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Barclays Global Financial Services Conference

September 11, 2013 08:30 am ET


Robert Lande – Chief Financial Officer


Ken Hill – Barclays Capital

Ken Hill – Barclays Capital

Alright, good morning. We’re going to roll on here with FXCM. We are pleased to have Robert Lande, CFO of the company here with us today. This is their second appearance I believe at our Financial Services Conference. They’ve had a very robust start to the year – the stock’s up almost 100% year-to-date so we’re looking forward to hearing the company’s thoughts about the overall industry as well as the go forward strategy and some of the growth opportunities in the space.

With that I’ll keep it short and turn it over to Robert.

Robert Lande

Thanks, Ken. I’m pleased to be here at the conference.

Let me start with a little bit about us for those of you who don’t know about FXCM. It was founded in 1999 by six partners; five are still active in the business including the CEO and the COO. We are the largest retail foreign exchange broker in the United States and ex-Japan number one in most of the Asian jurisdictions. We also offer outside the United States CFDs, a very popular product in the UK on oil and some of the commodities.

We have two main revenue streams and this evolved a little bit over the recent years. We are 77% retail and 23% institutional. And the institutional piece has been growing quite rapidly and I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a few minutes. We’re in over 180 countries.

One of the nice things about FX and our platform is it’s from one platform that has been developed in New York; we have it in a number of languages around the world. And so if you think of like a typical US e-broker when he goes outside into the world it’s not so easy to just set up in France. You need a lot of connectivity and a seat on the French Exchange and the like. And for us, this one platform developed out of New York can service the French market very easily and it’s really just languages is the issue.

And we also put out a lot of research every day. FX is an interesting market where we put out tons of pieces in a variety of languages. One of our big strengths in China for instance is that we put out a lot of real time research in Chinese which is not something that they are used to seeing.

The FX management and founders own 43% of the business and you can see on the right-hand side that our volume by geography – 47% from Asia, this is 2012; 11% from US; 30% Europe/Middle East; and then 12% elsewhere. And we have 182,000 active accounts today.

Like I said, there’s two major business segments. We have the retail side where we’re one of the larger retail FX brokers in the world. It’s still a tiny piece of the retail market of the overall complex, which is now estimated by [DIS] to be a $5.3 trillion/day market. It used to be a $4.0 trillion/day market until their most recent survey – projected to go to $10.0 trillion/day. But only about 5% to 8% by our estimate is retail FX although it’s been probably the fastest-growing component within the overall FX complex.

On the institutional side it’s a little bit different, the way that market is set up. There we compete against the major banks and the major ECNs that are out there like Thompson-Reuters has a platform, the CME offers futures in FX; EBS out of Europe is a large ECN; Hotspot owned by Knight. So these are all institutional platforms that service the institutional market. We have our own platform. We actually have two platforms – one’s a JV with Credit Suisse called FastMatch and another one is our internal FXCM Pro platform, and that allows an institution to trade as they wish in FX.

So investment themes for FXCM is one, we are an agency FX player, meaning that we stream 16 quotes from market makers to you and we just take a markup on that. It tends to be around $90 to $100 per $1 million on average and we just make our money on the volume. That’s different from most of our competitors who are principal-based competitors and so they’re taking the other side of the trade and deciding whether they want to offset that trade or not based on their own risk parameters.

So we have a very in our view low-risk business model. We’re not taking principal risk. We have a technology platform that has been developed that’s very tried and true. We do 450,000 to 500,000 trades a day so that’s not dissimilar to what TD Ameritrade would do in a day except that we do not have the whole national infrastructure that an equity broker has. FX is an OTC market so we’re providing everything – we’re doing the clearinghouse work, we are the exchange, all of that. And so it’s not a simple thing to replicate this platform and do it in the kind of scale that we have and be able to handle the volumes that we’re talking about.

We’re a big player internationally. I’ll take you some of the growth drivers for the stock. Another piece to our story, and we have raised a lot of money and are generating a lot of money and sit with a lot of money but we are looking to continue to roll up the industry. We’ve done an acquisition every year since 2010 with FX – any e-brokers, when they combine it’s very accretive. And we believe we have a very seasoned management team that is invested heavily into the business.

