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India's largest arbitrageur shuts shop

Last updated on: July 22, 2011 13:24 IST

India's largest arbitrageur shuts shop

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N Sundaresha Subramanian in Mumbai

The company had in-house yoga trainers for its 1,000-odd jobbers to browse multiple screens with minimum neck movement. It used to run popular monthly contests for fastest keyboard punchers.

In reply to a Parliament query a couple of years ago, it was named the country's largest volume generator with a market share of 7-8 per cent of total volumes.

Day before yesterday, it shut shop.

BLB Limited, the country's largest arbitrage and proprietary book player not very long ago, went out of its primary business of share market trading earlier this week as business became unviable. The company, now operating with skeletal staff, will look at opportunities in the international commodities space.

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Unlike other brokerages which are shutting shop due to low volumes, BLB's demise has been due to a deluge of volumes - generated by cheap money floating around in the global financial system.

"It is an unfortunate story. An institution built over five decades has come to an end," said Brij Rattan Bagri, chairman, BLB group. Bagri said the last straw was the avalanche of foreign money that entered the cash-futures arbitrage market, the bread and butter of BLB.

"The foreigners raise money at 1-2 per cent and even a 6-7 per cent gain is handsome for them. We can't get money for less than 11-12 per cent. We stand no chance," Bagri says.

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BLB Ltd, listed on both the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange, has a market capitalisation of Rs 28 crore. In its heyday, it controlled volumes of Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) per day and had offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahemadabad and Kolkata.

Now it has been reduced to a single office unit with a total staff of around 60.

"Death of arbitrageurs began three years ago, when the government clamped STT (securities transaction tax) on the trades," said a former BLB employee who alerted Business Standard of the development.

"The government has now inadvertently allowed foreigners to bring money in futures and options (F&O) and they are wreaking havoc. Foreign institutional investors have positions of about Rs 70,000 crore in the F&O market," he said. According to local players, the foreign institutional players are exploiting government rules that allow them to do propreitary trading. Most local arbitrage players face a similar fate.

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Bagri says only the small players who are happy with the peanuts they are making remain in the market. "We are not here to make peanuts," he said, pride intact. "If god shuts one door, he will open another."

BLB's arbitrageurs were neither MBAs nor wizards of high finance. They were often school dropouts and basic graduates who were good with numbers.

"They looked at people who could answer 39 times 75 the fastest and those who could concentrate and remain alert. An era has ended." said the employee.

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BLB Group of Companies was founded by Delhi-based Babu Lal Bagri in 1965. "For almost three decades, he was a prime mover in the stock market. Not only was he a fine exponent of the art of arbitrage, he was very well-respected in the industry for his business ethics.

Remembered as one of the chief architects of the stock market system in India, he was an icon of his profession," the company website says about its founder.

Known as "any time, any quantity man", his very presence on the floor of the exchange could change the trend in share prices, it added.



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