Risk rolls over in early US trade

Commodities
Equities
Forex

Risk appetite has well and truly rolled over. US stocks moved lower in the first hour of trade and continued to leg it south, while oil prices swan dived amid a very messy picture for global markets on Thursday afternoon.  Walgreens Boots Alliance shares dragged on the Dow as the stock fell 9% after reporting weaker-than-forecast earnings amid some serious weakness in the UK. The dollar found bid as risk appetite turned south, hurting FX majors like GBPUSD and EURUSD.

Supreme Court rules on Trump tax records

Risk sentiment was a bit shaky anyway but it seemed to take a hit as Donald Trump suffered a defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court – not his favourite institution of late. The Supreme Court ruled Donald Trump’s finances and tax returns are fair game and should be seen by the Grand Jury, but it threw out rulings that allowed 3 Democrat-led Congressional committees to obtain Trump’s financial records.

This ruling relates to alleged hush money to women who have claimed to have had sexual relations with the president – a story Mr Trump said was irrelevant. That may be so, but his tax returns may interest voters. Whilst US legal proceedings are far from my area of expertise, I understand that if only the Grand Jury sees the documents it is very unlikely that they would become public records, which could have had serious repercussions for the election. Meanwhile Treasury Sec Steve Mnuchin was also on the wires, saying the Federal government would not bail out states that had been ‘mis-managed’.

Stocks, commodities lower despite solid US jobs figures

The move lower came despite some decent jobs numbers. Weekly initial jobless claims fell to 1.314m, better than the 1.375m expected and representing a decline of 99k from a week ago. Continuing claims fell to 18.06m, a drop of almost 700k and much better than the 18.9m expected. The previous week’s number was also revised down over half a million.

So, the picture in the US labour market is maybe not quite as bad as feared, but still horrendous. There is clearly a long way to go before getting back to pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, as the number of covid-19 cases rises across most US states, the numbers may well start to improve a slower rate.

At send time indices were at session lows, making new lows for the week – we could see further declines as risk appetite appears to have rolled over today. As of send time the Dow was down over 1.8% to 25,559 at the session low, whilst S&P 500 was down 1.5% at a low of 3,120, making it down for the week.

The dip on Wall Street added to pressure on European equities with the FTSE 100 down over 1.7% to a low at 6,046, taking it negative for the week. Having been bid up on Monday towards the higher end of the recent ranges for little reason we are seeing indices pull back closer to the middle of the June ranges – no conviction trade yet.

Dollar firms against pound, euro in risk-off trade

Meanwhile, sterling eased back as risk appetite soured and Michel Barnier said talks this week confirm that significant divergences remain between the EU and the UK. Sterling pulled back from its highs at the top of the new bullish channel on the news as well as the general risk-off tone but remains in a solid uptrend with GBPUSD ably supported above 1.26. Elsewhere in FX the risk rollover boosted the USD so EURUSD pulled back under 1.13.

WTI (Aug) fell sharply from around $40.50 a low under $39.30 in a very swift and long-awaited reversal – albeit probably a day late given yesterday’s inventory build. Expectations of a slower reopening in a number of US states is a worry for near-term sentiment and I have been calling for a reversal based on the technical set-up, which could see a return to the neckline at $35.

US Election, Recession, Brexit: What’s in store for markets in 2020 H2?

Equities
Forex

The first half of 2020 has been a wild ride. We’ve seen unprecedented moves in markets, historic stimulus efforts by both central banks and governments, and record-breaking data that grabbed headlines across the globe.

H1 has already brought plenty of drama, but what should we expect from the next two quarters? Join us for a recap of some of the biggest events in market history and a look at the risks and opportunities that lie ahead.

Coronavirus pandemic prompts worst quarter in decades for stocks

At the start of 2020 the main themes of the year looked to be the US Presidential Election, the trade war with China, and Brexit.

It seems like years ago that markets began to get jittery on fears that the handful of novel coronavirus cases in Wuhan, China, could become something ‘as bad as SARS’. It quickly became apparent that we were dealing with something much worse, and the market was quick to realise the full, brutal, reality of a global pandemic.

