Regulators use tonne of bricks when a slap on wrist would do

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am

The Securities and Futures Commission has me on its e-mail circulation list, for which I thank them. But there are times when I cannot congratulate them on e-mails they send me about malefactors they have nabbed. There were three such notices on Friday. Here they are:

'The District Court today jailed two warrant traders ... for 33 and 36 months in the first indictable prosecution for manipulating derivative warrants.'

Thence followed stern words from the judge - 'the court cannot pass the buck and should be very tough by passing sufficiently deterrent sentences against any market manipulators'.

That's right, your honour, don't pass the buck. If it's current fashion to come down hard on people for any crime that features the word 'market', then be a good follower of fashion and let's not having any buck-passing about standing back for a perspective on things.

Three years? Is this for real? I mean, will someone please tell me how much blood was splattered at the scene of this crime and how many severed limbs were scattered about. Did someone haul out a gun and threaten to shoot the bystanders? How much jewellery was stolen? Was someone raped?

What these two fellows did was toss some warrants back and forth between each other to work up an illusion of trading volume and see if they could get anyone to rise to it. They acted a lie about real public demand, it's true. Now let's have every car dealer in town jailed.

I remember the chief dealer at one securities firm I worked for doing this two or three times a year for his family company. Flying the flag, it was called.

I understood. The family stock was illiquid. He was sending a message to the market - 'We're still here, folks, don't worry. Stay in with us but, if you need to get out, here's your chance. Come talk to me.'

If people find it necessary to create illusions of trading volume on the market, then first on our list of culprits should be the listing committee of the stock exchange for allowing hundreds of unsuitable midget issues through its gates.

These tiny stocks and warrants fizzle out in a few months, trapping their public holders and giving them no exit unless they can induce someone else to come in. But beware all ye who think to emulate the tactics of soap merchants in creating this inducement. In prison you go.

Might there be any room there for the Yes-men on the listing committee, your honour?

'A retail investor, Mr Credit Szeto Kwok Kwan, was today given a suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to charges for manipulating a derivative warrant during the closing auction session (CAS) on 30 December 2008.'

I gave you his name this time because I like it - Credit Kwan. It's up there with my two favourites in the beauty contest line - Margarine Leung and Lonely Poon.

What Credit did was take advantage of one of those completely bollixed ideas that the civil servants who control the stock exchange occasionally spawn. This one, the closing auction session, was a computer programme that would balance outstanding buy and sell orders at the end of the day and assign fair prices to them, thus stopping anyone from rigging a closing price.

Someone forgot that we are in Hong Kong, where thousands of clever minds instantly jump to an entrepreneurial challenge like this. The wits soon found the glitches in the software, took advantage of them and the closing auction session turned into a shambles. On one memorable day it recorded a 24 per cent drop in HSBC's share price.

I laughed. Lesson - Never play against a Canto-trader when he's on home turf. The closing auction session was buried last year, R.I.P.

Give Credit a medal, not a suspended jail sentence. He did us a good turn by exposing the flaws of a flawed system.

'The Securities and Futures Commission has suspended the licence of Mr Mak Kan Long for four months...[following] an SFC investigation which found that... Mak had failed to disclose his wife's account to his employer as a staff-related account...'

... and didn't get permission in writing from her and didn't keep an audit trail of her instructions and...yaddi-yadda ...

Don't know about you but if I had to keep written record of my wife's instructions, well, ... Ouch! Sorry, dear. Ow! I take it back ...

What the circumstances obviously merited was an invitation to Mr Mak to drop into the SFC's offices for a little ticking off.

But, no, our scalp-hungry regulators wanted another scalp.