So on the left it just shows you what I was talking about, that we stream quotes. If the best quote at any given time is from let’s say UBS you act on that trade, you go long Australian dollars – we hit UBS, we hit you, we monitor you three times a second that you have enough margin in your account, and we now have a position sitting open at UBS in Australian dollars if that’s what you were doing.

And like I said before, we think that this model is somewhat unique, being able to stream and act as an agency player. It aligns ourselves better with our customers. And if you’re a larger customer trading algorithmically as they often do we do disproportionately very well with larger customers who in the end, a principal-based competitor – if you’re a customer doing very well with them they will figure out at some point “Oh yes,” get you off their system, widen out spreads or do something because they only make money if you lose money.

And so we in the end often do very well with these larger – and there are people who trade FX in a very large way. These larger retail foreign exchange clients almost always end up coming to us in the end. And we encourage algorithms and have all sorts of connectivity for them. So that’s a function of our business model.

And like I said before, our technology we think gives us a powerful competitive advantage. This is not something that would be easily replicable. About 30% of our payroll is in IT every year. We devote a lot of effort in making sure the system is reliable, and keep in mind this is a 24-hour market. And so as it happens, if there’s an earthquake in Japan at 2:00 in the morning you can have an explosion of volume. So it’s very important that the system works, does not crash and we’ve been very successful in that.

This is a little bit about where our volumes are around the world. So while we’re based in New York the United States is 10%, 12% of our overall volume. Our single largest source of volume is mainland China which last year was 20% of our volume. The second-largest would be Japan which as many of you know is a very large retail foreign exchange market and that’s about 14% for us. The United States is next, and then it’s pretty diversified – in the UK it’s 5%, South Korea is 6%, Canada 4%. I’m sure France should be something like 4%.

So it’s really spread around the world but our two largest jurisdictions are China and Japan. Any kind of liberalization, and by the way, overall a little more than half of our volume comes from emerging markets. FX is very much a mainstream product for an emerging market investor who often is facing as an alternative to investment very local equity markets which are often difficult to navigate. And a lot of these investors are very sophisticated, have very good kind of grounding in macroeconomics and are very comfortable in knowing what a Euro is and what a dollar is. And this is one of the big attractions to them.

So growth potential – half of our volume comes from actually not our own direct customers but white labels that we partner up with around the world. So there’s a lot of financial institutions that are looking to provide foreign exchange and we’re the ones who give them a whole package to provide this to their customer. So we’ve been very well established in the Asian markets and in the past year and a half now we’ve seen some pretty significant US and European players sign up with us as well.

So Charles Schwab launched I think in July through their optionsXpress platform, they launched foreign exchange. optionsXpress is a platform they’re using to do multi assets to their more active trader universe. Last year you saw E*Trade launch foreign exchange and it’s us in the background providing the solution for them, like with Barclays in the UK. Barclays Wealth is using us to provide foreign exchange and they’re the leading broker in the UK.

So as these white labels grow there’s not a lot of costs for us other than getting connected and maybe changing our colors to line up with what they would like to present. They tend to be 50/50 revenue sharers and they offer us the ability… They are responsible for the marketing, client service and we just give the technology solution but it’s obviously very accretive to us to provide this.

The institutional side I mentioned a little bit is something – we’ve been historically providing our solution using a third-party platform. We’ve been migrating those customers onto our own platform that we developed and we expect to be able to price that more tightly. And I think you’re seeing the benefits of that. For example we released the metrics for August last night. August was a pretty weak market for foreign exchange but yet you saw an increase in August for us from July and I think it was one of our record months ever in terms of volume.

So you’re seeing I think the benefits now of having customers on our own platform, pricing them more tightly so the market is all about price. Most of the time the institutional customers don’t even know who they’re trading against. They’re using aggregators. And so having better prices gets better share and this is a growth potential for us.