The panic reached its zenith towards the end of March. As the sell-off ran out of momentum global stock markets were left -21.3% lower. The S&P 500 had its worst quarter since 2008; the Dow dropped the most since 1987 and set a new record for the biggest single-day gain (2,117 points) and single-day loss (2,997 points). European stocks had their worst quarter since 2002, with a -23% drop in Q1.

Oil turns negative for first time in history after Saudi Arabia sparks price war

Things became even more chaotic in the oil markets when, after OPEC and its allies failed to agree a pandemic response, Saudi Arabia opened the floodgates and slashed prices of its crude oil exports. Oil prices endured the biggest single-day collapse since the Gulf War – over -24%.

It was further strain for a market now seriously considering the risk that shuttered economies across the globe would hit demand so hard that global storage would hit capacity. The May contract for West Texas Intermediate went negative – a first for oil futures – changing hands for almost -$40 ahead of expiry.

Meanwhile US 10-year treasury yields hit record lows of 0.318%, and gold climbed to its highest levels in seven years, pushing even higher in Q2.

Economies locked down, central banks crank up stimulus

Nations across the globe ordered their citizens to remain at home, taking the unprecedented step to voluntarily put huge swathes of their economies on ice for weeks. Even when lockdown measures were eased, the new normal of social distancing, face masks, and plastic screens left many businesses operating at a fraction of their normal capacity.

The world’s central banks were quick to step in during the height of market volatility and continued to do so as the forecasts for the economic impact of the pandemic grew even more grim. The Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of Canada, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand all dropped rates to close to zero. Along with the European Central Bank, they unleashed enormous quantitative easing programmes, as well as other lending measures to help support businesses.

Unprecedented stimulus as unemployment spikes

Governments stepped in to pay the wages of furloughed employees as unemployment spiked – the US nonfarm payrolls report for April showed a jaw-dropping 20.5 million Americans had become unemployed in a single month. In the space of just six weeks America had erased all the job gains made since the financial crisis. The bill for US stimulus measures is currently $2 trillion, and is set to go higher when further measures are approved.

While most of the data may be improving, we’re still yet to see just how bad the GDP figures for Q2 are going to be. These, which will be released in the coming weeks, will show just how big a pit we have to dig ourselves out of.

H2: Recovery, US election, trade wars, Brexit

Markets may have recovered much of the coronavirus sell-off – US and European stocks posted their best quarter in decades in Q2 – but the world is still walking a fine line between reopening its economies and fending off the pandemic. Second wave fears abound. In the US in particular, economic data is largely pointing to a sharp rebound in activity, but at the same time Covid-19 case numbers are consistently smashing daily records.

These key competing bullish and bearish factors threaten to keep markets walking a tightrope in the quarters to come. Because of this, progress in the race to find a vaccine is closely watched. Risk is still highly sensitive to news of positive drug trials. The sooner we get a vaccine, the sooner life can return to normal, even if the world economy still has a long way to go before it returns to pre-crisis levels.

US Presidential Election: Trump lags in polls, Biden threatens to reverse tax cuts

The biggest talking point on the market in the coming months, aside from coronavirus, will undoubtedly be the US Presidential Election. The stakes are incredibly high, especially for the US stock market, and Democrat nominee Joe Biden intends to reverse the bulk of the sweeping tax cuts implemented by president Donald Trump.

Trump is currently lagging in the polls, with voters unimpressed by his response to the pandemic and also to the protests against police brutality that swept the nation. The president has long taken credit for the performance of the stock market and the economy, so for the latter to be facing a deep recession robs him of one of his key topics on the campaign trail.

Joe Biden may currently have a significant lead, but there is a long time to go until the polls, and anything could happen yet.

China trade war in focus, Hong Kong law adds fresh complications

The trade war with China would be a focus for the market anyway, but will come under increasing scrutiny in the run-up to the election. Thanks to Covid-19, anti-China sentiment is running high in the United States. This means Biden will also have to talk tough on China, which could mean that the damaging trade war is set to continue regardless of who wins the White House this time around.

Tensions have already risen on the back of China’s passing of a new Hong Kong security law, and coronavirus makes it virtually impossible that the terms of the Phase One trade agreement hashed out by Washington and Beijing will be carried out. Trump may be forced to stick with the deal, because abandoning it would leave him unable to flaunt his ability to make China toe the line during the presidential race. This would be positive for risk – markets were already rattled by fears that the president’s response to the Hong Kong law would include abandoning the deal.

