March 27, 2018 / 8:12 AM / 24 days ago

EU markets watchdog clamps down on CFDs, 'binary' options

(Reuters) - The European Union’s securities watchdog said it will ban ‘binary’ options sales to retail clients and restrict the sales of Contract for Differences (CFDs) to protect investors from significant losses, knocking shares in Britain’s spreadbetters.

A worker shelters from the rain under a Union Flag umbrella as he passes the London Stock Exchange in London, Britain, October 1, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA)said on Tuesday it was prohibiting the marketing, distribution and sale of binary options to retail investors, while its restrictions on CFDs would affect the marketing, sale and distribution of them.

Binary options and CFDs are financial products that give an investor exposure to price movements in securities without actually owning the underlying assets such as a currency, commodity or stock.

“ESMA, along with National Competent Authorities (NCAs), concluded that there exists a significant investor protection concern in relation to CFDs and binary options offered to retail investors,” it said in a statement. “This is due to their complexity and lack of transparency.”

ESMA has said it has been concerned about how these inherently high-risk speculative products are offered to retail investors, potentially leading to significant losses and in December flagged plans to ban their sale, sending shares of spreadbetting firms tumbling.

Analysis on trading in the EU showed 74-89 percent of retail accounts typically lose money on their investments, with average losses per client ranging from 1,600-29,000 euros (1,407-25,507 pounds), ESMA said.

Shares in IG Group (IGG.L) were down 3.2 percent, Plus500 (PLUSP.L) up 3.3 percent, while CMC Markets stock was down 3.4 percent by 0942 GMT.

(GRAPHIC - UK spread betters, CFD providers navigate regulation: reut.rs/2pJbD1m)

IG, which was founded in 1974 as the world’s first spread-betting firm, said it was “disappointed” that ESMA had imposed leverage restrictions, adding that this would risk pushing retail clients to providers based outside of the EU, resulting in poor client outcomes.

    It said, however, that while the measures announced by ESMA only relate to retail clients, IG’s client base was dominated by sophisticated traders.

    IG expects its revenue in the 2019 financial year would be lower than that expected in 2018, primarily reflecting the impact of the regulatory changes in the UK and EU.

    Despite facing uncertainty from proposed regulation on these products, IG and its rivals have reported revenue growth recently as they signed up record numbers of customers, partly due to the boom in digital currencies such as bitcoin.

    Investec, which rates IG as a ‘Buy’, said the changes would imply a cut to 2019 revenue estimates of about 2 percent, with a 5 percent reduction in pretax profit. Liberum analysts expect downgrades to consensus estimates for IG’s pretax profit of over 10 percent.

    CMC said binary products generated 2.1 million pounds ($2.97 million) of revenue from the UK and Europe in the first half of the financial year 2018, and a reduction in revenue would be immaterial for the group.

    However, the firm, which was founded by Chief Executive Peter Cruddas as a foreign exchange broker with a 10,000-pound investment in 1989, said margin changes were likely to impact on how clients trade, although at this stage it was not possible to quantify the impact.

    Plus500 has never offered binary options to its customers, and has always offered negative balance protection, a spokesman for the company told Reuters via email, adding Plus500 would issue a statement later on Tuesday.

    Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain and Marc Jones, Editing by Louise Heavens

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