Liberalizing emerging markets would be a big thing for us as well. If you think that China ends up liberalizing their currency, we would be one of the largest beneficiaries of that. We’re already offering trading an RMB but obviously if that currency was to become a major and liquid and freely-traded currency that’s something that we would benefit from, as well as allowing mainland Chinese to trade with us. Because they don’t have any specific regulations there about foreign exchange they are actually sending their money offshore to either typically our Hong Kong office or our UK office and mainland Chinese have to comply with capital controls to do that, which currently limit them to no more than $2000 a month in hard currency that they can take out.

If that was to liberalize then we would see larger account sizes out of China, and as I mentioned we’re the number one in China and generate a lot of research in Chinese. We’d be a big beneficiary of any kind of liberalization there.

Interest rates for us like all brokers is a big thing. Although for FX we have a somewhat unique benefit which is that if customers hold positions overnight then they would expect to pay or receive based on whether their long or short is a higher-yielding currency. And we take a cut of that. So if you’ve gone long Aussie dollar and it was Goldman that was ultimately who executed on that trade then Goldman pays Aussie dollar on what we give you, we take a cut. That’s currently a tiny percentage of our revenues.

In 2008 when we last had interest rate differentials on overnight rates amongst major currencies that was around 15% of our revenues and that’s gone to zero now. A number of analysts have recently put out research kind of quantifying a little bit the opportunity but to give you kind of the scope of this – currently on a typical FXCM day our customers with very little interest rate differentials are holding $5 billion, $6 billion overnight.

If all said and if the Fed funds rate starts to move that could easily go to $15 billion, $20 billion, $25 billion as people want to earn the carry which tends to be the number one reason to invest in foreign exchange to being with. And us making a 25%, 30% cut on that if you do the math you can see this is a material amount of money for FXCM and it would be all margin. So that’s a big thing.

And then of course we have a lot of cash on our own. We had at the end of June $370 million of cash. We had $1.1 billion of customer cash so obviously like a typical broker, every 100 basis points on that we want to make another $15 million. So we’re definitely levered to interest rates.

Bottom-left chart is just one of the, excluding the Japanese – there’s a couple of very large Japanese brokers that are larger than us. But excluding that because they tend to be Japanese-centric and only operate in Japan you can see that our, we’re probably the largest in the world by most estimates. We trade anywhere between $14 billion to $20 billion a day. Our customers… And this is one survey that shows us being a leader.

And that whole group there is something that we’re looking to consolidate. There used to be a lot more, if you were to look at that five years ago a lot more bars. There’s a lot less now and I think that’ll continue to get less. Scale matters and four, five years ago if you were making $100 million in revenue you were probably doing pretty well, $30 million, $40 million in EBITDA. With all the compliance costs these days and the general environment for financial you’re probably breaking even now with that kind of profile.

So scale matters and we’re hoping to make some acquisitions. You can see on the right these are some of the ones that we’ve done. We did one in the UK in 2010, two in Japan in ’11 and Lucid, some markets in the UK in 2012. These were all done at various attractive EBITDA multiples. When you put together two retail foreign exchange dealers, really we don’t need a lot from them other than their customer base. We’re not going to use their platform. They typically just bring us customers, maybe some of their institutional salespeople but everything else is pretty much capable of being reduced. And so it can be very accretive to put two e-brokers together and we’ve been hard at work working on the M&A front and hope to have something in the future to report on that.

The management team has been involved in the company since founding. Lots of people have been there since the beginning. The management owns a huge stake in the company so I think you’d find that at FXCM we’re very much aligned with management in terms of incentive and that they are good guardians of risk and likewise of capital. And so we have been generating a lot of cash and sit with a lot of cash. That is in anticipation of some pretty significant M&A but if that were not to come about I think you would see very much that we would be large returners of capital and just that management is very much aligned with shareholders.

Turning now a little bit to our recent results and kind of the market environment, this is the CVIX. So there’s a VIX for currencies and it tends to be quite a bit less than the equity market CVIX or equity market VIX. And what you can see kind of at the far right is since the beginning of the year there’s definitely been a pickup from where we’ve been.

