Govt urged to tighten FX trading rules

Four months since the Swiss franc shock, the federal government is accused of doing nothing to fix lax local rules for foreign exchange trading.

Foreign exchange trading.

It's been called a mug's game in Australia in which charlatans pick off retail investors.

Conversely, retail investors view it as an easy way to make a quick buck.

Whether it is slick marketing of exotic financial derivatives to mum and dad investors, the thrill of easy money or other reasons - Australians are increasingly betting on the yen or Aussie dollar, rather than BHP and Telstra.

The Swiss franc shock in January - when the franc's peg to the euro was removed - wiped out some global FX traders.

A few of Australia's larger FX/CFD (contracts for difference) brokers were worried enough about their industry's cowboy reputation to ramp up calls for a federal government crackdown on lax local rules.

Those rules allow higher leverage - trading with large borrowed sums of money - than elsewhere and do not protect and segregate client funds from being used as collateral in their operations, something which is banned in most countries.

The government's corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, has criticised the industry for years and critics have said it was only a matter of time before there was a massive collapse taking people's money.

"We've discussed this more globally, and we are being picked off as a jurisdiction that allows very high leverage, 500 to one," ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft told a parliamentary hearing in March.

But assistant treasurer Josh Frydenberg has done nothing.

His office told AAP and brokers this week that the issue would be considered as part of the government's response to the Murray financial system inquiry.

But David Murray's report contained nothing about protecting client money, says the CFD Forum, which is comprised of the biggest industry players such as IG and CMC Markets.

"It is clearly a major issue but nothing has been done about it," says broker IG's Asia Pacific head Tamas Szabo.

"Urgent reform of the outdated Corporations Act is required to remove the risk putting hundreds of millions of client money at risk."

The dispute is not clear cut.

It is part of a long-running battle in which the brokers being targeted, such as AxiCorp and Pepperstone, have dismissed the CFD Forum as a bigger, anti-competitive English boy's club out to destroy them.

But there is a history of Australian FX/CFD investors losing money in corporate collapses - from MF Global in 2011 to a raft of smaller local firms such as GTL Tradeup.

It was only dumb luck in January that the Swiss franc is not traded much in Australia, a fact that prevented more horror stories of Australian clients losing what they thought was protected money, Mr Szabo says.

The industry's reputation is getting worse amid evidence of rate manipulation and brokers taking positions against their own clients as automated trading technology gets more complex.

The global forex scandal involving rate rigging has led to more than $4 billion in fines for six global banks.

ASIC's position is that forex trading is extremely difficult to predict for skilled traders, let alone unsophisticated retail ones targeted in marketing.

Broker Oanda's Australian head Louis Cooper is confident that as long as companies had the right automated technology in place to execute stop-loss orders, forex clients were safe.

He did not support large margins, saying Oanda only offered leverage of 100 to one.

"I think it's a well organised and well run market .. two areas we need to improve as an industry are the capital adequacy to have a business here and limiting off leverage," he told AAP.

LEVERAGE IN FX - A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

* It means borrowing money to trade currencies

* With 100:1 leverage, you can trade $10,000 of a currency by putting up $100

* Why do it? As currencies tend to move in tiny increments, traders use large borrowed sums to make profits

* Risks? If you bet on the Aussie dollar rising but it doesn't, you end up owing much more than that initial $100

Source AAP

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