On the cusp: regional integration in Asia

It’s 2015, the mid-point of the decade and a good time to start looking at major trends in Asian financial services over the next five to ten years. One of the major themes will be regional integration, which is another way of saying the development of cross-border markets. There are at least two important threads here: the ongoing internationalization of China’s currency, and the development of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in Southeast Asia. RMB internalization is really about the loosening of China’s capital controls and its full-fledged integration into the world economy. And everyone seems to want a piece of this action, including near neighbors such as Singapore who are vying with Hong Kong to be the world’s financial gateway to China. The AEC is well on its way to becoming a reality in 2015, with far-reaching trade agreements designed to facilitate cross-border expansion of dozens of services industries, including financial sectors. While AEC is not grabbing global headlines the way China does, we see increasing interest in Southeast Asia among our FSI and technology vendor clients. From Celent’s point of view, both trends will open significant opportunities across financial services. In banking, common payments platforms and cross-border clearing. In capital markets, cross-border trading platforms for listed and even OTC products. In insurance, the continued development of regional markets. Financial institutions will be challenged to create new business models and technology strategies to extract the opportunities offered by regional integration. It’s the mid-point of the decade, and the beginning of something very big.

Equities Trading at Indian Exchanges: Competition Can Wait

MCX-SX, which offers trading in currency futures, had requested to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the capital market regulator, for approval to launch trading in equities, equity derivatives, interest rate futures and other instruments. It was thought that this move would add a new dimension to India’s exchange landscape which is dominated by the two main exchanges, the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). The recently started United Stock Exchange, which commenced its operations in the currency futures segment on 20th September, 2010, recorded on its very first day a turnover more than that of the combined turnover at NSE and MCX, the country’s existing currency trading exchanges. It was anticipated equities trading at MCX, if approved, would also throw up similar competition to the country’s two existing exchanges. In September 2008, MCX-SX was conditionally recognized as stock exchange trading in currency futures by SEBI for a year; recognition was extended in August 2009 for one more year to give MCX more time to comply with requirements. In April, 2010 MCX-SX sought permission seeking approval for trading in segments permitted to BSE and NSE. In July, 2010, MCX-SX filed petition before the Bombay High Court seeking intervention over the delay in approving its application by SEBI; in August 2010, the Bombay High Court asked SEBI to take a final decision on the matter by September 30. On 23rd September, 2010, SEBI rejected the application stating it ‘was not satisfied that it would be in the interest of trade and also in public interest to allow the application’. SEBI’s rejection, as mentioned in its order, was based on a number of issues. Under MIMPS (Manner of Increasing and Maintaining Public Shareholding in Recognized Stock Exchanges Regulations), no person resident in India shall at anytime, directly or indirectly, either individually or together with persons acting in concert, hold more than five per cent of the equity share capital in a recognized stock exchange. A select class of financial institutions, however, can own up to a maximum of 15% each.
  • MCX-SX is promoted by Multi-Commodity Exchange of India Ltd (MCX) and Financial Technologies India Ltd (FTIL). When MCX-SX was formed, its promoters MCX and FTIL owned 51% and 49%, respectively, which, after divestment, came down to 37% and 33.9%. The promoters in April, 2010 undertook a further financial restructuring to comply with regulations, by reducing their respective shares to 5% each. However, it also issued warrants to MCX and FTIL, which allows the promoters to gradually sell the warrants under favorable market conditions. Under this arrangement, according to SEBI, MCX and FTIL have together now a holding of 71.90% in the shares and warrants issued by the company.
SEBI listed ‘excessive concentration of economic interest in the stock exchange in the hands of the two promoters’ and ‘not being fully compliant with shareholding regulations‘ as reasons for rejection.
  • MCX-SX had submitted that the two promoters did not share a common management, but it (SEBI) found the two entities are operating under a common management. According to SEBI, therefore the share holding of FTIL together with that of MCX (5% each) exceeds the permissible limit of 5% limit of ownership in a stock exchange.
  • SEBI stated that ‘the promoters of MCX-SX and their associates had arrangements with three shareholders of MCX-SX where sale of shares between the parties were based on offers to buy back the shares at or within specified time in the future’. It found such arrangements illegal.
  • In its order SEBI said ‘MCX-SX has been dishonest in its disclosures to SEBI on material information and has failed to fulfil its disclosure and fiduciary responsibilities’ and also it ‘has failed to adhere to fair and reasonable standards of honesty that should be expected of a Stock Exchange’.
MCX-SX may appeal to the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) against the decision, or go for a writ petition in the high court.

Recent Developments in the Australian Capital Markets

Capital markets worldwide have undergone radical transformation over the last decade with heightened competition among the stock exchanges. This has mostly been a US-Europe phenomenon with the Asian exchanges landscape being dominated by national exchanges. However, the situation is slowly changing. Recently Australia undertook initiatives towards making its securities market more competitive by breaking the monopoly enjoyed by the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Till now the ASX was responsible for surveillance of trading activity in Australia; but according to a new legislation, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) will now take over the supervisor role from ASX. This decision, which took over two years’ assessment and deliberation, was necessary to allow new competitors of ASX to enter and access the securities market. As a result, Chi-X Australia has already received an approval from the government and will possibly be the first player to enter into this evolving market. A US institutional broker Liquidnet and a New Zealand Stock Exchange backed platform are also seeking licenses to operate in the Australian market. Amidst this evolution, ASX has taken a number of initiatives to meet the new challenges of a competitive environment and maintain its stronghold in the market. Recently it consulted with a broad range of market participants, end-users, vendors as well as regulators to improve its service offerings. Besides deciding to slash its main trading fees the ASX is planning to launch three new trading platforms by 2011, each targeted at different customer segment. VolumeMatch, a block matching facility that allows matching of orders anonymously, is targeted towards sell side players. TradeMatch, an ultra-low latency, high capacity, trading platform that will provide a full functionality trade execution for all ASX-quoted securities, is scheduled to be launched in November, 2010. Third is PureMatch, an adjacent ultra-low latency execution facility for the top 200 ASX listed securities. It is targeted at high frequency traders and scheduled for release in early 2011. These developments can be potential game changers in the Australian context. They can also bring major changes in other Asian countries as regulators in the region will be keeping a close eye on Australia.