(Adds context, details of future plans)
By Stanley Carvalho
ABU DHABI, Feb 18 (Reuters) - In a move that could attract fresh money to the United Arab Emirates’ equity markets, the Nasdaq Dubai exchange launched futures contracts on Sunday covering the main indexes of the country’s two main stock markets in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The futures provide exposure to the General Index of the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and the equivalent index at Dubai Financial Market, giving investors new opportunities to hedge.
“This is one of the templates for stock markets in the UAE and how they can complement each other,” Hamed Ahmed Ali, chief executive of Nasdaq Dubai, told reporters on Sunday.
Nasdaq Dubai began trading single-stock futures for shares in major UAE companies in late 2016. Over 2.5 million of those contracts worth more than 500 million dirhams ($136 million) have changed hands, the exchange said.
Trading volumes in many of the single-stock futures have been modest. However, Ali described investors’ response to them as encouraging and said futures now existed for 17 UAE-listed companies, up from an original seven, with the number of brokerages involved in the trade rising to nine from four.
With the exception of Kuwait, Gulf countries have been slow to introduce equity derivatives, fearing they could destabilise markets.
But as low oil prices drain liquidity from the region, several bourses plan derivatives to try to stimulate investment. Saudi Arabia’s securities exchange, the region’s largest, says it expects to introduce stock futures and options in 2020.
Nasdaq Dubai’s website showed Dubai index futures, due to expire on June 21, trading at 3,328 on Sunday while the underlying index was down 0.6 percent at 3,310 points. Abu Dhabi index futures were at 4,560 while the index was up 0.2 percent at 4,586 points.
Nasdaq Dubai said it was in talks with regional and international financial institutions that wished to take part in trading equity futures or clearing them.
The exchange added that it planned to create futures covering regional MSCI equity indexes under a licensing agreement announced last October, as well as more single-stock futures and options at a later date. (Writing by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Toby Chopra)