Dan Norcini: Further thoughts on the CME maintenance margin hike

Further thoughts on the CME maintenance margin hike

In communications with my broker this evening he suggested that this might be a way for the CME to let some of the firms accepting accounts from MF Global off the hook from attempting to make one margin call after another and attempt to complete a huge number of bank wire transactions in such a short period of time.

What struck both of us as extremely odd was the fact that the communique stating that maintenance margin levels were going to be raised to a 1:1 ratio with initial margin requirements was sent later in the evening, AFTER the close of regular business hours with the change in margins being made effective AS OF THE CLOSE OF TRADING NOVEMBER 4, 2011. That means there was no advance notice given as is the usual norm (we generally have a day or two to prepare for the hikes). Actually the notice hit my box TWO HOURS AFTER the close of business on Friday. Anyone whose account is underfunded is on call immediately based on the timing of the raise in the requirement meaning that they go into the opening of trading Sunday evening already all call.

That gives the brokerage firm the RIGHT, but not the obligation or necessity to immediately liquidate all exisiting positions of customers whose accounts are underfunded ( it could be aimed at some of these new transferred accounts which, if accounts are accurate, have received no more than 75% of their original account balances, some having received only 60% of the original balance).

I am not trying to be sensational here; rather I am attempting to work through the implications of all this especially seeing that it is coming in on the heels of a $630 million shortfall with MF Global. Some 15,000 accounts or so have been transferred thus far. I cannot even imagine the efforts involved by brokerage firms attempting to sort through all these new positions on their books because of the transfers and gauge margin requirements against what is left of their remaining account balances. Some of these firms might be thinking it is just easier to liquidate everything that these newly transferred accounts have and then start with a clean slate. A maintenance margin hike to initial margin requirement levels will make it very easy to justify such an approach.

Those who trade commodities sign an agreement stating that the brokerage firm can liquidate existing customer positions in the event of financial hardship. We may be seeing that taking place.

If I can get some more information on this, I will get it posted as soon as I can but we are headed into the weekend so I would think news is going to be very scarce until we get around to market reopenings Sunday evening and into Monday morning. We could be in for a very wild and unsettling round of price volatility starting Sunday evening. This is unprecedented in my own personal trading career so I am not certain what exactly we are going to get as a result of all this.

Maybe we will get lucky and learn that the CME Clearing House issued the communique by accident or something. Boy howdy do I hope that is the case, but I fear it is not.

One last thing – it should be kept in mind that if the markets open strongly to the upside in general on a round of RISK ON trades, it is the SHORTS who are going to be hurt by the margin change. That would force additional short covering. The flip side to all this is that a great number of the transferred MF Global accounts are mainly on the long side of the market and the RISK OFF trades are what come on Sunday evening. Then the longs are in trouble… What a stinking mess caused by these ***&&$$ at MF Global.


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