Equity derivatives in India

In the decade of 1990’s revolutionary changes took place in the institutional infrastructure in India’s equity market. It has led to wholly new ideas in market design that has come to dominate the market. These new institutional arrangements, coupled with the widespread knowledge and orientation towards equity investment and speculation, have combined to provide an environment where the equity spot market is now India’s most sophisticated financial market. One aspect of the sophistication of the equity market is seen in the levels of market liquidity that are now visible. The market impact cost of doing program trades of Rs.5 million at the NIFTY index is around 0.2%. This state of liquidity on the equity spot market does well for the market efficiency, which will be observed if the index futures market when trading commences. India’s equity spot market is dominated by a new practice called ‘Futures — Style settlement’ or account period settlement. In its present scene, trades on the largest stock exchange (NSE) are netted from Wednesday morning till Tuesday evening, and only the net open position as of Tuesday evening is settled. The future style settlement has proved to be an ideal launching pad for the skills that are required for futures trading.

Stock trading is widely prevalent in India, hence it seems easy to think that derivatives based on individual securities could be very important. The index is the counter piece of portfolio analysis in modern financial economies. Index fluctuations affect all portfolios. The index is much harder to manipulate. This is particularly important given the weaknesses of Law Enforcement in India, which have made numerous manipulative episodes possible. The market capitalization of the NSE-50 index is Rs.2.6 trillion. This is six times larger than the market capitalization of the largest stock and 500 times larger than stocks such as Sterlite, BPL and Videocon. If market manipulation is used to artificially obtain 10% move in the price of a stock with a 10% weight in the NIFTY, this yields a 1% in the NIFTY. Cash settlements, which are universally used with index derivatives, also helps in terms of reducing the vulnerability to market manipulation, in so far as the ‘short-squeeze’ is not a problem. Thus, index derivatives are inherently less vulnerable to market manipulation.

A good index is a sound trade of between diversification and liquidity. In India the traditional index- the BSE — sensitive index was created by a committee of stockbrokers in 1986. It predates a modern understanding of issues in index construction and recognition of the pivotal role of the market index in modern finance. The flows of this index and the importance of the market index in modern finance motivated the development of the NSE-50 index in late 1995. Many mutual funds have now adopted the NIFTY as the benchmark for their performance evaluation efforts. If the stock derivatives have to come about, the should restricted to the most liquid stocks. Membership in the NSE-50 index appeared to be a fair test of liquidity. The 50 stocks in the NIFTY are assuredly the most liquid stocks in India.

The choice of Futures vs. Options is often debated. The difference between these instruments is smaller than, commonly imagined, for a futures position is identical to an appropriately chosen long call and short put position. Hence, futures position can always be created once options exist. Individuals or firms can choose to employ positions where their downside and exposure is capped by using options. Risk management of the futures clearing is more complex when options are in the picture. When portfolios contain options, the calculation of initial price requires greater skill and more powerful computers. The skills required for pricing options are greater than those required in pricing futures.

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