How Commexes Can Bring Social, Economic Changes

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Michael Porter and Mark Kramers’ magnum opus “Creating Shared Value” (CSV) is different from corporate social responsibility (CSR).

CSR programmes essentially emerge as necessary expense for a firm in a market economy to improve its reputation. CSV, on the other hand, reflects on the interconnectivity between societal and economic progress, and according to Porter and Kramer, “… has the power to unleash the next wave of global growth”. CSV postulates that competitiveness of a firm and the social development indicators are interdependent.

csvAccording to Porter and Kramer, the market economy can unleash the next upsurge of global growth only when societal concerns enter into core strategic decision-making of firms. There are three key ways in which firms can create shared value opportunities: by reconceiving products and markets; by redefining productivity in the value chain; and by enabling local cluster development.

With this premise, one needs to look at the core business of commodity exchanges. The principal objectives for which commodity exchanges have been set up in India are hedging and price discovery. While hedging is a micro-level function of the exchange, price discovery is a macro-level function, both of which, if performed properly points to inextricable entrenchment of the commodity exchange in the business of creating shared value.

Reconceiving Products

Firms can meet social needs while better serving existing markets, accessing new ones, or lowering costs through innovation. Commodity exchanges in India are doing that, though not truly to the full potential. Exchanges have been proactive in re-conceiving products such as mini- and micro-contracts thereby enabling small traders and SMEs’ access to cost-effective risk management. Services such as Exchange of Futures for Physicals (EFPs) have also been conceptualised. The potential in this domain is huge, but existing regulations act as limiting factors for further innovation, as only plain vanilla futures can be traded in the Indian commexes, and products such as options, indices, and other exotic products are not allowed.

Redefining productivity

While performing their desired macro-level and micro-level functions, in certain commodities, the commodity exchange has opened new vistas in the form of separate marketing channels. The emergence of efficient marketing channel has unlocked significant value in mentha oil, benefitting mentha farmers, processors, exporters, and consumers. The profoundness of this impact can be made out from the emergence of India as the major exporter of processed mentha crystals, displacing China. Mentha oil futures allowed processors to manage raw material risk – price, quantity and quality risks – all of which enabled Indian exporters to provide better price and delivery commitments to international buyers. Such a facility helped them consolidate at a time when Chinese exporters were defaulting on export commitments. Moreover, the high export prices of processed mentha crystals have been transmitted as high farm-gate prices of mentha oil due to the competitive structure of the trade channel, which has ultimately benefitted farmers.

Cluster Development

While documented evidence on this ground is less, there is no doubt that the potential for the comexes for cluster development is immense. It needs to be appreciated that the electronic platform makes the business operate at national levels, rather than local levels. Local cluster development, therefore, need not be thought of as merely having local suppliers or developing local infrastructure. Rather, cluster development needs to be viewed through the prism of community development. The gold ecosystem, by itself, has benefited substantially from gold futures by the process of price discovery/ dissemination and hedging, but the most critical driver of this ecosystem development is technology. Through the business model itself, there has been ecosystem development in the form of warehousing, testing, assaying, etc. According to an estimate of 2011, the commodity exchange business has given rise to employment of around 1.5 million through ecosystem development.

The movement from here

That a development of an institution like the commodity exchange brings with itself social, economic, physical, and philosophical changes was best exemplified by the history of evolution of the Chicago Board of Trade in US. While development of CBOT led to the various demands for infrastructure development, the development of enabling infrastructure also helped CBOT emerging as the prime trading forum. The importance of CBOT thus emerges from the changes in the institutional practices not only in the domain of agricultural marketing, but from the impacts that it created at the socio-politico-economic stratum of human existence. Can we see Indian exchanges moving towards that direction?

(Nilanjan Ghosh is Chief Economist at MCX (I) Limited. Views are personal.)

[Business Line]

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