Another case of the SFC jumping on the little guy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am

The court found that between August 27, 2009 and September 2, 2009, [Yu Yau Ki] placed a series of buy and sell orders in relation to the shares of WLS Holdings Limited in a joint account with his wife. Almost all these transactions were wash sales and did not involve any change of beneficial ownership. As a result of these transactions, the nominal price of WLS shares rose about 5 per cent. Securities and Futures Commission

News release, March 24

Here is the big question of mystery. With how much money did this odious villain abscond when leaving the scene of this heinous crime? I ask because the SFC is normally quick to tell me, citing exact figures in dollar terms. These figures often strike me as a little on the, shall we say, ambitious, side but clearly someone goes to considerable effort to make detailed calculations. How dare I question the fruits of such hard work?

On this occasion, however, all we hear is that this share price 'rose about 5 per cent'. Could the reason for this unusual imprecision be that WLS Holdings, a vendor of construction bits and bobs, is a penny stock listed on the toy board and last traded at 18 HK cents a share? It wasn't much different at the time of the offences and 5 per cent would thus represent one cent a share. Of course, 5 per cent of 18 cents would actually be nine-tenths of one cent, which might explain the use of the word 'about' as in 'about 5 per cent'. You round up to one cent, you see.

But that's only for the 'nominal' price of the stock. Apparently there is also a real, as distinct from nominal, price for it. The people at the SFC have not enlightened me, however, and therefore I most leave you in the dark too.

Similarly, I cannot solve the mystery of how much money was involved in this crime. The reasons for judgment have yet to be posted on the Justice Department's website.

But let's cut to the chase. This criminal probably made no money at all. If he had done so the SFC would have been quick to tell us. And if he did make some money, I say that the amounts involved were so tiny, so ridiculously small, that the SFC was ashamed to disclose them.

It's in your court now, fellas. You are accused of jumping on a little guy with your full weight just because you could and then dodging the embarrassment to you of how little he was. How do you plead? Speak up. Do you have to be told again to pick on someone your own size for a change?

There is more to take note of here. Have you ever tried doing what no securities regulator has ever done, which is make a sales pitch for something, anything, to the general public? If you have you will know that you must create a little magic for your product to get the customers lining up. Tell them it's the latest thing, speak of it in tones of wonder and, if they ask, tell them everyone is buying it.

No, it's not always the strict truth but if I'm to be faulted for having occasionally over-emphasised some points and glided over others when I made sales pitches then I'll let St Peter wag his finger in my face on the Judgment Day. I'm not taking it from some prude of a regulator.

But the peculiar thing about it in this town is that if you try to create the impression that everyone is buying by doing some of that buying yourself, then you commit no offence if you do it with cars, boats or soap. Developers routinely do it in the property market and just walk away with the profits.

Yet if you do it in the stock market you commit a criminal offence and can go to jail, even when the amounts involved are so small that the SFC is embarrassed to report them.

My own career experience of stockbroking tells me that these little punters who try to push up penny stocks with 'wash' trades wind up losing as often as winning anyway. Someone fills them in just when they are about to do it to someone else and everyone has a laugh. It's the daily give and take of a market. Only regulators are offended.

And I sometimes wonder if the reason isn't that their fancy software can pick out such wash trades with less effort than it can other tricks so that they can always peg up a few easy victims to show the general public that the market cops are doing their job.

It isn't ordinary sales reps alone who set store by promotions magic.