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WHERE’S THE DEPTH?

We have all heard the 5 trillion-dollar figure, and initially, normally the first time we see or hear it posted online, we have been ushered into a brief instance of truly inspired awe as we tried to contemplate the shear size of this market we all love and hate in equal portions.

BUT... have you ever really dissected that number? I mean really pulled it apart to see what the reality is and understand the true 'depth' of the FX retail marketplace? What was that? Did I hear an overwhelming under-the-breath murmur of noes? Well, then let's have a quick flashback to middle school mathematics and run some numbers...

That famous 5 trillion dollar figure is divided over 150 plus currency pairs and over each individual tick, or price change, that happens throughout the day, with the major pairs seeing dozens of ticks per second.

Now even at one tick per second that is 86,400 ticks a day with an available volume of 57 million per tick, but don't get too excited. Over 80% is focused on trading the Euro Dollar pair exclusively, that leaves you with 11.4 million spread out over the 149 plus other pairs in the market. You need to also keep in mind that Dark Pools, or the liquidity that is passed between banks and intermediaries, that does not make its way to the open marketplace, as to not cause price fluctuations, makes up a large portion of that famed estimate.In digesting all that information keep in mind that at the end of the day the remaining small handful of FX banks left in the industry, mainly Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan and UBS, control about 53 percent of global volume on average. Not to mention that this figure is not focused on retail FX, it's focused on the entire FX market. If you buy some Sushi in Japan or some Churros in Mexico, using your US issued debit card (yeah I know, buying churros with a debit card is a bit far fetched... but allow me some literary license here) the bank must make a FX transaction in real time to settle the charge and again once it posts. These transactions and every other bank FX movement in the world make up a piece of that estimate.So essentially those numbers above are VERY charitable and as you can see this extremely 'Liquid' market is not that liquid at all, especially on the retail level. Consider as well that the top 10 largest retail brokers in the world by volume clear less than 100 billion per day in TOTAL. If you add in the institutional sides to these same brokers the volumes increase but not substantially in terms of the famed daily volume figure. So where on earth is that missing 4.9 trillion? Seems an amount that large would be hard to misplace.

Now, the real question here; how do I trade larger positions inside this market when the true available liquidity is so much lower than advertised, and for that matter what is considered a large position?In the 'ultra liquid' (thick sarcasm clearly implied) retail FX market orders of 5M CCY or more, on majors, should be considered a large position, and on crosses anything above 3M CCY is in the same ball park. Minors and Exotics vary, but the average top of book is usually less than 200k on most of these pairs, with lower tiers maxing out at maybe 1 to 2M through 3 to 5 levels. I know your broker will tout some 'special' pool of liquidity they can tap into, or you may have had larger orders fill with ease, but rest assured on a legit STP (straight through processing) pricing feed you will not be able to fill 10 or 20 million in volume on a single ticket, slippage or no slippage.

For larger positions IOC (Immediate or Cancel) or FOK (Fill or Kill) orders are most definitely your friend. IOC markets can help to increase fill rates and allow you to sweep the entire available book while IOC limits can assist in eliminating negative slippage when making use of partial fills based on the available TOB (top of book). FOK markets will fill, at market, by sweeping the book, and will only fill if the full order volume is available. FOK limits are limited to the TOB but will cancel completely if the full volume is not available.

Depending on your strategy staging orders based on the TOB can help you in taking advantage of ranging markets without pushing the price to far beyond your desired entry point before completely filling your desired volume. The key is to find the average TOB on the pair you are trading and stage your orders slightly below this average to ensure the best fill ratio on each entry.Another technique that can beneficial when your main goal is to eliminate negative slippage and increase fill rates is to place multiple IOC limits within a tight range around your desired entry point. This will ensure more entries at different price points and give you an artificial VWAP (volume weighted average price) price, one that can be estimated BEFORE you enter the market.

Banks, LPs, and executing MMs use every single trick they can to ensure that executions are in their favor, this does not mean making you loose, as retail FX traders can do that on their own, but this DOES mean limiting your wins by filling positions partially, widening spreads, rejecting orders, last looks, etc. In order to stay ahead of the curve you need to be just as creative as they are.

... and before I press save let me ask myself, 'is this tradable'? I guess I will find out once those comments start to roll in. Happy trading, good luck, and stay 'liquid'.

 

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