Currency Futures Liquidity ahead of the Forward Market?

At NSE, currency futures did $1.8 billion yesterday. With this, India is starting to look like a rare country where the turnover of the currency futures market is big when compared with the currency forward market. (Gurnain pointed out, in the comments to this post, that this is the case in Brazil. I’m not aware of any other country where this is the case).

Turnover is, of course, not liquidity. An exchange can fake liquidity by doing round-trip transactions which boost trading turnover.  Liquidity is about the transactions cost faced when transacting. Liquidity comparisons between the OTC market and the futures need to take into account the fact that the OTC market trades bigger contracts. So, let’s see what impact cost is visible in the information present on the web, pertaining to closing time (5 PM) on the 22nd. The quantities available at the best five prices are visible on the web. There is surely more available beyond the top five in the book, but you probably don’t want to trade at those adverse prices.

Let’s focus on 1000 contracts, or $1 million. Based on conversations, I get the sense that the forward market would have impact cost of 0.01% to 0.02% for this transaction size. The graph shows that the NSE contract had smaller numbers than this for both buying and selling.


(Click on the graph to see it more clearly). The futures market seems to be able to serve upto $6 million to a buyer and $2 million to a seller, while suffering reasonable values of impact cost, within the top five prices.

This is admittedly one data point. Late in the day, I noticed a big number for turnover and wondered what was happening to liquidity, so I looked at the `market by price’ display visible on the web. But for a currency futures market to beat a currency forward market on liquidity is unusual by world standards, even if it is for one data point.This is particularly remarkable given the tiny window of operation that RBI has permitted for the futures market: all products other than INR/USD futures are banned, and participation by FIIs and NRIs is banned.

Originally published at Ajay Shah’s Blog and reproduced here with the author’s permission.