Property derivatives: the next money-making opportunity?

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Feeling twitchy about your future in structured credit? Never fear - there are always property derivatives to take your mind off things.

Earlier this week, Guy Ratcliffe, head of property derivatives at Morgan Stanley, appeared in the Financial Times suggesting that his diminutive specialty could yet grow into a beast the size of the credit derivatives ogre.

"If you look at credit derivatives 10 years ago, there was no market," Ratcliffe told the FT. "There is no reason why property derivatives cannot also grow to become a very large global market."

The paper provided a few figures to back Ratcliffe up - UK property derivatives volumes rose to 10bn in the third quarter, double what they were last year. And the sector was worth a microscopic 200m back in the dark days of 2004.

Scenting the whiff of expansion it seems banks have been rushing into the property derivatives corner. Ratcliffe moved across from Abbey Financial Markets to kick-start the Morgan Stanley team last July. Merrill Lynch, Bank of America and BNP Paribas have also been adding staff.

Industry types we have spoken to share Ratcliffe's conviction that big things lie ahead.

"It could be huge," says Ian Reid, chairman of property derivatives group Protego. "There are very good reasons why it should become a huge market and ultimately global - property is an illiquid asset and a derivatives facility would enable people to trade exposure to that asset quickly."

Who's in with a chance of getting in early (or early-ish) on the property derivatives party? Gary McNamara, head of property derivatives at brokerage firm DTZ, says derivatives knowledge takes precedent over property knowledge at this stage - credit derivatives pros take note.

The only problem is pay, which is likely to be paltry for the time being: "Turnover is a lot less than credit derivatives, so you'll be earning a lot less," says McNamara.

At least you won't lose your job though.

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