We finished 2012 at 7.5 which was really kind of about as crummy as it gets, and just having this kind of pickup even not to particularly extraordinary levels… In Q4 2012 we did $27 million in EBITDA. Last quarter we did $54 million, so we’re very much a company with very high incremental margins, a pretty fixed cost structure so if all said and our customers are trading more it goes to the bottom line. And I think Q2 in particular showed the potential, the earnings potential of FXCM that just having slightly better weather what it can achieve – and this again wasn’t even particularly record levels of trading volumes.

So just kind of the scope of what happened in Q2: revenues just on that benefit… And this all comes from the fact that we’ve grown the company through acquisition but even organically as well. We are about five times the size that we were in 2008 in terms of client equity, and so having grown that much and seeing the improvement in trading conditions and currencies – we reported revenues were up 50% year-over-year, volume was up 33%, EPS of $0.32 a share, EBITDA was up 159%, we had 46% EBITDA margins, so all very good and I think all indicative of the earnings potential of the company.

Again, the company is capable of doing much more if the Fed were to taper or Larry Summers becomes the Fed Chairman – all of these kinds of things. Any kind of volatility in the market is all good for FXCM because FX traders tend to engage when there’s volatility as opposed to equity traders who tend to disengage. They do seek this. In the absence of interest rates volatility is really the other thing that makes things interesting for FX traders. And so all of this is something that we would benefit from.

So the stock is up a lot this year in part because of great financial results, but a lot of people now have been attracted to the story that if you’re worried a little bit about what might happen in the next year, two years in terms of the environment, FXCM is a beneficiary of almost any kind of the darker scenarios that you would conjure up for the world. This is just going to be very positive for currency volatilities.

This is our income statement. It’s kind of tiny to read but I think the point I’d want to make is we reported in Q2 $104 million of retail trading revenues. That was an average of $88 per $1 million traded, so it’s a very simple business model to follow. You take our volume and our revenue capture has kind of ranged between high-$80s to up to $100 per $1 million. And that’s the markup that customers pay on their trade. For every $1 million they trade we got on average $88 and that was it. And then that was marked up on top of whatever it was, whoever they were executing with.

Institutionally it’s a similar story except there it’s a much more competitive market. This tends to be around $10 per $1 million marked up. And then with the exception of referring broker fees as an expense, that’s that revenue share we have with white labels, everything else in that cost structure is really very much fixed and within our control. Comp and benefits, people are not with the exception of some of our institutional people – people are not paid based on revenues. Advertising, all of these things are very much within our control so that’s how we’re able to have such high incremental margins.

On the balance sheet then, so on the top left the cash and cash equivalents is our own cash, $373 million at the end of June. The next line then is customer cash, $1.171 billion. And then you can see a liability of $1.171 billion – it’s always good when those match up. And then we have not much debt. We did a convertible bond at the end of May and that’s there at $120 million, and we have a note payable as a balance of one of our acquisitions of $15 million. So the company has a lot of cash and is well in excess of its regulatory capital requirements which were around $80 million globally at the end of June.

In addition to this we have an undrawn credit facility of $155 million, so you know. As I’ll show you we’ve generated $100 million in after-tax cash flow for the first six months of this year so a lot of cash in the system and liquidity for us to do M&A or ultimately return to shareholders if need be. And this is the slide of our cash flow. You can see from the bars that 2012 we did $102 million in cash flow. This is after-tax; you pull this straight off our cash flow statement after tax but before capital expenditures which aren’t much – I’ll take you through that in a minute. And then you can see for the first two months of this year we did $95 million, so almost 93% of what we did last year.

On the right-hand side then are our capital expenditures for the first six months - $11 million, that’s pretty normal. We don’t have a lot of capital expenditures. And then so $84 million in free cash flow, so plenty to do with what we wish. Right now the focus is as I said M&A so that is why we’re building up cash.

