30 Years of Freedom: BÉT Opens for Business Again (After 50-year ‘Pause’)

History

On June 21, the Budapest Stock exchange celebrated the 30th anniversary of its second foundation. This year also marks the five year anniversary of its most recent strategy, launched by its then new owner, the National Bank of Hungary (MNB), in 2016.

The Exchange Palce was originally built in 1905 to house the Budapest Stock Exchange, designed by the famous Hungarian architect Ignác Alpár in the Beaux -Arts style. With the BÉT disbanded after World War II, it became the home of Hungarian national television MTV in 1955. It is now the largest privately owned historic landmark in Budapest, with ambitious plans to turn it into a retail and office space.

Thirty years ago, on June 21, 1990, the Budapest Stock Exchange (known by its Hungarian acronym of BÉT), held its first meeting after a pause of roughly 50 years. Originally founded in 1864, the was disbanded in 1948 for the duration of the communist period, and was only reopened in 1990, as part of the regime change.  

In January 1990, a draft bill (the Securities Act of 1989) was submitted to Parliament which came into force on March 1 of that year. Three months later, the newly opened BÉT was set up an independent legal entity with 41 founding members and one single equity, travel agency Ibusz.

The trading started with the ring of a bell received from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: the reopening was witnessed by nearly 1,000 guests from 20 countries.

In its first ten months, the total turnover of the Exchange was HUF 10 billion, which corresponds to the current average daily share turnover today. BUX, the main stock index, originally comprised 17 shares and started with a base of 1,000 points. Since 1990, almost 130 issuers have traded on the Budapest Stock Exchange.

Through the early ’90s, the BÉT was to play an important role in the privatization of many state-owned companies including Skála-Coop, MOL, OTP, Matáv (now Magyar Telekom), Domus, Globus and Richter Gedeon.

Over the years, the organization and its functions, operational conditions have changed a lot. The open-outcry system of the physical trading floor that characterized the spot market functioned with partial electronic support until 1995. From 1995 until November 1998, securities trading took place concurrently on the trading floor and in a remote trading system, when the new MultiMarket Trading System (MMTS), based entirely on remote trading was launched.

The BÉT’s current Bank Center home.

‘Battlefield Rumble’

The traditional “battlefield rumble” of the physical trading floor had ceased within a year by September 1999, at which time physical trading was entirely replaced by the electronic remote trading platform of the derivatives market, the organization writes in its historical summary.

The derivatives market of the BÉT in futures and options contracts has been available to investors since 1995. BUX contracts have been available for trading since the start of the futures market on March 31, 1995. In July 1998, the BÉT was among the first exchanges in the world to introduce contracts based on individual equities. Another series of standardized derivatives in the options market appeared in February 2000 and on September 6, 2004, trading commenced in the exchange’s second index, the BUMIX.

To maintain the organization’s competitiveness, in April 2002, from being an independent legal entity, the BÉT was converted into a business association. On July 1, the Budapest Stock Exchange Company Zrt. (a privately founded company limited by shares) was launched (it became a publicly operated company limited by shares, or Nyrt., from April 2006) and the BÉT Council and BÉT Secretariat were replaced by a Board of Directors and an Executive Board.

With the integration of the Budapest Commodity Exchange and the BÉT, as of 2005, commodity market trading has taken place on the BÉT as well. In January 2010, the BÉT became a member of the CEE Stock Exchange Group.

On December 6, 2013, a new trading platform/system was introduced. On November 20, 2015, the National Bank of Hungary bought the Austrian CEESEG AG and Österreichische Kontrollbank AG, which had held a 68.8% ownership in the Budapest Stock Exchange. The MNB thus obtained controlling ownership in the bourse.

“What makes BÉT stand out from its regional peers, it is its portfolio,” Richárd Végh, CEO told the Budapest Business Journal. Among the products of the spot market, in addition to equity securities (shares, investment certificates) and debt securities (corporate bonds, mortgage bonds, government securities), structured products (ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, and certificates) are also available.

Special securities in the form of claims securities can also be found. In addition, the derivatives market also has significant turnover.

Regional Level

In the capital markets of the region, BÉT is also unique in the sense that it has nearly 47% ownership in the clearing house KELER CCP, which has an international EMIR license, and in the Central Clearing House and Depository Zrt. (KELER), that performs a central depository function.

