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Exotics enter the mainstream

The derivatives markets have reached a new peak of maturity. Digital and barrier products are commonplace; trades in unusual currency and asset markets are growing in size and volume; and vanilla instruments are being used in ever more sophisticated combinations. Mark Parsley reports.

Evidence from the EMTN market

The bug hunters cash in

"We're not quite back to the heyday of 1993 but the structured asset market is definitely back in a big way." The period this global head of derivatives is fondly recalling was characterized by highly leveraged bets on falling interest rates that culminated in the debacles at Procter & Gamble, Orange County, and elsewhere. Today the bets are less leveraged but they express views on ever more exotic currencies and assets using an ever more complex combination of non-vanilla products. This increasing fondness for the exotic has already taken its toll ­ this time not only on the buyers of the products but also their suppliers.

Range trades in the foreign exchange markets and recently, to a lesser extent, interest rate markets have been one of the most popular products in the last 18 months. In the most straightforward version, the range binary option, investors receive a payout of several times the premium paid but only if the underlying exchange or interest rate remains within a preset range. More exotic variants are often embedded in bonds.

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