Regulators approve second box office futures market; actual contract trading not yet OK’d

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Regulators approve 2nd movie futures market

LOS ANGELES — U.S. regulators on Tuesday approved a second market that would give speculators a way to bet on expected movie box office receipts, but again withheld a decision on the contracts that would allow trading to begin.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s ruling on the Cantor Futures Exchange follows a similar decision it made last week approving the Trend Exchange.

Hollywood’s major studios and the country’s largest theater-owners organization have opposed the trading of movie futures contracts, calling it a form of legalized gambling.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., has also included a ban on movie futures trading in a financial reform bill that is set to be debated in a committee on Wednesday.

The movie industry group “remains united in our opposition to a risky online-wagering service that would be detrimental to the motion picture industry,” the Motion Picture Association of America said in a statement Tuesday.

Cantor Fitzgerald LP, the backer of the futures market, said in a statement it appreciated the “excellent work” of the commission.

The commission said it is still considering the Cantor contract given its “novel nature,” so trading has not begun on the exchanges. A decision on Trend Exchange’s contracts is due June 7, with a ruling on Cantor’s expected to follow.

Besides the Senate’s financial regulatory reform bill that may quash such futures trading, a House subcommittee was preparing for a public hearing Thursday on the subject.

Cantor representatives declined an interview request until after that hearing.

The two online trading forums would be similar to futures markets common for commodities such as corn and pork bellies. Although goods are rarely exchanged directly through such markets, they let sellers reduce risks by locking in prices ahead of time.

In the case of movie futures, those with a financial stake in the movie may choose to sell contracts, and bring in some revenue in case they fear a movie will do poorly at the box office.

Buyers are hoping to benefit from a rise in prices, or in the case of movies, that receipts are better than expected.

Backers of the box-office exchanges say those markets would help Hollywood manage risk in a notoriously hit-or-miss business.

But without the support of studios and theater owners, such exchanges may struggle to find enough participants to make the markets work.

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