HKEx wish list full of distant dreams

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2012, 12:00am


In my first column in the Year of the Dragon, I would like to say kung hei fat choi to all readers.

A typical Lunar New Year blessing is to wish that people achieve their hopes and dreams for the year ahead. But just like Christmas wish lists, it is sometimes hard to turn dreams into reality.

For brokers, their hope is that their lunch break is not cut to one hour from 90 minutes from March 5. They are almost certain to be disappointed, as the stock exchange has very firmly expressed its determination to extend trading hours to enhance its competitiveness and align its morning and afternoon opening hours with those in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The stock exchange itself also has its own wish list: it wants to introduce yuan-denominated commodities and derivatives trading, so as to move the bourse beyond its past focus on stock trading and initial public offerings.

This wish-list item is also not going to be easily achieved. Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing for the third year in a row had the most initial public offerings in the world. Its average daily market turnover last year stood at HK$69.73 billion.

But in terms of commodities, its average daily turnover for gold futures was only 15 contracts last year, down from 23 in 2010. Last month, the average daily turnover for gold futures was only one contract a day.

Still, this is better than interest-rate futures - the least traded derivative product at the HKEx. On average, there were only three contracts traded per day last year, down from four in 2010.

By comparison, the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange, the newly set up commodities exchange, last Friday traded 4,888 gold futures contracts and 1,138 silver futures contracts. Daily average turnover of the Mercantile Exchange's gold futures rose from around 2,500 contracts in May to 8,100 last month.

The figures reveal that the HKEx is not a leader in commodities trading. The futures exchange in the 1980s traded commodities such as sugar, but cancelled it due to a lack of trading.

The most active futures products in the exchange are still the equities-index futures, which had an average daily turnover of 204,862 last year, up from 172,422 in 2010. Again, these are not commodities but equity related products.

HKEx chief executive Charles Li Xiaojia may want to move the exchange beyond equities, but this is more easily said than done.

Many overseas commodities exchanges are well established and international investors do not need to come here.

Local investors might want to make short-term bets on some products, but volume will be small.

Some mainland companies may need to do hedging, but they need the central government's blessing.

Beijing recently has allowed some mainland futures companies to directly invest in overseas futures markets. This showed it was at least open to allowing firms to trade off the mainland. But for Li's dream to come true, he needs Beijing's full backing.