White Collar

Poor-mouthing brokers have fat bottom lines

14 may have closed down last year, but data shows fat profits for the rest

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 10:55am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 12:12am

Brokers often complain that keen competition and the shortening of lunch breaks at the stock exchange have made their lives miserable, but their bottom lines tell a different story.

While it is true that 14 broker firms closed down last year, it would be wrong to believe that the rest are struggling.

The 927 that still survive in the city's crowded industry are doing well, with a combined profit of HK$16.7 billion last year, more than double the HK$7.64 billion in 2012, Securities and Futures Commission data released last week showed.

Commission income and profitability will continue to rise as long as market activity increases. Daily turnover at the stock exchange jumped 16 per cent last year to HK$62.6 billion.

To help the industry grow, the government could cancel the stamp duty on transactions

To help the industry grow, the government could cancel the stamp duty on transactions. The city is one of the few places that still collects such duty.

A major factor affecting the livelihood of the city's brokers is Beijing's policy on capital markets.

State-owned Citic surprised the market last week with a plan for a reverse takeover of Citic Pacific. Other state-owned firms are expected to follow the listing move, which would boost market turnover substantially.

Hong Kong brokers had their golden days in 2007 following an apparent shift in central government policy.

The industry's net profit peaked at HK$32.4 billion that year when Beijing said in August it might start a "through-train" scheme to allow mainlanders to directly invest in the Hong Kong market. Turnover reached HK$200 billion a day.

But three months later, it announced that the plan would not go ahead and the market turned quiet again.

Beijing said last year it would expand the qualified domestic institutional investor scheme to allow mainlanders to invest more in offshore markets, including Hong Kong.

If this reform materialises, it will be good news for brokers.

Interestingly, a breakdown of the profit data for the 450 that trade local stocks shows big is not necessarily beautiful.

Combined profit at the largest 14 brokers fell 4 per cent to HK$3.23 billion last year. The 51 medium-sized ones were the best performers - their profit was HK$4.03 billion, 8.7 times that in 2012. The 385 smallest players did not do too bad, either - their profit jumped almost five times to HK$1.76 billion.

One fact worth noting is the rise in margin financing - money lent for investing in the market. Outstanding loans leapt 46 per cent to HK$85.8 billion.

That could be a sign the market is becoming more speculative. The regulators best keep an eye on it.