CME FX futures averaged $76.7B per day throughout the whole of 2020, reaching more than $270B on large ADV days around major market events, as participants turned to futures to manage their risk. 2020 also saw our FX futures complex achieve several significant all-time records, including the highest ever number of customers holding large open interest positions – of 1,310, and the highest ever open interest in EUR/USD – of more than $120B.
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These records and volumes help to reinforce the role of CME listed FX futures as a primary venue for price discovery, but it is also important to note that the wider FX market remains hugely diverse and that a large part of it continues to trade on an OTC basis away from a centralized venue. For example, in the OTC spot market, over 80% of the volume continues to be traded by voice or on a variety of bilateral electronic platforms, with only 16% being traded on non-disclosed venues. This stands in stark contrast to the FX futures market where the large majority of activity continues to be transacted via the CME central limit order book (CLOB) – a centralized competitive market where every customer trades anonymously on an all-to-all credit agnostic basis. However, while many participants might be able to optimize their trading by interacting with the CLOB, it may not match the preferred trading style or technology of a given firm. For end user customers who are familiar with trading on a disclosed basis with chosen liquidity providers in the OTC market, integrating and interacting with a futures CLOB can be a large behavioral change.
- Lee Spicer, BNP Paribas, Global Head F&O High Touch Execution
In response to these dynamics, and in consultation with our clients, we are making several enhancements to how market participants can transact FX futures away from the CLOB in so-called “ex-pit” transactions. We feel these changes will provide a stronger bridge for customers who are only familiar with OTC markets to be able to access futures liquidity and to benefit from the capital, operational, and counterparty risk management benefits of clearing.
There are two main mechanisms for transacting FX futures outside of the CLOB: 1) blocks and 2) exchange for related positions (EFRPs). Full details on both of these mechanisms can be found here, but a summary is provided below.
A block trade is a privately negotiated transaction between two eligible counterparties – enabling them to discuss, negotiate, and agree upon a trade directly together before then submitting it for clearing on a post-execution basis. An EFRP, meanwhile, allows a customer to execute an OTC transaction and to then subsequently negotiate with their chosen liquidity provider(s) to migrate that OTC position into FX futures – i.e. to close out the OTC position and re-establish it within a centrally cleared FX future. As such, both of these mechanisms enable customers to trade in a manner very familiar to the OTC market – on a disclosed basis with their chosen liquidity providers, but with the end result of holding the risk in a cleared and capital efficient FX future, and without needing to interact directly with the CLOB at all.
- Richard Condon, Morgan Stanley, Head of Hedge Fund Sales
Historically, blocks and EFRPs have been used for two main reasons: trade facilitation and price uniformity. A typical trade facilitation scenario would be when there is a futures market in a currency that is considered to be relatively illiquid or for a transaction that takes place at an hour of day when an otherwise liquid futures market is relatively inactive. In this scenario, the buyer and seller of the futures contract might utilize a block trade or EFRP to obtain sufficient liquidity for their transaction – as a function of necessity. The second driver has been price uniformity, and this is where a buyer and seller of the futures contract may use a block trade or EFRP to ensure they can execute a large transaction at a single price.
In 2020, almost 180 buy-side customers added new pairs of FX futures or started trading FX futures for the first time, with notable growth from both hedge funds and asset managers. The large majority of volumes from these new participants continued to be transacted directly through the CLOB. But as we look forward to 2021 and beyond, we feel that the ability to use blocks and EFRPs not just for their functional benefits, but also for the familiarity of executing orders in a similar way to the OTC market, will be of increasing importance – enabling new customers to trade on a disclosed basis with their chosen liquidity providers, and without needing to consider how to integrate with the CLOB or having to work an order over a period of time to get the optimal price.
- Rafael Sogorb Diaz, Santander, European head of ETD and Equity structured product sales
In this context of wanting to ensure that blocks and EFRPs continue to serve as an effective bridge for institutional customers who want the benefits of FX futures, but who wish to maintain their OTC trading techniques and relationships, we are making several amendments to our offering that are due to go in to production on Sunday, February 21, 2021 for trade date Monday, February 22, 2021.
To access this “ex-pit” market, a variety of market participants including banks, non-bank liquidity providers, and agency brokers facilitate block and EFRP trades for customers today and some of these are listed in our directory which can be found here.
- Chris Callander, Societe Generale, Head of FX futures sales and trading
*Pending all relevant CFTC regulatory review periods.