06.01.2012
By Terry Flanagan

Peak6 and Penson Form New Clearing Firm

The two firms have agreed to form a new clearing firm, Apex Clearing, using the assets from Penson Financial Services.

Trading firm Peak6 Investments and broker-dealer Penson Worldwide will form Apex Clearing, a new privately held clearing services firm that will acquire Penson’s U.S. securities accounts and contracts. The agreement does not include Penson’s futures business, which was acquired by Knight Capital Group, or its Canadian operations.

“The move to form Apex provides support and stability for its customers,” a spokesperson for Peak6 told Markets Media.

Penson right now is essentially going through a full scale liquidation, according to Scott Appleby of Appleby Capital, who was an analyst covering Penson.

“Penson suffered from a confluence of a number of factors,” said Appleby. “They just weren’t able to maintain profitability in this low interest rate environment and at the same time there has been this contraction in trading volumes.”

The near-zero rates impacted the net interest income that they earn on customer balances. Further compounding their problems, about a year ago Penson disclosed significant non-accrual receivables, which were eventually completely written off, that were collateralized by bonds issued by Retama Development, which operates a horse racing track.

“It is definitely much harder for smaller broker-dealers to survive, as it’s not easy even for the larger ones,” said Michael Wong, analyst with Morningstar. “You can see that with firms like ITG and their declining share price the last few years. With how extreme the Great Recession has been, the recovery back for trading volumes is taking longer than it historically has.”

The company’s remaining business operations in the U.S. following the transactions will be as a third-party provider of clearing related operational and technology services, principally through Nexa. Its involvement in the U.S. clearing broker-dealer business will be limited to its investment in Apex Holdings. It will continue to operate its Canadian securities clearing business through its Canadian broker-dealer subsidiary, Penson Financial Services Canada.

Appleby said that the remaining operations under Penson’s umbrella are not substantial, and it is likely that they would look to divest those assets as well.

An analyst from a broker-dealer who has been covering Penson told Markets Media that the firm has been trying to sell its Canadian subsidiary, which has been operating at a loss, for around 6 months. It remains unclear if there has been any interest.

In May, online brokerages TradeKing Group and Zecco Holdings announced that they would merge, signifying the necessity for scale in a low volume environment.

“There will definitely be more consolidation or elimination in this space for smaller and medium firms to get back to profitability,” added Wong.

This is the second restructuring move made by Penson in a week. Closing on Friday was Knight Capital Group’s acquisition of Penson’s futures business , in a deal valued at $5 million. In addition, Penson is entitled to receive earn-out payments over the next three years based on the performance of the futures division.

“The futures division of Penson was attractive to Knight, in that it is an asset class that they could do with building,” said Wong. “Several years ago they were mainly in equities and then expanded into fixed income and some FX too. Getting into futures would be a good business move. They also get some additional clearing ability, and everyone from exchanges to agency brokers and principal trading firms want to expand clearing capabilities.”

The futures commission merchant has been renamed Knight Futures and will operate as a division of Knight Execution & Clearing Services. The division provides futures execution, clearing and custody services to facilitate transactions among brokers, institutions and non-clearing FCMs on major U.S. and European futures and options exchanges. The division also offers risk management and consultation services and operates an electronic futures trading platform for professional traders and individual investors.

Knight is in the process of assuming the exchange seats and memberships of Penson Financial Services, at the Chicago Board of Trade, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Kansas City Board of Trade, NYSE Liffe, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, Nymex, Comex, ICE Futures US, ICE Clear US, ICE Futures Europe, ICE Clear Europe, Eurex, One Chicago and LCH.Clearnet.

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