Penson clearing out of U.S. clearing industry

Jun 3, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Bruce Kelly

The shakeout in the clearing industry rolls on.

On Thursday, one of the largest and, until recently, fastest-growing firms, Penson Worldwide Inc., said that it will formally leave the clearing business in the United States, though the transaction is structured in such a way that Penson will retain a significant stake in a new venture that serves those firms.

Through its broker-dealer subsidiary, Penson Financial Services Inc., the company provides clearing services for 230 broker-dealers in the United States

In a transaction involving several different businesses, Penson Financial is selling and transferring its customer accounts and clearing contracts to Apex Clearing Solutions LLC. Penson Financial also will transfer to Apex Clearing certain liabilities and net assets valued at $90 million, which will contribute to an expected $130 million in regulatory capital at the end of the transaction.

FIXTURE IN THE BUSINESS

Penson Financial Services, however, will remain a fixture in the clearing business. It will receive a 94% equity interest in a new joint venture, Apex Clearing Holdings LLC, which will be managed by Apex Clearing Solutions.

The latter is a subsidiary of Peak6 Investments LP, a financial services firm that owns a variety of businesses, including an online trading platform, OptionsHouse LLC.

In addition, Broadridge Financial Institutions Inc. will transfer to Apex Clearing Holdings the ownership of its broker-dealer subsidiary, Ridge Clearing and Outsourcing Solutions Inc. Two years ago, Penson Worldwide partially acquired Broadridge.

The number of clearing firms has steadily declined over the past 15 years as margins in the business have dwindled, due to lower-cost technology and greatly reduced charges for trades. The record lows in interest rates also are crimping clearing firms, which generate profits by charging clients interest on margin lending, as well as holding cash.

THIRD-PARTY PROVIDER

“Following the transactions, [Penson Worldwide] will no longer be a U.S. securities correspondent-clearing broker-dealer; thus the transaction will result in a significant refocusing of the company's business,” Penson said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Its primary business in the United States after the transactions will be as a third-party provider of clearing-related services.

Penson Worldwide has struggled of late. At the end of last year, company management said that Penson was selling certain oversees assets.

Over the past year, Penson's stock price has dropped to a low of 16 cents a share, from a high of $4.59.

bkelly@investmentnews.com

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