European Equity Derivatives Markets Expand Despite Counterparty Risk Concerns

As institutions in the UK and continental Europe picked up the pace of their hedging activity last year, European markets for highly liquid ‘flow’ equity derivatives products expanded, according to the results of Greenwich Associates’ 2009 European Equity Derivatives Investors Study.

Overall, the percentage of European institutions using options products increased to 78% in 2009 from 66% in 2008. This pick-up in institutional demand resulted in an increase in the overall volume of options product traded last year, as measured by the amount of commissions paid by institutions for these trades. The equity options commission pool increased by an estimated 16% in Europe from 2008 to 2009. This growth stood in stark contrast to conditions in the US, where commission volumes decreased 20-25% from mid-year 2008 to mid-year 2009.

In both regions, institutions experienced significant decreases in assets under management during the financial crisis, which served to depress the size of equity derivatives trades overall. In the US, contraction and deleveraging in the hedge fund industry exacerbated the decline in commission volumes. “Hedge funds play a much smaller role in the European equity derivatives market than they do in the US, so deleveraging had less of an impact, and the increased use of these products by long-only institutions pushed commissions and overall market activity higher,” said Greenwich Associates consultant John Colon.

Looking ahead, approximately 70% of European institutions expect to increase their use of flow equity derivatives products in 2010, including 11% that expect a significant increase.

Structured Equity and Securitised Products

Reported notional trading volumes in structured equity and securitised products fell by half among European investors from 2008 to 2009. At the same time, the average number of brokers used by institutions for trades of these products declined sharply last year. These declines were in part due to sell-side consolidation, in particular the demise of Lehman Brothers. However, the lost relationships were also due to pull-backs by both the buy-side and sell-side.

“Concerns about counterparty risk and creditworthiness prompted institutions to re-evaluate their trading relationships, while brokers operating under their own constraints were rationalising their resources and capital among their biggest and most profitable clients,” said Greenwich Associates consultant Jay Bennett.

Counterparty Concerns

The financial strength of financial service firms and client perceptions of broker counterparty risk are having a strong impact on the competition among sell-side firms for equity derivatives trading business from European institutions. More than 90% of European institutions say they are actively monitoring the creditworthiness of sell-side firms, and more than one third say the creditworthiness of potential counterparties is one of the most important criteria they consider when selecting a broker for a trade of flow equity derivative products. Currently, 42% of European institutions cite the creditworthiness of potential counterparties as an important factor considered when selecting a broker for a structured equity/securitised products trade, up from 39% in 2008.

“Creditworthiness was not even on the list of most important selection criteria before the start of the global financial crisis,” said Colon. “Starting last year, creditworthiness became a necessary condition required by most institutions to even consider working with an individual broker. All other considerations became secondary.”

Greenwich Share and Quality Leaders: European Equity Derivatives

Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan rank as the leading dealers of flow equity derivatives in Europe by market penetration, with 55-60% of institutions citing the firms as an important trading relationship in these products. Morgan Stanley ranks third, followed Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse, the last two of which tie for fourth place in the rankings. The 2009 Greenwich Quality Leaders in Equity Derivatives are BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan, and SG Equity Derivatives. Firms cited as Greenwich Quality Leaders have distinguished themselves from their competitors by receiving client quality ratings that exceed those of their competitors by a statistically significant margin.


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