After-hours trading of equity futures debuted with thin volumes last night, fuelling concern among local brokers that big investors could use it to manipulate stocks, leading to financial instability.
Last night, the stock exchange for the first time opened a trading session from 5pm to 11pm for standard contracts on the benchmark Hang Seng Index (HSI) and the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index (HSCEI), which tracks major mainland-listed firms. But there seemed to be little appetite for the new session.
A total of 1,361 HSI futures contracts were traded, compared with 61,993 contracts in the day trade. A total of 492 HSCEI futures contracts were transacted, compared with 51,400 in the day trade. The HSI futures closed at 21,647 points while HSCEI closed at 10,407 points last night.
"We can't expect too much volume on the very first day. This is a new market, which is like small children. We need time for the children to grow up slowly," said Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing chief executive Charles Li Xiaojia.
After opening with two index futures, the exchange will consider adding other products for the session, Li said. This would include fixed-income futures, currencies futures or other commodities products, but he did not give any timetable.
However, some brokers are less upbeat, even worried. As low turnover would result in high volatility, brokers are worried night trading would be open to manipulation by speculators. HKEx has introduced a 5 per cent swing limit - in line with international standards - to prevent excessive fluctuation. But brokers said the cap is set too loose.
"Five per cent is equal to around 1,000 points either side for the index - ample room for speculators to manipulate," said Kenny Tang Sing-hing, general manager of the securities business division at AMTD Financial Planning.
"Unlike daytime futures trading, it is harder to make the right call when you trade futures at night as the underlying spot market is closed. Retail investors would be less interested and this would become just a game for big sharks," he said.
But according to Li, "The night session is aimed at allowing futures brokers to be able to handle the risk management of their portfolios as they can respond to any news reported during the night," adding that the HKEx would provide sufficient staff to monitor any unusual movement in the night session.
"A number of small futures brokers are planning to withdraw from the futures business after losing a chunk of their clients to the ones who have joined night trading," said Patrick Lam Tak-ming, chairman of the Hong Kong Securities & Futures Employees Union. "Even the firms that have joined are incurring a loss due to low volumes and more manpower."