $100 for 11,000 points. The eligible accounts at NBDB are RRSPs or TFSAs.
The good news for points holders at CIBC Investor’s Edge, however, is that the commission rates are lower than at other bank-owned brokerages so one way or another the points can help clients go further for less.
After the kind of shocking headlines from European markets, there might be more than few investors who are ready to ‘call it a summer’. For those that want to stick around and participate in the action (or even those in the ‘wait and see’ camp, there’s more volatility to be had in the discount brokerage deals space. Currently there are five offers that are set to expire at the end of June. While brokerages may change their minds and extend some or all of the deals, at this point it appears that July should turn into an interesting month.
On the chopping block are the following offers:
- National Bank Direct Brokerage’s commission-free Canadian ETF offer
- Desjardins Online Brokerage $500 commission credit offer
- Scotia iTrade’s refer-a-friend offer
- BMO InvestorLine’s refer-a-friend offer
- Virtual Broker’s Apple gift card contest offer
Even though there is likely to be a few of these that will be renewed, it will be interesting to see what unfolds in the next week and what other promotions these brokerages might come up with to replace the outgoing offers. Stay tuned.
As Summer Solstice passes it’s time for new beginnings, and it’s an interesting week ahead for discount brokerage-sponsored investor education events. Here are some upcoming sessions that may be of interest to options enthusiasts and those interested in risk management.
Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week
The big news in this weeks tweets is definitely what happened the day after the Brexit vote. Mentioned this week were Questrade (with some big news), Scotia iTRADE, TD Direct Investing and Virtual Brokers.
From the Forums
In what is sure to be an evolving story, investor forum users shared the news that Questrade is looking for a few good shares, that is, if users are willing to lend them out. One of the more creative and interesting maneuvers from Questrade appears to involve letting individuals who own securities lend them out to those looking to short the security. It’s actually quite brilliant since those doing the lending have the ability to earn revenue from the fees paid by those who borrow the shares. This post from reddit has a great primer on the new feature as well as lots of perspectives for those considering the new program. Well played Questrade, well played.
Pointers on a Gambit
A perennial favourite, Norbert’s Gambit, surfaced yet again and may be something savvy traders look to take advantage of with the recent currency shift. In this post from reddit’s Personal Finance Canada section, performing a gambit at RBC Direct Investing was explained along with some handy resources.
Into the Close
What a note to close the week out on. The Brexit basically took over the headlines and outshone a massive IPO performance by Twilio and the Democrats staging a sit-in. Of course, the biggest exit, arguably, is still to come this weekend with the season finale of Game of Thrones. Just because summer is now here, doesn’t mean that winter isn’t going to show up in full force. Not sure what’s scarier heading into next week but either way, have a great weekend and happy hunting next week!