“BÉT’s position also needs to be looked at from a regional level. With the CEE being the fastest growing region on the continent, we are also constantly striving to build an internationally competitive, strong capital market ecosystem”, Végh says.  

“With that, every country and stock exchange in the region still has a long way to go to develop their capital markets, given the historical fact that these countries had to start building capital market institutions from scratch,” he adds.

“There was also a lack of continuity in the development of private companies and the growth of private wealth, which creates a huge gap between the region and Western European countries. We believe that an important element of economic catching up is the development of a capital market culture.”

The Budapest Stock Exchange has had some very active years behind it, both in terms of the implementation of the market development strategy and the listed issuers. This was coupled with the dynamic growth of trading activity, with a growing trend in the market turnover since 2015.

In its 2016-2020 strategy, a stock exchange presence as a form of financing and growth has been given a highlighted role among Hungarian-owned, emerging companies as well as providing profitable investment opportunities for local and international institutional investors.

In the past few years, the BÉT has created a package of services designed to help domestic medium- and large-sized companies enter the capital market. This includes everything from capital market knowledge to financial support to the creation of special sub-markets.

Richárd Végh

Future Outlook

As for the future, the bourse says it expects market consolidation efforts already taking place on international markets to become more enhanced in this region as well in the next 5-10 years.

The Budapest Stock Exchange wishes to become an active part of this process, Végh says. “We also plan to list BÉT as a company on the stock exchange. This something already under preparation and will likely take place in the next five years,” he adds.

“For the BÉT, the key is to maintain consistency and stable growth.” This entails the stock market, the corporate bond market and the SME sector, as well as the development of services to support them, the building of international relations, the strengthening of investor confidence and the financial education of the population.

“Our important goal remains to support the growth of as many domestic companies as possible through providing access to capital market resources and other accompanying services.”

Commemoration:

As part of the 30th anniversary of the reopening of the BÉT, the National Bank of Hungary issued a silver collector coin with a face value of HUF 10,000 and its non-ferrous metal version of HUF 2,000 on June 21, 2020. The collector coins were designed by applied artist Zoltán Endrődy. The thematic side presents how stock exchanges typically operate. On the vertical, middle axis, the Budapest Stock Exchange’s emblematic object, the bell on a compartment is featured symbolizing the trade opening at the stock exchange, which serves as a way of celebration when a security is first quoted in the market. The BÉT’s logo is at the bottom. The pictures of the bull, symbolizing an upward path at the stock exchange, and of the bear, representing a fall, are placed on the left and on the right on two separate horizontal lines.

Headquarters

Since its reopening, the Budapest Stock Exchange has been housed in several different landmark buildings of the capital. The first trading hall was at Trade Center at Váci utca, an 80-sqm hall with no windows. In 1992, the organization was moved to the Deák Ferenc utca 5, to the Palace of Pesti Hazai Takarékpénztár at the corner of Vörösmarty tér and Deák Ferenc utca which, since 1933 has been registered as a part of UNESCO’s World Heritage, and is a historically preserved building. Between 2007 and 2015, the BÉT headquarters was at the Herzog Mansion on Andrássy utca 93, which was owned by Lipót Mór Herzog, an art enthusiast and collector, whose 2,500-piece collection included pieces from El Greco, Lucas Cranach, Corot, and Renoir. From 2015, the BÉT has been based at the Bank Center building on Szabadság tér.

Listings

In the year of its reopening in 1990, a grand total of six shares were listed on the BÉT. The first, as mentioned earlier was of Ibusz, followed by First Hungarian Cooperative Brewery Rt., Konzum, Fotex, Dunaholding and Müszi. In the next three years, 31 more companies started trading, among them were Zalakerámia, Pick, Zwack Unicum, Globus, Domus, Graboplast, Egis, Richter Gedeon, Danubius. MOL and OTP Bank joined the trading floor in 1995, Matáv (Magyar Telekom) in 1997. The year that saw the highest number of new entries was 1999 when 16 companies listed their shares on the BÉT. Since the 2000s, the number of new listings has dropped; in the past five years there have been two per year. Today, four blue-chips dominate the market: OTP Bank; MOL; Gedeon Richter; and, to a lesser extent, Magyar Telekom. Wikipedia lists the BÉT as the second largest exchange in the region by market capitalization and liquidity.

An early photo of the Exchange Palace, home to the BÉT from 1905-1948.

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