So in summary I think Q2 offered a glimpse. We went public at the end of 2010. There were a number of years where it was pretty bumpy but I think you could see that the currency VIX was pretty much on a 45-degree line downwards during that period of 2011-2012 where in the absence of no interest rates it was a difficult environment for us. But we were still profitable, still generated as you saw plenty of cash. But what Q2 offered is with the weather improving just a glimpse of what is possible and so we’re pleased to have shown that, and 46% net EBITDA margins and solid performance from both the retail and institutional side.

As I’ve taken you through we have over $500 million now in liquidity, so if we’re able to roll up a couple of more brokers and grow ourselves that would be very accretive to both earnings and cash. And then overall our cash flow generation is really pretty strong and a big part of our story. We have, as a part of these acquisitions fairly significant non-cash charges in our income statement. The acquisition we did last year of Lucid alone just adds $22 million a year in intangible amortization. So the cash flow, the income statement does not necessarily indicate the full extent of our cash generation but it is an important part of our story.

So with that I’ll turn it back to Ken.

Question-and-Answer Session

Ken Hill – Barclays Capital

I think we’re going to try the audience response questions here, we’ve got about four questions to kind of gauge some sentiment right now. The first one is if you’re not a holder of FXCM what will cause you to change your mind? So an improved volume outlook, more attractive valuation, decreased headline risk or more clarity on the strategy?

Okay, so improved volume outlook and more attractive valuation are neck-and-neck at 40% each. Then we have 0% on headline risk, good; and then 20% on the more clarity on the strategy. So I don’t know if there’s anything you want to touch on there to predict volumes or…

Robert Lande

Yeah, I mean it is always, investors always have this and even the company in projecting – it’s always difficult to forecast the macro. And that has a big impact on us and it’s probably one of the most aggravating things for me: is the world going to be more uncertain, is it going to be more favorable to FX trading environments coming forward? Or has the Fed perfectly pulled this off and it’s another two years of serenity? So it’s always an issue.

We have a number of organic elements to our story, though. Like I said we’re growing the institutional business. I think you’re going to see that be a much more balanced thing if we’re able to keep… And we’ve been able to grow client equity quite nicely as well. Last year client equity in the absence of any acquisition was up I think 14% year-over-year. People leave with us what they plan on actively trading so we don’t pay interest on customer deposits and we’re not FDIC insured, and so growing client equity as we have been is a good indicator for the future because it’s very much there to actively trade.

So I think I’m not surprised that improving volume, macro trends would certainly change people’s minds because we are so much a beneficiary of that.

Ken Hill – Barclays Capital

Okay, we’ll move on to the next question which kinds of gets to the volume question. We’ve seen some good volumes over the first half of this year – what do you see as a steady year-over-year growth rate for FX volumes over the next three years? So down more than 10%; 0% to negative 10%; 0% to 10%; or more than 10% growth year over year?

Okay. So a rosy outlook there for you guys – 67% expect it to be up more than 10% year-over-year with 33% up 0% to 10%. So no one’s looking for them to move lower going forward.

Robert Lande

Yeah, I think this is probably just a reflection that many of us have, that you know the world is kind of trite for a lot of serenity right now and we all don’t know what it is going to be exactly but it’s probably going to be more choppy. And certainly also you have the whole kind of currency warm theme too that’s going on in respect of what goes on in terms of the macro-economy. That affects a lot of people now. Obviously Japan has started a major kind of ball rolling and you’ve seen all sorts of currencies now moving in relation to what they’ll central banks, whether they’ll offend or not. Even Australia and New Zealand has been a fascinating case study in the past two months of people trying to figure out whether their central bank governors are going to want strengthening or not. So a lot would benefit us and I’m not surprised that people think this is getting on a continuum.

Ken Hill – Barclays Capital

Okay. Next is one of the questions we get a lot. So you spoke to a lot of liquidity on the balance sheet, the $500 million you guys have and talking about acquisitions in the space. What do you think the deals are going to be over the next year? Is it going to be one large retail acquisition, multiple large retail acquisitions, some smaller ones, large institutional acquisitions or smaller institutional acquisitions? Where would you expect them to focus?

Okay. That one surprises me a little bit. 50% felt small institutional acquisitions was what the focus should be; zero on the multiple large acquisitions; 20% on one and 20% on the small retail; and 10% on the large institutional.

