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Futures Market to Pick up
China's financial analysts have expressed confidence that this year could prove to be a new beginning for the country's struggling futures industry.

Signs have emerged that the much-awaited turnaround is already under way. A couple of major contracts including soybean and rubber soared on January 2, the first trading day of this year.

This could herald a good trading year, according to analysts.

Turnover already doubled last year to 3.9 trillion yuan (US$470 billion) ending December 27 from that in 2000.

There was a general recovery in China's futures markets last year, said Ye Chunhe, deputy director of the China Securities Regulatory Commission's (CSRC) Futures Department.

Ye said his commission would promote innovations this year in product development, technology and system building to further accelerate the market's healthy development. "In terms of products, (we are going to) make full preparations for new products like cotton and corn futures, and launch them at a proper time," he said.

Sources said the Dalian Commodity Exchange in Northeast China's Liaoning Province has submitted a report to the authorities on relaunching corn futures contracts. Other futures products, including oil and Treasury bonds, are also being studied.

On January 7, six major cotton and sugar traders put together China's first cotton futures company in Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province, paving the way for the trading of the anticipated new product.

The government banned many futures contracts in a major industry consolidation in the 1990s after overspeculation and irregularities led to a spate of damaging scandals. The number of brokerages shrank from a peak of almost 1,000 to just 180, while only three exchanges of the original 50 survived.

The industry managed to just stay in the black last year, but incurred a total loss of more than 60 million yuan (US$7.2 million) in the first three quarters of 2002.

But analysts are expecting a boom in the industry after China's 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization. The industry is lagging far behind other financial sectors, but it is pivotal in curbing increasing trade risks.

"The development of China's futures industry should be looked at from a strategic point of view," said Ma Wensheng, president of CIFCO (Shenzhen), a major domestic futures brokerage.

The leading role of foreign markets in the industry has given host countries a major influence over the prices of the world's major commodities, some of which are of strategic significance to China, he said.

Tian Yuan, director of the China Futures Association said Chinese regulators have realized the crucial importance of the industry and are likely to amend a regulation governing futures trading this year.

Insiders said the amendment, among other changes, will allow China's 80 futures brokerages to conduct proprietary trading, asset management and provide consulting services, a move they have desired for years.

(China Daily January 28, 2003)

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