ECONOMY

Bumper year for derivatives gives rise to ambitious plans

In contrast to the miserable performance of stocks, the Athens Derivatives Exchange (ADEX) gave ample rewards to bold investors in 2002. Those who adopted simple strategies, such as betting on a further fall in the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) index, realized gains in excess of 200 percent of the initial margin. For those who adopted more complex strategies, tapping the fluctuations more aggressively, the profits could have been even larger. In bad times, such gains inevitably draw criticism, and the ADEX, which was absorbed by the ASE in August, was strongly blamed for the malaise of the stock market proper. Trading volume in derivatives reached record levels, rising from 39 percent of trading volume in stocks in January to 107 percent in August, 128 percent in September and 120 percent in October. Heartened by the results, exchange officials are setting ambitious goals for the ADEX in 2003, targeting a doubling of the volume of trading for most of its products after an exceptional year. They note that the number of trading accounts in the ADEX rose from 9,123 at the end of 2001 to 15,482 a year later, although only 6,160 of them are active. Sources say that officials are considering drastic cuts in commissions so as to make derivatives more broadly attractive. ASE Chairman Panayiotis Alexakis is said to have received a report which points out that the Greek derivatives market is one of the most expensive in Europe. The proposed commission cuts per futures contract on the FTSE-20 index would amount to about 50 percent for small clients and up to 86 percent for big ones. Cuts are also proposed in the margins, which are considered high at 14 percent presently. But ASE administrators appear hesitant to adopt the ambitious proposals, mainly due to the criticism the ADEX has received; they argue that the bourse consists of two turbines planned to work simultaneously, the stock market and the derivatives market. When one is not in operation, the other faces problems. Nevertheless, the bourse last week announced an indirect cut in commissions for futures on the FTSE/ASE Mid-Cap 40. Even though prices remained the same, raising the multiplier to 25 euros per index point in effect makes the new series 2.5 times cheaper than present ones. For 2003, the ADEX is targeting an average of 10,000 single futures contracts on the FTSE-20 per day from 8,403 last year, 5,000 futures contracts on FTSE-40 from 1,409 in 2002, 3,000 options on FTSE-40 from 180, and 5,000 futures on stocks, compared to 924 daily last year. About 80 percent of trading volume was accounted for by futures on the FTSE-20, while most of the rest was on futures on the FTSE-40 and on stocks such as OTE Telecom and National and Alpha banks. Of the 7,387,574 ADEX contracts executed in 2002, 800,011 were by domestic institutional investors and 249,400 by foreign institutionals. The ADEX is also planning to introduce new products, such as options and more futures on specific stocks, futures on exchange parities and covered warrants.