How, when, and if: Unwinding stimulus

Even if we get a vaccine before the end of the year and global economies do rebound sharply, the vast levels of government and central bank stimulus will need to be addressed. Governments are running wartime levels of debt.

We’re looking at an even longer slog back to normalised monetary policy – something that banks like the Bank of England and the European Central Bank were struggling to reach even before Covid. There will be huge quantitative easing programmes to unwind and interest rates to lift away from zero, or potentially even out of negative territory.

Markets have been able to recover thanks to a steady cocktail of government and central bank stimulus. The years since the financial crisis have proven that it is incredibly difficult to wean markets and the economy off stimulus. There could be some tough decisions ahead, especially as governments begin to consider how they plan to repair their finances in the years to come.

Brexit deadline approaches, impasse remains

There is also Brexit to consider. While the coronavirus forced officials to move their negotiations online, little else seems to have happened so far. Both sides are refusing to budge and both sides are claiming that the other is being unreasonable. The UK does not want an extension to the transition period, and the two sides are running out of time to agree a trade deal.

We’ve seen before that both Downing Street and Brussels like to wait until the last possible moment to soften their stance. However, the risks here are higher because before there was always the prospect of another extension.

The last time negotiations were extended the battle in Westminster shocked the UK to its constitutional core. The Conservative landslide victory of 2019 gave Boris Johnson a much stronger hand this time around – the UK will leave in December, regardless of the situation.

Stay on top of the biggest events in H2

Whatever happens in the coming months, we’ll be here to bring you the latest news and analysis of the top developments and market events via the blog and XRay.

Risk assets rally on bumper US NFP jobs report

Equities
Forex

US stock futures jumped, and European equity indices pushed to highs of the day after a stand-out jobs report. Today’s US jobs figures show the economy is bouncing back, but there is a still a long way to go to replace all the millions of jobs lost due to the pandemic. Permanent destruction of demand and productivity will take years to claw back.

US employers added 4.8m jobs in June, which smashed the consensus expectations of around 3m. The unemployment rate declined more than expected to 11.1%. Revisions to Apr and May left employment 90k better than previously thought. Labour force participation improved to 61.5%. Wages are up 5% year-on-year.

US nonfarm payrolls – a closer look

But, a couple of things we should say about this to take the shine off the report.  First, weekly continuing jobless claims were a little worse than expected at 19.3m – this was a little better than last week but the number ought to be improving at a faster rate. Second, the total gains in employment over the last two months total 7.5m – but this is still dwarfed by the –20.8m recorded in April.

Three, the BLS notes that employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 2.1 million, accounting for about two-fifths of the gain in total nonfarm employment. Meanwhile, employment in retail rose by 740,000, so about 2.8m of the 4.8m was in sectors that are highly exposed to fresh lockdowns and the slowing of reopening, which has been the result of the recent spike in cases. So we cannot expect the same contribution from these sectors over the summer if states are in a stop-start reopening scenario.

Four, while the number of unemployed classed as being on temporary layoff decreased by 4.8m in June to 10.6m, following a decline of 2.7m in May, the number of permanent job losers continued to rise, increasing by 588,000 to 2.9m in June.

Stocks rise on NFP, cable lower on cancelled Brexit talks

Risk assets rose on the report as it was overall bullish. US futures jumped, with the S&P 500 heading above 3150, taking it some or 150 points, or around 5%,  above last week’s lows. The Dow is up 1000 points from last week’s lows. European indices rose the risk rally higher too.

Elsewhere, we saw limited reaction in the dollar, but GBPUSD shot lower shortly after the release on a separate report saying that a meeting between the UK and EU chief negotiators that had been scheduled for Friday had been cancelled.

Gold slipped lower, making a fresh low under $1760 and a possible breakout of the bearish flag signalled this morning, potentially calling for a retreat to around the $1750-$1747 area.

