From the December 01, 2009 issue of Futures Magazine • Subscribe!

Asia: Brokers gearing up for money managers

BOUTIQUES AND BEHEMOTHS

The expansion of options trading has spawned flocks of smaller boutique operations staffed by former market-makers now running intra-day option trades, and many of these are leading the demand for better connectivity, which in turn is laying the foundation for larger-scale algorithmic trading as the markets mature.

Faure says they’ve helped ratchet up volumes in the region but doesn’t include their activities as
managed money.

“These are, by nature, smaller firms that don’t take a lot of overnight positions and very few are going to end up managing more than $100 million,” he says, adding that most of them are still staffed mainly by imports.

“The only place where you’re seeing local talent moving into what we’d call futures money management is Singapore, where old locals from the floor are becoming active on the screens and then trading the Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and U.S. markets.”

Although few of those traders have yet established the kind of track records that attract international attention, the evolution towards futures can be seen in the HFR numbers, which show a shift towards relative value arbitrage and macro strategies and away from equity hedge. Indeed, the amount of money in relative value arbitrage now outweighs the amount of money in equity hedge by 17.6% to 11.7%, a reversal from just two years ago.

REMOTE ACCESS

For now, the growing trend towards remote access will remain a key driver in the growth of Asia-focused managed money with the other key driver being Asia’s breakout performance of the
past year.

Nearly every Asian country now allows direct access to some degree, depending on the structure and history of the trading entity. Many require the formation of a local — and locally-regulated — branch office before granting direct market access, but others, like Japan, simply require a local registered representative for CTAs and other commercial entities that meet certain requirements. Some don’t require a local office, but offer tax breaks to companies that do open one. This all makes the decision about whether or not to go local a difficult one, dependent on anticipated volumes and other residual income benefits.

Each country is at a different stage in its opening-up, with some offering access to commodity markets but not to financials, and others taking the opposite route. Some offer collocation for algorithmic traders, but the algorithms themselves are usually subject to approval either by local authorities or by exchanges to prevent manipulative algorithms from getting into the system. Some countries, including Korea, don’t allow their currency to be traded abroad, which means trading firms will have to convert to local currencies and then enter costly on-shore hedging arrangements to reduce currency risk.

That means clearing firms like Newedge, HSBC, and Jaypee will have to compete not only by providing access, clearing, and consolidated statements, but by providing education, says Arora.

“Markets are the same wherever you go, because it’s the same forces driving them,” he says. “What traders need to know is the nitty-gritty of what it’s going to cost them to access this market or that one, and how we can make it easier for them.”

He says many CTAs are unfamiliar with the various regulatory regimes in which they will be trading, each of which has its own rules for permissible order types, access, taxation,
and margining.

Faure says that HSBC Futures has ratcheted up its targeting of hedge funds/CTA business this year, in part by restructuring its Asian trading desks along product lines. He recommends traders new to Asia identify one or two markets where they want direct market access, and use trading desks for the others.

“You’ll always find you understand some markets better than others, or that some markets just fit your trading style,” he says. “Once you do that, we can set you up with direct market access for the exchanges you want to trade regularly, but offer you the trading desk for other markets.”

TOMORROW’S ASIAN TALENT

Most of the participants we spoke to expect a wave of home-grown talent to fill the new trading infrastructure that is taking shape, but it won’t necessarily come from the banks and other financial service providers setting up shop there.

Nora Lieu is studying agricultural economics at Northeast Agricultural University in Harbin, China, and expects a wave of new Asian trading talent to come out of the cash markets and other left-field sources, the way it tended to do in the United States, rather than out of banks, as it has primarily come from in Europe.

“You go out to the countryside, and what you find are guys who have been trading cash markets all their lives, and they are getting into futures now,” she says. “You have a combination of people who don’t really have a clue, and then you have people who are really smart, but completely self-taught and street-smart, and these are the guys who are just now starting to get it as far as futures are concerned.”

“It’s a stereotype, but it’s true,” says Arora, who himself segued into futures because of a passion for the markets. “Many Asians are mathematically inclined, and we’re born risk-takers, which is why you see Indians and Chinese on the trading floors of top banks in New York.”

And, he believes, it will soon be that way in the pages of this magazine.

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