India’s options market is growing at the fastest pace globally, helping restore investor confidence in a stock market yet to recover from a 52 percent plunge during the global financial crisis.

Equity options traded on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) of India rose 36 percent in the first half, the most among the 10 largest bourses, according to the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE). The BSE India Sensitive index’s volatility has dropped below measures in Brazil, Russia and China to the lowest level since at least 1993, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Foreigners bought a net $21 billion (R182bn) of local equities this year, pushing the Sensex up 26 percent, the most of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations. While the increase in options reflects speculation by Indian investors, it also provides global money managers with the opportunity to hedge their bets. In 2008, when the crisis sparked a record plunge in the Sensex, options trading was 92 percent below current levels.

“Indian options have given sophisticated investors the flexibility to protect themselves from volatility and also profit from it,” Manoj Murlidharan Vayalar, the associate vice-president of derivatives at India Infoline, said.

Options trading may grow at a 20 percent annual pace during the next four years as Asia’s fifth-biggest equity market matures, said Rakesh Somani, the president of the Association of National Exchanges Members of India and a director at Eureka Stock & Share Broking Services.

Options give investors the right, without the obligation, to buy or sell assets at a fixed price by a specific date.

Options volumes began rising in 2008 after the government reduced taxes on the contracts. Trading on the NSE and BSE’s bourse in Mumbai exploded to a notional value of about $468bn in October, or about eight times the value of traded shares, data compiled by the WFE and Bloomberg show. In Brazil, the value of options was about twice that of stocks. A total 23.7 million equity options traded on the NSE in the first six months of this year.

Average daily trading in options of Mumbai-based State Bank of India, the nation’s largest lender, climbed to about 74 000 contracts in November from 2 200 four years ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Volumes for Bangalore-based Infosys, India’s second-largest software services exporter, increased to about 14 000 from 800.

“Options are wonderful instruments as they add to the liquidity, functionality and trading choices,” Sunil Singhania, who helps oversee about $16bn as the head of equities at Mumbai-based Reliance Capital Asset Management, India’s second-biggest mutual fund manager, said. The growing market “attracts long-term money from both India and abroad”.

Options trading had hurt India’s capital markets by encouraging speculation instead of long-term equity investment, said Jignesh Shah, the vice-chairman of MCX Stock Exchange, which plans to start trading stocks and equity derivatives next year.

The 30-day average value of shares traded on the NSE and BSE has dropped to the equivalent of about $2.4bn from $4.6bn three years ago, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“Giving excessive focus on a single segment like derivatives and a few speculative products has caused great harm to the overall balance of Indian capital markets,” Shah said. “The fundamental approach we have is to create an investment culture.”

India’s regulator prevented the creation of so-called mini-derivatives linked to the Nifty and Sensex indices last month. The November 20 ban is meant to keep individuals from trading the securities, which have a smaller notional value than standard contracts, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) said.

“Small investors were not aware of the various nuances and the fact that mini-derivatives were leveraged products,” Sebi chairman UK Sinha said in Mumbai.

“But by no means should options be done away with. Derivatives are not weapons of mass destruction. They serve a legitimate function of providing liquidity and hedging risks.”

The growth is prompting brokerages that dominate trading to shift staff.

Religare Capital Markets had moved employees to its options business from equities this year, said Gautam Trivedi, the head of equities at the unit of Religare Enterprises, the nation’s largest securities firm by market value. Motilal Oswal Financial Services is increasing options training for research and sales staff, said Sameer Kamath, the chief financial officer at the Mumbai-based broker.

“Domestic brokerages are increasingly selling more derivatives products to offshore clients,” said RK Gupta of Taurus Asset Management.

Foreign purchases of Indian shares this year were the biggest among 10 Asian markets tracked by Bloomberg.

The Sensex index is valued at 16 times reported earnings, compared with 20 for Brazil’s Bovespa index, 11 for China’s Shanghai Composite index and 5.8 for Russia’s Micex index.

Options are also becoming more popular because they allow speculators to leverage bets, according to Gupta. Options typically cost a fraction of stocks and prices for contracts approaching expiration often fluctuate more than the underlying shares, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Call options that expire this month on Reliance Industries, India’s largest company by market value, traded at 15.4 rupees (R2.45) on November 20. The contracts, which have a strike price of 780 rupees, jumped 15 percent to 17.65 rupees the next day as the underlying shares gained 0.8 percent to 771 rupees.

The 90-day historical volatility of the Sensex fell to a record 11.46 on Tuesday, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Brazil’s Bovespa has a volatility reading of 20, versus 16 for the Micex and the Shanghai Composite, and 11.7 for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.

The India VIX, a measure of options prices, dropped to a record 13.04 on October 22. The gauge fell for a third day yesterday, losing 3 percent to 14.51 at 4.31pm.

Dalton Capital Advisors India, a unit of London-based Dalton Strategic Partnership, buys options to protect stock holdings from declines before market-moving events. The contracts are cheap after a drop in volatility, UR Bhat, a Mumbai-based managing director at Dalton Capital whose parent has $2bn of global assets, said earlier this month.

“Most institutions are increasingly using more options,” Bhat said. “Growth of the options market has been aided by a rise in liquidity.” – Bloomberg