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Hong Kong's new commodity exchange backed by China's biggest bank and a Russian tycoon began trading Wednesday as the Asian city attempts to challenge established markets in Europe and the U.S.
Exchange officials said that Asian countries, especially China and India, have been driving demand for global commodities and the new exchange is aimed at helping traders in the region have a bigger say in setting prices. Trading of gold and other major commodities has traditionally been dominated by exchanges in Chicago, New York and London.
The only product available to trade so far on the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange is a futures contract for one kilogram of gold with physical delivery in Hong Kong. Some 3,415 contracts worth $163.3 million were traded by late afternoon.
A silver contract will start trading in July. To capitalize on growing investor demand for China's gradually strengthening currency, a yuan-denominated gold futures contract will launch in the autumn.
Other products involving precious and base metals, agriculture, energy and commodity indexes are also in the pipeline.
Shareholders in the exchange include Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the country's biggest state-owned commercial lender, and Cosco Group, a state-owned shipping company. EN+ Group, a mining and energy group controlled by Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska, is also a shareholder.
Hong Kong's attempt to wrest the commodities trading crown from the West follows one by Singapore last year. The Singapore Mercantile Exchange opened for business in August billing itself as a "new-generation" market poised to ride a "new world economic order" led by Asian growth.
The Singapore market trades about 1,000 contracts for gold, silver, copper, crude oil and currency futures worth $30 million to $50 million daily but so far has made little impact globally.
Its trading volumes are dwarfed by CME Group, which operates futures markets in New York and Chicago that traded an average of 230,000 gold contracts a day in April. Thousands of different types of commodity, currency and equity index futures are traded on CME's markets, which had an average daily turnover of 12.1 million contracts in April.
The Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange is betting that it will benefit from its proximity to mainland China to drive trading volume. Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with its own financial system.
"With our strategic location in Hong Kong, HKMEx is ideally positioned to facilitate trading in commodities between China and the rest of the world," said exchange president Albert Helmig.
Markets in the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Dalian and Zhengzhou trade high volumes of commodities including gold, fuel oil, rubber and industrial metals. However, those markets are off-limits to foreign traders and therefore don't play any role in setting global prices.
The new exchange's 15-hours trading day will overlap with US and European trading hours, which exchange officials say will encourage cross-continent trading and boost liquidity.