PRAGUE Feb 4 (Reuters) - The Prague-based Power Exchange Central Europe will launch trade of Czech gas futures contracts later this year in partnership with Austria's main gas hub, officials said on Monday.
The exchange and Vienna-based Central European Gas Hub will offer clients future contracts with physical delivery in the Czech Republic in a bid to take advantage of growing liquidity in the central European region.
"The Czech Republic is quite similar to the Austrian market in terms of infrastructure and storage and we are both transit countries," Central European Gas Hub chief Gottfried Steiner told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Markets east of Baumgarten are opening up and presenting great opportunities for traders."
The Central European Gas Hub provides the trading platform for Austria's natural gas hub at Baumgarten, which is the first entry point for imports to Western Europe from Russia, and potentially central Asia.
Its shareholders, Austrian energy company OMV and the Vienna stock exchange, hope the hub can become a key European gas trading centre, comparable to TTF in the Netherlands, for Europe's gas trading benchmark.
The Vienna stock exchange is also the majority shareholder in the Prague-based bourse, which currently offers both financial and physical power futures as it pushes for a foothold as the centre of a regional power-trading hub.
"There is more liquidity available, the market is mature enough for a gas exchange and having an exchange-based market," Steiner said.
PXE chief David Kucera said the Czech gas market alone wasn't big enough for gas trading on its exchange so combining with the Central European Gas Hub to give traders more options makes sense. It should launch by mid-year, he added.
While the details are not completely worked out, the idea is to make it seamless for members of the hub and the exchange to trade so-called Czech CEGH Gas Futures on the Prague exchange, he said.
"Our members who can trade electricity can trade gas immediately," he said. "We want to offer some sort of cross membership, but this hasn't been clarified yet." (Reporting by Michael Kahn; editing by Jason Neely)