The recent debate about the impact of High Frequency Trading (HFT) and on the issue of market structure in general is no more confined within the US market. Regulators and market participants worldwide are discussing this issue seriously. The chairman of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) recently detailed the position of the Australian authorities in this regard. Incidentally Australia, along with Japan, is one of the few Asian countries that have multiple trading venues, a necessary condition for the growth of advanced trading and order routing capabilities, including HFT. It is worthwhile to look at the state of adoption of the Asian region in terms of adoption of advanced trading tools, and the role of the Asian exchanges in that regard.
The different Asian markets are at different levels of maturity, and therefore it is difficult to analyse the region as a single homogenous entity; rather the Asian markets can be grouped into two broad categories. The first category belongs to the advanced economies like Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore which have well developed capital markets. Exchanges in these countries are at par with western competitors in terms of latency and adoption of advanced trading technologies. The second category consists of exchanges in emerging economies like India, China, Malaysia, Korea which are somewhat lagging their Asian counterparts in the first category.
However, there is a common factor that runs across the two categories of exchanges – lack of competition from alternative trading venues. This means that most of the Asian exchanges are largely national monopolies without significant competition from alternative providers, though the situation is slowly changing in some markets (e.g., Australia, Japan). This is one aspect which distinguishes Asia from the western markets where the competition among exchanges and alternative trading venues is severe.
Another key challenge in Asia is the fragmentation of markets and lack of harmonization – regulatory, economic, monetary and technological – in trading and settlement practices. This restricts the growth of cross border trading volumes and greater regional integration at an Asian level. The ASEAN initiative is a move in that direction, but it is still early days to judge its potential for achieving regional integration.
Asia has also lagged the western markets in terms of adoption of advanced trading tools and technologies (like DMA, algorithmic trading, high frequency trading etc). Some of the Asian exchanges, particularly the ones in the advanced economies, have adopted latest technologies with low latency and colocation offerings, but some of the above mentioned factors still present challenges. For example, lack of multiple trading venues limits arbitrage opportunities. Lack of regional integration means cross border flows have yet to realize its full potential. These prevent growth of trading volumes, need for advanced trading tools and technologies, and participation of foreign players in domestic markets.
Regulators in Asia are traditionally very conservative. Therefore decision making for significant changes in market structure and practices takes time. In a rapidly evolving trading world, this means Asian exchanges find hard to stay abreast with global trends. Also because domestic exchanges are perceived more as national utilities, any proposal that threatens the position of incumbent exchanges is met with resistance and difficult to implement.
Some of the Asian exchanges have been very aggressive in exploring newer avenues beyond the traditional revenue sources. The Singapore exchange is a good example of that. It started offering clearing services for commodity derivatives through its AsiaClear offering a few years ago. In addition to providing CCP services as mandated for OTC derivatives under the proposed reforms, the SGX is collaborating with the Korea Exchange to develop the latters’ OTC clearing capabilities. Therefore in some markets (like Singapore) the incumbent exchanges are taking a leading role in clearing of OTC derivatives as proposed by new regulations. It will be interesting to see if new players will be able to enter and succeed in this business. Low volumes in the Asian markets, proliferation of CCPs, and competition from international ones may result in each CCP specializing in specific niches along product lines or local currency instruments.