Tesla rally continues on forecast-beating deliveries, Wedbush price hike

Meanwhile Tesla shares just keep on going and are set to gap up $100 after the company said it delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, well ahead of both what the company had guided and the Street expectation for 83k vehicles. The company has successfully ramped production at its Fremont site and the Shanghai plant also came back online after being forced to shutter in the first quarter due to Covid. China sales are picking up with Tesla selling almost 12,000 Model 3s in May.

The stock also got a lift after Wedbush Securities increased its price target on the stock to $1,250 from $1,000, whilst the bull scenario got a PT of $2,000. Chinese rival Nio delivered 3,740 vehicles during June and beat forecasts with second-quarter deliveries of 10,331 vehicles.

The FTSE 100 was well poised for a move and duly broke out of the descending trend line from the June peak, fresh horizontal resistance seen around 6260.

Blonde Money US Nonfarm Payrolls Preview

Forex

Blonde Money Founder and CEO Helen Thomas explains the political impact of today’s US nonfarm payrolls report – how will President Trump use a positive or negative print to his advantage with the 2020 US Presidential Election edging closer?

Catch more insight from Helen every week with Blonde Markets on XRay.

Update: Bank of England does just enough

Forex

The Bank of England left interest rates on hold at the record low 0.1% and increased the size of its asset purchase programme by £100bn to £745bn. Although largely in line with expectations, the expansion of the QE programme was a little less than some of us had anticipated, and indeed was really the bare minimum to satisfy the market. The BoE said it stands ready to increase QE if required – it may need to this autumn. The Old Lady could have been a little bit braver here and expanded the envelope more.

The Bank said it can conduct asset purchases at a slower pace, and that the programme would be completed by the end of the year, which seems to be taken as a positive for sterling as it implies a degree of hawkishness vs expectations. The lack of any chatter about negative rates also lifted the pound off its lows. But by send time cable was still close to the LOD again – there is a degree of calm about the BoE that is slightly at odds with its major peers like the Fed and ECB. The MPC appears a little too relaxed about all this.

Gilt yields moved higher and sterling rose off the lows. 2yr gilt yields spiked, turning positive at one stage having traded around -0.075% ahead of the announcement. GBPUSD dropped to the lows of the day ahead of the announcement but bounced off lows around 1.2475 to touch 1.2550 before paring gains a little. Cable remains stuck within the recent range between 1.2450 (the 50 per cent retracement of the bottom-to-top rally from the May low to the Jun high.) and the 200-day moving average just above 1.2690 that sparked the run lower since Tuesday.

On inflation, the MPC noted that while the decline in oil prices has been very important in the drop in headline CPI figures, a ‘sharp drop in domestic activity is also adding to downward pressure on inflation’. As a result, inflation is expected to fall further below the 2% target in the coming quarters, largely reflecting the weakness in domestic demand.

On the economy, the MPC thinks the downturn in the second quarter will be less severe than it estimated in May. However, we know that the initial rebound is the easy bit; getting back on the previous trend takes a lot longer.

In particular the Bank seems to be very aware of labour market stress, noting that ‘there is a risk of higher and more persistent unemployment’… and that the ‘economy, and especially the labour market, will therefore take some time to recover towards its previous path’. The Bank will need to cope with a significant increase in unemployment as the year progresses and will require to take more aggressive action.

BlondeMoney Bank of England rate decision preview

Forex

BlondeMoney CEO Helen Thomas explains what to watch out for from the upcoming Bank of England policy decision.

Get more top insight from Helen with Blonde Markets every week on XRay.

FOMC meeting preview: what to watch out for

Forex

The FOMC meeting concludes today and markets are waiting for tonight’s announcement of the decisions taken. BlondeMoney CEO Helen Thomas talks us through what to expect later.

BlondeMoney FOMC meeting preview

 

The FOMC aren’t expected to make significant changes to monetary policy, having already acted swiftly to dramatically ease policy to combat the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead of looking for changes to interest rates or quantitative easing, markets will instead be focussing on key issues like yield curve control and negative rates, to see whether these got a mention during the FOMC meeting.

FOMC to consider yield curve control?

Yield curve control involves a central bank buying bonds of a set maturity in order to keep the yield at below its target level. This is done to keep borrowing costs under control, and is already being used by the Bank of Japan and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

What will the FOMC say about negative rates?