Robert Lande

We are looking on both fronts. The problem traditionally on the institutional side has been, certainly vis-à-vis a large institution is that the multiples – there’s a scarcity of properties and the multiples have been very high. The last kind of big one that traded was FXall which went public and then I think six months later Thompson-Reuters bought it, I think 28x forward earnings, you know? There are a lot of institutional acquisitions that would make tons of strategic sense to us but would have pretty horrible financial impacts on us, and so we’ve been a little bit reticent to do those and have worked more instead organically on our institutional business. On the small side though there are certainly some things that aren’t priced quite like all of this and would add to our capabilities on the institutional side so that is something that we are looking at.

Ken Hill – Barclays Capital

Okay. We’ll move on to the last question. Outside of acquisitions what do you feel would be the best use of capital? Either paying down debt, share repurchases, increasing the quarterly dividend, a special dividend or reinvesting in the business?

Okay, so share repurchase is winning out there at 45% followed by reinvesting in the business at 36% and some 9% feel special dividend.

Robert Lande

That is interesting and that’s very interesting for me, because that is always something as a CFO you grapple a little bit with. We do have a dividend; we pay $0.06 now a quarter – I think in fact today we’re actually doing the dividend. But anyway, it’s been something that certainly some investors have indicated “Well, we would like to see dividends grow.” Share repurchases come with the double-edge sword that you’re sort of shrinking the float but on the other hand they make a lot of sense. And we’ve been pretty aggressive in that regard. I think cumulatively we’ve got in the past twelve months, we’ve bought back I don’t know, about $40 million of our shares. So it is something that we have done and we’re going to continue to do for sure. So that’s interesting.

Ken Hill – Barclays Capital

Okay, I wanted to see if we had any questions from the audience right now?


Great, thanks. Robert, can you talk about what are the sources of strength from your institutional business in August were?

Robert Lande

Yeah, so we’ve been really working at this for a while now and it’s… So we’ve been selling a third-party platform. When we launched the institutional business, I think it was 2007, around then, we didn’t know. We were primarily a retail foreign exchange broker but our advantage was that there were a number of market makers streaming very attractive prices on the retail side and we became pretty much the largest FX customer in a lot of these banks. And so it gave us a lot of, a fair amount of power. We didn’t have to worry that they were going to price our retail flow aggressively – that we knew they would do, but we then persuaded them “Well, you know, if you want to price our retail flow aggressively we’d like to also then have a very aggressive institutional feed from you as well.”

And then we chose to use a third-party platform to offer that, and that platform costs about $9, $10 per $1 million and that’s a lot. It was enough to make us kind of seventh in the book. So we developed and upgraded our retail engine to handle that. It’s a different platform altogether. The institutional, the latency speeds are much less but also it’s to institutions with prime brokers trading with each other so even just the messaging is different. So it was a fairly complex tech upgrade which we completed the beginning of last year and then have been migrating all through last year and this year customers onto our own platform. And then in parallel we took Credit Suisse which has the leading dark pool equity technology and applied that to FX, and that’s for high-frequency FX traders.

Anyway, those two platforms now really are doing very well and the opportunity here is someone like EBS does $150 billion plus a day, all of those big guys. CME, Reuters – they’re all in the $100 billion to $200 billion a day region. And we’re like $6 billion or $7 billion, now I think we did probably $8 billion or $9 billion in August. Can we grow this to $20 billion or $30 billion or $40 billion? That’s the opportunity. There’s no question the market is out there. It is a $5 trillion/day market. Now a large chunk of that is just with the big banks but then you’ve got a very large tranche, I would say certainly $1 trillion that are trading on ECNs like ourselves, like EBS, like Hotspot. So I think August you’re seeing finally some of this coming home.

Ken Hill – Barclays Capital

Okay, I think we’ll wrap it up there since we’re out of time. We’re going to be doing a breakout session in the Madison Suite if you have any further questions.

Robert Lande

Great, thanks. Thanks everyone.

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