Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – June 14th 2013

This past week was a fairly quiet one for Canadian discount brokerages, so this roundup will focus on some of the interesting events that took place in the discount brokerage space more generally.

The most popular story in the discount brokerage space continues to be the supposed return of retail investors to equity markets.  Digging a little deeper into exchange activity, however, it seems investors don’t seem to be participating in all markets equally.

In last week’s roundup we reported the metrics from Questrade as well as Interactive Brokers that suggest trading activity is increasing.  Based on the recent performance of the US discount brokerages TD Ameritrade, Interactive Brokers, E-Trade and Charles Schwab, it seems that traders have been well aware of this trend already. According to a recent report by Bloomberg, these US discount brokerages have seen an increase of 38% since January 2013.

In the Canadian marketplace, the TMX group (which represents over 80% of trading activity in Canada) recently reported their trading statistics for May 2013.  The picture the trading volume numbers paint is definitely not as rosy as it is in the US.

For the Toronto Stock Exchange, the year-to-date number of transactions was 17.4% lower compared to the same point last year.  Even grimmer, however, is the number of transactions for the TSX Venture Exchange which saw a drop of almost 44% in transactions compared to the same time in 2012. Interestingly, the Montreal Exchange, where most of the Canadian options trading takes place, increased by almost 4% compared to this point last year.  This data point certainly suggests that the interest in options trading has remained much stronger among investors than participating in either the TSX or the TSX Venture listed equities.

Discount brokerages  seem to have their work cut out for them though if they wish to compete in this low trading activity environment. Interactive Brokers, in its presentation at the Global Exchange & Brokerage Conference in New York last week, disclosed how it is intending to achieve its ambitious goal of being a dominant global player in discount brokerage services.  In a nutshell, they aim to be a very low cost option for investors and as their numbers point out, it seems to be working. In terms of trading activity, customer accounts and profit growth, Interactive Brokers is posting some very interesting numbers relative to its peers.

One data point that is particularly relevant for active traders to pay attention to is the aggressive expansion Interactive Brokers has managed to achieve in margin lending.  From 2007 to 2013, Interactive Brokers has seen their market share for margin lending among discount brokerages increase from 5% to 30%. By offering ultra-low rates, especially on products that active traders access, it seems that Interactive Brokers is hitting the mark.

This past week, margin lending was also the focal point of the latest promotion being offered by National Bank Direct Brokerage. While only for a limited period of time, it is a unique offering compared to what other promotions are currently being run, and this deal will most likely be watched very carefully to see if it will be run again at some point.

While it is still too early to draw any conclusions, Canadian discount brokerages are likely to increase taking aim at users of margin trading and active traders as these are often higher value clients to bring on board.

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