Trading Derivatives in Asia: If You Go Down to the Woods Today
By Lewis Richardson, Fidessa
Originally published on TABB Forum
The Asian derivatives markets increasingly are the destination of choice for firms across the derivatives spectrum. But bear traps remain for the unwary. How can you choose the safest path through the woods of this asset class in Asia?
Derivatives markets in Asia are basking in global attention, with exchanges, clearing houses, brokers, international investors and vendors all piling in to local markets. Between August 2014 and August 2015, trading in SGX China A50 futures more than doubled. (Source: SGX).
Global exchanges are even going native to some degree, with ICE, for example, localizing its contract size and introducing domestic clearing in the Asian time zone. RMB and gold futures are on offer locally, as well as Mini Brent and Mini Gasoil futures. Seeing these global derivatives powerhouses reshape themselves for Asia demonstrates clearly the opportunities on offer here, and interest in trading in Asia is unlikely to wane any time soon.
European bond products are now being traded on ICE, and Eurex is planning to start clearing bonds in the Asian time zone in the next couple of years; opportunities abound for both local and international firms to expand their businesses and investments. As competition heats up between rival exchanges, even greater choice will become available. The key is taking advantage of this while avoiding the bear traps peculiar to the region.
Growth in the region is reflected in the annual growth of 27% in total F&O volume traded (Source: FOW).
The first challenge is regulatory. American and European institutions used to dealing with a single regulator will find plenty of new challenges to navigate in the treacherous terrain of Asian regulation. Regulators here can be even trickier than ESMA or the SEC. In Singapore, the MAS made some unprecedented demands of SGX after a systems outage. In Hong Kong, market participants have to answer long questionnaires about their use of technology and back-testing of algos. In Malaysia, equities and derivatives rules are completely un-harmonized – all securities activity must be completely onshore, yet derivatives are all remote.
The speed of regulatory change can also be frightening for those used to the lumbering processes in other regions. Asian regulators can – and do – move the goalposts in a single day, whereas in Europe it has taken seven years so far, with no end in sight. Being ready for Asia’s blistering pace is vital for success in this part of the world.
There’s plenty of innovation in derivatives, but regulators here have been taking a dim view of some more out-there solutions. Brokers and banks have been asked very directly to provide certainty around the security and storage of financial information – all regulators have rules on this, none of which are exactly the same, but all of which are relatively onerous.
Different clearing regimes require different approaches as well, so getting the middle and back office piece right is very important. While regional brokers localize their operation by allocating head count into the region, many larger firms outsource their middle office to places such as London – which means these companies are unlikely to be tooled up to meet nuanced Asian requirements. Technology developed for the big US and EU markets will need tweaking to meet Asian needs. The good news here is, a firm that has solved this conundrum for Asia has met the highest global regulatory hygiene requirements and so can legitimately claim the gold standard.
Once the regulators are satisfied, the nature of doing business in Asia continues to be challenging. Getting the balance right between direct market membership and trading through a local broker is important to ensure a cost-effective solution. Accessing global markets efficiently is important, as clients will be trading CME and ICE as much or more than local exchanges. Yet as the global exchanges begin to offer local trading and clearing, trading ICE can mean two different things.
This raises an interesting point. Clients now can choose which regimes to trade in, throwing up the question of regulatory arbitrage. There could be plenty of good reasons to choose one venue over another, and these reasons will differ from client to client. Having intimate global knowledge of each regime and its benefits and pitfalls will be a great selling point for firms willing to invest the time to understand this complex landscape. On top of this, offering a seamless and smooth end-user experience will be a very enticing proposition indeed.