Huge war chest a bigger rip-off than any small-fry shenanigans

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 April, 2010, 12:00am

A retail investor was today fined $27,000 after pleading guilty at the Eastern Magistracy to nine counts of chewing bubblegum in March last year.

Securities and Futures Commission

Press release, April 22

Okay, I'm a liar. This is not actually what the press release said. To undo my grossly inexcusable falsehood, take out the words 'chewing bubblegum' and substitute the words 'manipulating the share price of Bauhaus International (Holdings) Ltd'.

In my book, chewing bubblegum is much the greater offence. That muck stains pavements wherever you go and, if it's fresh, it's even harder to get off your shoes than when you happen to step by accident in the ... ahem ... dog parlour.

There is also a 100 per cent correlation between people who chew bubblegum and teenagers who snicker at your taste in clothes.

Bauhaus International, in contrast, is only a penny stock, No483 on the stock exchange, with a market capitalisation at the relevant time of only about HK$300 million (i.e. fetch your microscope) and a total trading volume of little more than 500,000 shares over the nine trading days that Johnson Wong Chung-shun conducted his heinous depredations on the market.

Yet he made HK$25,492 in profits from this caper. The SFC press release says so.

Well done indeed. I wouldn't have thought it possible. After all, the press release also says that Wong adopted a 'buy-high, sell-low strategy', which is better calculated to lose that sum of money than to gain it.

Let me explain this. If you buy a stock for $2 and you sell it later for $1, you lose $1. Two minus one equals one, you see. If you start with two and you take away one, you have only one left. In other words, if you only have $1 but you initially had $2, then perhaps the reason is that you bought a stock with that $2 and you sold that stock later for only $1. Get it?

What is more if you adopt this practice as a strategy you are unlikely ever to make any money at all, which means that Wong must be a genius to have made HK$25,492 from it.

Yes, I hear you. But you must excuse me. One has to belabour the point occasionally when your audience may include people who obviously found Primary One the three most mentally taxing years of their lives. I wonder how many other financial regulators have difficulty with the terms 'buy high' and 'sell low'.

What Wong did was flutter the coat-tails of his penny stock to see if anyone would notice him. He fluttered them very energetically. On March 10 last year, the share price flapped up and down between 65 HK cents and HK$1.25. He tried it again later in the month but was getting a little tired by then. The flutter was not up to the previous performance.

And are we really to believe that this was not immediately recognised on dealing desks around town as a rank amateur playing silly fools with a penny stock? Are we really to suppose that anyone was taken in? Do we think that anyone who might have been taken in had not by then already bought the Brooklyn bridge five times?

I simply do not understand why we inflict such standards of righteousness on the stock market.

In other areas of life, for instance, we are perfectly happy with sales pitches that say you-bed-this-bird-if-you-buy-this-car. People in whisky ads are never drunk. People who eat chocolate are never fat. Everyone who wears a watch is fabulously rich. If you want to be slim tomorrow, just swallow this pill today.

Lies, all of them, and yet there is no government agency with a war chest of HK$5.7 billion to jump on these liars.

Yes, that's right, HK$5.7 billion. The SFC has an accumulated surplus brought forward HK$5,795,543,000 and why they are still allowed to dun you for more money every time you trade a stock is a very good question indeed, aside from being a bigger rip-off than anything that Johnson Wong is likely ever to have dreamed of.

What he did was work up a little smoke and mirrors for his product, which salesmen around the world have done ever since the world began and which we see nothing wrong in their doing except, strangely, when they do it on the stock market.

The only difference in Wong's case is that he was so clumsy about doing it that it drew the attention of even our regulators and, bang, in court he found himself with the beak lecturing him on the nature of good and evil.

And then the SFC publicity department actually cranks out a press release about this minnow event - 'We got us another villain. Give us three cheers.'

'Bhrhhrhrhrhrhrhrhrhrh ...'