The FOMC has so far resisted calls for interest rates to go negative. However, it wants to make sure the market is confident that it will do whatever it takes to support the economy should things worsen. We can expect Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell to be asked about negative rates during the press conference held after the FOMC meeting.

Stocks weaker as US continuing claims rise, ECB goes big

Equities
Forex

European shares held losses and Wall Street opened lower as the June rally in stocks paused for a wee breather, with tensions around Hong Kong resurfacing and US jobs data indicating a lacklustre recovery in the labour force.

The ECB seems to have passed the test today but we are still unsure on OPEC’s moves and the ensuing effects on oil prices, which could affect other risk assets. Meanwhile US jobs numbers were disappointing.

US initial jobless claims fell to 1.9m but the key continuing claims number rose 650k from last week to 21.5m, which was ahead of expectations. It’s a worry that we are not seeing this number coming down as it suggests employers are not calling their staff back as quickly as had been hoped.

Tomorrow is nonfarm payrolls day, of course, with expectations for the headline print to come in at –8m jobs but we note the ADP number yesterday was just –2.76m vs –9m expected.

Meanwhile risk sentiment looked to be a little weaker as scuffles were reported in Hong Kong as protestors try to mark the Tiananmen Square anniversary. The situation in Hong Kong and related US-China tensions remain a significant, under-appreciated tail risk for equity markets.

The S&P 500 opened about a third of one percent lower but held 3100 even as the Vix declined to take a 25 handle. After the ECB meeting the DAX tested lows of the day at 12,321 before recovering to the 12,400 support.

The ECB surprised with a slightly bigger expansion of its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) than was expected, perhaps as it saw this as a good opportunity to front load the scheme rather trying to top up later down the line as limits approach. This does provide it ample room for the rest of the year without the market chatter resurfacing about whether and when it needs to do more.

The ECB took three steps: the PEPP envelope is being widened by an additional €600bn to €1.35bn, the scheme will last at least until June 2021 and it will reinvest proceeds at least until the end of 2022. This is emergency QE forever – or at least we are in a situation where the ECB has no option but to be on a war footing just to keep the show on the road. What price peace?

Staff projections were interesting – inflation is now seen at just 0.3% in 2020 vs 1.1% expected in March before magically picking up over the next two years. May showed outright deflation in 12 of the 19 countries using the euro and the weakest HICP inflation in four years. Growth is seen –8.7% under the ECB’s baseline scenario.

Christine Lagarde said she expects a rebound in Q3 and the staff projections indicate growth bouncing back to 5.2% in 2021. But she cautioned that weaker demand will exert a longer-lasting pressure on inflation. Inflation for 2022 is seen at just 1.3%, down from 1.5%, despite this massive amount of stimulus.

This is already well short of the 2% target and of course the ECB is very good at missing its target when the stimulus as ever has decreasing marginal effects. What’s clear is that we are at the limits of monetary policy efficacy.

More interesting perhaps for the future of the EZ – Finland has just said it cannot accept the EC’s recovery package as it stands – it will be a long slog getting this budget and bailout fund approved by all members.

German bund yields reversed their earlier fall to trade flat, whilst the euro pared some of its gains after spiking through the important Fibonacci level at 1.1230, with EURUSD last at 1.1350. GBPUSD was off its lows having bounced off the 1.2510 support to move back to 1.2540.

FX update: Pound blown off course by Frosty Brexit talks, euro tests 200-day line

Forex

Sterling got a smack and the euro pulled back from its highs of the day as Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator confirmed what we already knew; that UK-EU talks are not going very well at all. Whilst a classic last-minute EU fudge is still broadly anticipated by the market, the language from David Frost was not optimistic.

GBPUSD moved sharply off the 1.23 handle, turning lower to test 1.2250 before paring those losses. EURGBP pushed higher and looked towards the May 21st swing high at 0.90, a two-month peak. Undoubtedly sterling becomes increasingly exposed to headline risks around Brexit as we move out of the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic and back into the cut-and-thrust of negotiations.

