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Credit card bans and the future of US retail forex

Last week I brought up the subject of a prospective new NFA ban on the use of credit cards to fund accounts in retail forex. There has been considerable discussion about this, as tends to be the case any time the regulators come out with new rules (or at least plans for them). Once more we are hearing the claim that the NFA (and CFTC) is out to kill retail forex in the US. A blog post at Forex Magnates on Friday definitely takes that view. I have a hard time agreeing with this.

Let me pick on one particular comment:

NFA has gone a long way trying to completely kick retail forex out of the US eventually reducing the number of retail forex brokers from several dozens to just 11. With FX Solutions heading out as well the number of US forex brokers may fall below 10 within few months.

There’s no doubt we have fewer US forex brokers now. Is that a function of NFA/CFTC regulations? In some cases, I’m sure it is – especially when we talk about minimum capitalization rules that were put into place. I would contend, however, that such consolidation is simply a natural product of a business that is maturing.

Think about what we’ve seen in retail forex in the last decade or so. Topping the list is the way bid/ask spreads have come down very sharply. This means less income for the brokers, most of whom operate in some fashion on a dealer-based model. To put it another way, profit margins have been squeezed considerably. Any time that sort of thing happens industry-wide you get consolidation as those companies unable to compete either go out of business or get absorbed by those who can.

I would suggest we’re likely headed for a handful of major US forex brokers. We need only look at the stock market to see how few big brokers there are in that sector despite the fact that it features a bigger customer base.

Now, this is not me disagreeing with many of the arguments against the NFA credit card ban. I actually think it’s somewhat silly in a lot of ways given the many ways customers can access and move around money. If avoiding the use of borrowed money is the main focus (and I’m largely in agreement on that) then this ban only makes it slightly harder, as others have noted.

One question I would bring up, though, is that of expenses. Who foots the bill for credit card transaction fees, which are generally in the 2%-3% range? My guess is in most, if not all, cases it is the customer paying that bill. Preventing the use of cards from that perspective automatically keeps traders out of a performance hole. This game is hard enough as is, as I observed in Starting to detail forex profitability data.

I’d still love to hear your thoughts on the credit card ban, by the way. Feel free to leave a comment below, on Facebook, or Twitter @RhodyTrader.

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