Hong Kong muscles in on Singapore’s China stock futures monopoly

·3 min read
Hong Kong is starting futures contracts that make it easier for international investors to bet on mainland Chinese stocks, intensifying the rivalry with Singapore (PHOTO: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Hong Kong is starting futures contracts that make it easier for international investors to bet on mainland Chinese stocks, intensifying the rivalry with Singapore (PHOTO: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

By Ishika Mookerjee

(Bloomberg) —Hong Kong is starting futures contracts that make it easier for international investors to bet on mainland Chinese stocks, intensifying rivalry between the city’s bourse and its Singapore counterpart.

Analysts expect that the new product, which launches Monday, from Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. could take several years to gain traction, but that it will ultimately provide formidable competition to the offering available from Singapore Exchange Ltd.

While Singapore provides investors better liquidity, fewer holidays and a mature offshore derivatives ecosystem, Hong Kong has a stock trading link with mainland China and the underlying index the contracts will use has more balanced sector weightings, they said.

With huge global demand for exposure to China’s US$12 trillion onshore equities market and Beijing cracking down on private enterprises ranging from education and technology sectors, there is increasing interest in the futures contracts to hedge risks.  

There will be limited earnings boost for the Hong Kong bourse in the near term, and greater earnings downside risk for SGX, Citigroup Inc. analysts Yafei Tian wrote in a note earlier this week, adding the former looks better positioned in A-share derivatives in the longer term.

SGX shares slumped more than 4% on Aug. 23 after Hong Kong announced that it would launch the futures built on an MSCI Inc. measure that gives access to 50 mainland stocks. HKEX soared almost 6% that day.

“HKEX A50 futures will become the biggest offshore traded A-share equity futures product over the medium term,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts wrote in a report late in September. They added that while trading volume for MSCI index-based futures is typically “negligible” for the first two years, the new product may add about 5% to HKEX’s revenues by 2025.

Singapore’s A50 futures product, which tracks FTSE China A50 Index, was launched in 2006 and had no direct competition until now. The futures accounted for about 10% of SGX’s total revenues and 29% of derivatives revenue in the 2021 fiscal year ended June, according to Citigroup research.

With more customer demand for access to onshore China, FTSE Russell this week concluded a market consultation on potentially doubling the number of members of its China A50 Index to the 100 largest stocks by market capitalisation.

The Singapore bourse has built its derivatives product on this gauge and an expansion of the index could pave the way for it to increase exposure to the market, Michael Syn, SGX’s head of equities, said in an interview. 

The turnover of China’s derivatives market versus cash equities is “still very, very low” and the offshore futures market compared to onshore is much smaller, leaving room for growth, he added.

For the HKEX, the new futures contract offers a much more cost-effective alternative to existing China A-share hedging solutions, such as swaps and other listed A-share index derivatives, a spokesperson at the bourse said in an email, adding that the exchange “looks forward to continuing to develop Hong Kong’s leading position as Asia’s derivatives hub.”

Trading Costs

Trading costs could be a concern with the MSCI China A 50 Connect Index, which tracks some of the biggest mainland stocks from each sector, as the gauge uses several measures to balance out industry weighting. In comparison, the FTSE measure includes the largest onshore shares weighted by market cap.

The MSCI index has a “big drawback” of higher index turnover, which could result in higher trading costs, said Brian Freitas, an analyst who provides research via the Smartkarma platform, in a note on Thursday.

According to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Sharnie Wong, growing allocation to mainland China shares by global investors can benefit both exchanges. If Hong Kong’s share of the offshore A-share derivatives revenue rises to 50%, that could boost HKEX’s 2023 revenue by 

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