Speaking to MPs, Frost said the EU’s current mandate handed to chief negotiator Michel Barnier is – in certain key areas –  not likely to produce an agreement, adding that the EU must change its stance in order to reach a deal with the UK. He said that the policy enshrined in the EU’s mandate is not one that can be agreed by the UK. Interesting to see sterling come back a touch as Mr Frost said it’s still the early stages of talks and the UK is still setting out its position – this seems rather optimistic given the timelines previously mentioned.

Whilst we knew that there had been precious little progress in the latest round of talks, the language indicates the two sides are very far apart still. We should however note that adopting this tone is part of the game – the UK’s position remains to take a hard line and, with Mr Cummings still in place, I would think this will remain the case. When questioned, Mr Frost said he reports to the PM, not to Mr Cummings. Of course, we all know where the real power lies.

As previously noted time is running out fast for the talks and we become less sure that either side has the political will and capital to expend on this when dealing with the economic catastrophe of the pandemic. The EU focus is on sorting out a rescue fund that all members can sign up to. Political capital is being spent on that more readily.

Chatter around the Bank of England looking at negative rates is another weight on sterling right now. Indeed it’s a crossroads moment as we deal with a massive increase in government debt, run huge twin deficits and exit the EU whilst in the midst of the worst global recession since the 1930s. There are a lot of downside risks for GBP.

Chart: Pound under pressure: EURGBP moves up to test near-term resistance, GBPUSD drops sharply

Meanwhile, EURUSD also pulled back from its highs, before recovering the 1.10 handle. The euro had earlier moved higher and European equities extended gains after the European Commission laid out plans for an additional €750bn stimulus fund. Ursula von der Leyen set out plans to distribute €500bn in grants – as per the Franco-German proposals – with an additional €250bn in loans on top. She said this would take the EU’s total recovery fund to €2.4 trillion.

A German government spokesman said Berlin was happy the EU had taken up elements of the plans set out last week by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. Macron urged the EU to move forward quickly. But a Dutch official said budget talks would ‘take time’, indicating a still rather frosty approach to the rescue fund from certain corners – it’s far from a done deal.

Chart: EURUSD analysis

The EC plans took the cross through the 200-day simple moving average around 1.1010 but there was not an immediate follow-through and the Brexit chatter knocked it back before it retook the 200-day line. Bulls need to see a confirmed push above this to unlock the path back to 1.1150, the March swing high. Failure calls for retest of recent swing lows at 1.0880.

Macron and Merkel’s rescue fund: Europe’s Hamiltonian moment?

Forex

Germany and France have agreed to push for a €500bn EU fund to help member states combat the economic fallout of Covid-19. The proposal comes as EU leaders fail to reach a consensus over what form a rescue package should take.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have backed the scheme to support the Eurozone economy, which would be in the form of grants not loans.

The stimulus will be funded by the European Commission borrowing money – ‘coronabonds’ in all but name. The EC could borrow money from capital markets on behalf of all EU nations, secured against the next seven-year budget. The debt would mature after 2027.

This is an important breakthrough for the EU and has been dubbed Europe’s ‘Hamiltonian’ moment, in reference to Alexander Hamilton, who federalised the debts of the various US states in 1790.

This week on Wednesday EU President Ursula von der Leyen will present her plans, which will build on the Franco-German proposal.

If the budget talks are successful it should lower risk premia on EU sovereign debt, lowering bond yields and offering succour to the euro as well as to European equity markets.

It would also mark a major step towards EU fiscal policy coordination and possible fiscal union.

Will Eurozone members agree to rescue grants?

But it needs consensus and agreement from all the members of the common currency. Leaders struggled to agree an emergency funding package back in April, and the issue of how to support the recovery once the health crisis had passed was left alone.

Some nations have argued that making any rescue funding into a loan means saddling more debt on member states, like Italy and Spain, that are already struggling with their existing liabilities.

The ‘frugal four’ – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden – are not playing ball with the French and Germans, putting forward a counterproposal to the €500bn bailout fund.

The four countries said they would not agree to a mutualization of debt, nor an increase in the EU budget.

Budget talks over the next few weeks will be crucial to the Eurozone and its economy.

For more, follow Helen Thomas from BlondeMoney here on XRay for weekly video updates and sign up for bespoke research analysis on how EU politics is driving financial markets.

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