What trading technology used to look like at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1986.
Energy trading has long been divided between the headline prices everyone can see on the news and the much longer list of prices that exist in the traditionally more freewheeling over the counter markets.
Traders occasionally toggle between the two markets, but in recent years the market has become bifurcated not just in volume terms but also increasingly often in function as investors treat commodities like an asset class rather than a hedging tool. Now CME Group is using its technology and reminding markets that the two trading types are linked, allowing positions to be viewed across both over the counter (OTC) and exchange-listed markets.
While the individual contracts listed for exchange trade garner huge volumes in terms of contracts traded, the OTC market is generally held to be cumulatively larger even as each commodity generally trades less often and in smaller total units. The OTC market was traditionally highly profitable for traders as they continued to match buyers and sellers by phone, but efforts to drive listings online and bring the safety of centralized clearing mechanisms to a lightly-regulated hinterland of the financial markets following Enron’s collapse and the 2008 Financial Crisis have resulted in more trading of OTC contracts through exchange-operated systems.
Now CME Group, a global exchange operator that increasingly resembles a technology company rather than the floor referee of older trading systems, has launched CME Direct. The Direct system puts both the group’s exchange-listed energy contracts and six major OTC energy contracts that CME clears on a single platform.
CME is licensing its Direct technology to firms Marex Spectron, Tradition and Tullett Prebon, all major energy OTC traders. “By combining brokered OTC markets with CME Group’s clearing and STP (straight-through processing) platforms – ClearPort and ConfirmHub – CME Direct offers the first global fully automated back-to-front-office platform for trading CME listed and OTC energy products,” CME Group OTC Solutions Managing Director Michael Everaert said in announcing the new technology release.
Everaert took the slightly unorthodox step of writing an explanatory blog post about the new product release, comparing the opportunity set provided by CME Direct to that of the real estate market in his corner of the UK. The post is part of a broader effort at improved online communication at CME Group, notable in the financial and energy sectors where communication techniques often rely on older models.
CME is the major exchange player in energy markets, particularly in the US, where new financial regulations are altering the landscape of trading with new requirements in reporting, risk accounting and even aggregate position taking. The US futures regulators at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) promised an even closer look at those rules in the wake of JP Morgan’s high profile huge loss on its internal hedging strategy revealed earlier this month.
“CME Direct is a big step forward for markets to comply with current and anticipated market regulations, including those proposed under the Dodd-Frank Act and MIFID that call for more transparency, automated trading, data reporting and clearing in OTC markets,” Everaert said.
The mission isn’t finished yet for transparency providers; the challenge in providing regular and reliable price quotes for hundreds of commodity contracts that rarely trade or do so via private bilateral contracts means that only the most heavily traded OTC energy products, many of them with an exchange-traded counterpart, are getting the transparency treatment via Direct for now.
The contracts available for trading through CME Direct include NYMEX WTI crude oil, NYMEX Brent, DME Oman crude oil, RBOB Gasoline, New York Heating Oil and the benchmark Henry Hub Natural Gas futures contract. Learn more about the technology on CME’s website here.