Rupee and Real futures at ICE

Intercontinental Exchange has announced cash-settled futures on the Indian Rupee and the Brazilian Real [press release] [Saabira Chaudhuri in the Wall Street Journal]. With this, ICE is the first serious global exchange to start trading in the rupee.

Vimal Balasubramaniam and I have pointed out that the global market for the Indian rupee is adding up to some fairly big numbers. I recently noticed that in 2010, even though China is a much bigger economy than India, rupee trading was 0.9 per cent of global currency trading while RMB trading was at 0.7 per cent. Similarly, it appears that the INR NDF is bigger than the RMB NDF, even though China is a much bigger economy. Something is going right in the growth of the rupee as a big currency by world standards. Rupee trading at ICE would strengthen that process.

The ICE announcement also connects to the issues of global competition for Indian underlyings. The two biggest financial markets in India are Nifty and the rupee. So far, NSE faced serious competition with Nifty futures trading at SGX and CME, but there was no significant rival with the rupee. With the arrival of ICE, the competitive dynamics for the rupee changes, which is a welcome development. NSE now faces genuinely difficult competition from three first-tier rivals: CME, ICE, SGX. At the same time, the outlook for rupee trading in India is hobbled by an array of constraints:

  • ICE can pitch for business from non-residents, while NSE cannot, since foreign participation in currency futures is banned. We seem to think that OTC trading of currency forwards requires encouragement from industrial policy operated by RBI.
  • ICE is able to start contracts any time it likes on (say) the Brazilian Real while NSE is forbidden from starting any new contracts.
  • India has mistakes on tax treatment, lacking residence based taxation, while the world has all this well sorted out.
  • India has an array of other policy and regulatory mistakes that hobble local players. The ICE transaction charge is zero. I wonder if litigation will now start at CCI to try to block this.
A process is afoot, at present, through which the Indian financial system is being hollowed out. If this process runs unchecked, RBI and SEBI will be left lording over nothing. There is a need to reverse this  policy framework of reverse protectionism.
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