Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – April 20, 2018

For many sports fans, playoffs are the time of year when things get really exciting. Fortunately, sports fans aren’t the only ones being treated to contests as DIY investors and online brokerages have contests of their own making headlines. Of course some games take longer than others to win and require some creativity to get ahead (amirite Westworld fans?).

In this edition of the weekly roundup, we look at the return of a popular online trading competition that one Canadian online brokerage is putting up big prize money for. Next, we take a look at some recent earnings from a popular online brokerage and what an earnings call revealed about DIY investor sentiment in Q1 as well as some hints to how the online brokerage space is poised to change this year. As usual we’ll be taking the pulse of DIY investors on Twitter and in the investor forums, so be sure to check out what folks were talking about this week.

Biggest Winner Competition is Back

Just in time for the playoff season (and perhaps the end of season), the Biggest Winner competition from Horizons ETFs and National Bank Direct Brokerage is back. Fun fact, Horizons ETFs also is the exclusive ETF sponsor of the Toronto Raptors.

Officially kicking off on May 7th, this popular contest features healthy cash prizes for top performing participants. The grand prize is $7,500 while the runner up prize is $2,500. There are also six weekly prizes of $500 each which will keep things exciting from week to week over the course of the challenge.

Contestants will have a fantasy balance of $100,000 to start off with and can only trade Canadian ETFs trading on the TSX. The contest runs between May 7th and June 15th so the ‘buy and hold’ strategies may not fare as well as those who take a more active approach.

Of course, with market volatility levels being as high as they are, this could make for a very interesting competition – especially given the performance of leveraged ETFs in these conditions.

To keep things interesting, the competition does have some important limits. For example, the maximum allocation of a portfolio in any one ETF is 25% and investors will be charged fantasy commissions at the rate of $9.95 per trade. Also, the maximum limit of trades over the competition is 5,000 which is still a pretty high bar for scalp traders. Of course, it’s fairly onerous to generate that many orders manually but trader types are known to be competitive, so someone just might be able to max out.

Another fun fact, the sponsor of the competition, National Bank Direct Brokerage, actually allows for totally commission free trading (with some conditions) of Canadian and American ETFs, so in this case, reality has an edge over the fantasy world.

For DIY investors looking to have a little fun and learn about investing, this is a great way to do both. And, who knows, it might be possible to win big with a volatile market and lots of ways to play it.

Volatility Rules for Interactive Brokers in Q1

There’s an old farmer’s saying that goes ‘make hay while the sun shines.’ For many investors, the stock market volatility over the start of 2018 has been anything but sunny, however like anything in the markets, there’s always another side to the story. In this case that other side is that with all of this volatility, traders in the US have come back into the market in a big way.

This past week, US online brokerage Interactive Brokers held their quarterly conference call to review and discuss the results from Q1 of 2018. As with most conference calls, there were certainly more than a few nuggets of information that showed how the online brokerage business in faring for Interactive Brokers, but more importantly, where they are looking to next for opportunities and what this means for both investors and Interactive Brokers’ competition.

First things first, the numbers. Compared to the same quarter last year, Interactive Brokers crushed it when it came to revenue, earnings and trading metrics. Suffice it to say that with year over year growth in accounts of 27% (to 517,000), growth in customer equity of 33% (to $129B) and pretax income for brokerage this quarter was 291 million, up 57%. Importantly, both trading commissions and net interest revenue were significant contributors to earnings and the rise in interest rates helped to bolster earnings.

In addition to the strong numbers, there were two other noteworthy observations from the conference call.

First, there appears to be an interesting marketing strategy that looks to be directed to shareholders or stock watchers to become clients of Interactive Brokers. It is something we noted in previous roundup, but the direct nature of pointing out the benefits to being a shareholder as well as a client mean that Interactive Brokers is tapping into an already attentive audience to mobilize more clients.

A second, and perhaps most interesting observation is that Interactive Brokers continues to move towards offering traditional banking services in an effort to encourage clients to bring more assets into Interactive Brokers. Not only did they launch a trading-account-linked Mastercard, they also offer interest on cash balances (over $100,000) of 1.19% which is huge for people who like to keep their powder dry. The biggest reveal in the conference call, however, was when CEO and founder, Thomas Peterffy mentioned that Interactive Brokers would soon be rolling out a direct deposit (through payroll) feature and the ability to pay bills from a client’s trading account. This last feature is significant because it is a direct play on the convenience of having access to trading funds to do everyday financial management without having to transfer money to another institution.

Based on their latest numbers, the combination of Interactive Brokers’ efforts to chase profits but also to mitigate risks has helped them skate through an exceptionally volatile quarter with lots of profits to show for it.

In a world moving quickly towards technologies that are seeking to disintermediate, being an online brokerage is a tricky proposition. To succeed in the online brokerage market of the future, firms will require scale and critical mass – otherwise as Peterffy astutely remarked – other brokerages will turn to Interactive Brokers to handle the order execution and technology while those firms focus on client service and acquisition.

The latest financial results for Interactive Brokers show that the writing is on the wall for all online brokerages – and for the broader financial services sector – that pulling ahead of the pack requires technology and a trading experience that gets clients excited. Interactive Brokers has demonstrated that it can do that while passing on savings to clients, which in turn results in their pockets getting pretty full in the process.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

An interesting mix of tweets this week. There were the regular client service and technical difficulty tweets, but there were also some interesting hints dropped by Questrade on future features and some great coverage of a financial literacy event (also featuring Questrade). Mentioned this week were BMO InvestorLine, CIBC Investor’s Edge, Questrade, RBC Direct Investing, Scotia iTRADE, and TD Direct Investing.

From the Forums

Feed Up

Before opening an online brokerage, it’s important to understand how much it will cost to trade there. Unfortunately, for one eager beaver, the FOMO of getting into a hot sector won out over reading through the details of trading costs. This post from reddit’s Personal Finance Canada thread shows how one Scotia iTRADE user is looking for a way to minimize fees on the way out.

The drop on DRIPs

Maintaining healthy skepticism is important to surviving the investing world long term. So, one thoughtful forum user in this post from the RedFlagDeals Investing thread posed a question about the downside to using DRIP investing at Questrade. The responses offered a variety of interesting perspectives.

Into the Close

Seeing that it’s 4/20, it only seems appropriate to end the week on a high note (ba-dum-tsh). Yes there were many green puns today but with recreational marijuana legalization just around the corner here in Canada, investors were also weighing in on prospects for this sector. Of course, once all the smoke finally clears on Friday, there’s a whole weekend of hoping and cheering to get to. Good luck Raptors (and even the Leafs) – it’s a great weekend to get on a roll. Ok I’ll stop. Have a great weekend!!

One comment

  1. Anything come across your desk in regard to new iTrade promotions starting May 1st, June 1st, etc? Thanks!

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