There are plenty of reasons which could be trotted out for why turnover on the SAR's beleaguered stock market is vanishing like a thief into the night - wilting Wall Street, Iraq jitters and September syndrome, to name a few. But what about minimum brokerage commissions? Early this year the stock exchange followed the government's suggestion that the local bourse defer for a year the scrapping of 0.25 per cent minimum brokerage commission. The decision to push back deregulation to next April was based on the hopeful wish that market sentiment would turn around, thereby minimising the effects of the abolition, especially on the job market. The government's prayers have not been answered, however. Last month, the stock market's average daily turnover was down 14 per cent year on year to HK$5.46 billion. Total turnover by value was HK$1.14 trillion during the first eight months of this year, down 17.75 per cent from the HK$1.39 trillion reported for the same period last year. The extent of this year's turnover shrinkage in Hong Kong is alarming. The New York Stock Exchange saw average daily turnover of US$42.7 billion in the first eight months of the year, almost the same as a year ago. The London Stock Exchange accumulated a total of GBP1.24 trillion (about HK$15 trillion) turnover between January and last month, down only 3.21 per cent on the same period last year. IPO Securities director Ryan Fong Yen-hwung encapsulated how feeble daily turnover on the local market has become. 'Last Friday, Citigroup on Wall Street traded double the daily turnover of Hong Kong,' he said. Industry lobbyists for the roughly 500 stock brokers around town are already gearing up to urge the government to delay, or even cancel, April's showdown. Hong Kong Stockbrokers Association vice-chairman Kenny Lee Yiu-sin said the association was aiming not only to preserve a minimum commission system in Hong Kong, but also to see it extended to dealers such as those at banks and other competitors which were exempted from the rule. With the government urging the retention of minimum commissions in January because of fears brokers would be thrown out of work, the expectation may be for a similar decision again given the deteriorating market. But such a protectionist approach is a double-edged sword. While it may win applause from the industry, it could further hurt the local market's competitiveness and result in even lower turnover, with the high charges repelling traders. Indeed many commentators believe that scrapping the minimum commission would boost, or at least better preserve, market turnover. There may be some truth to this idea. New York and London deregulated their commissions in the late 1970s and mid-1980s and it did not appear to have done them much harm. Singapore offers an even better example having scrapped minimum commissions in 2000. While the SAR's turnover was sliding in the first eight months, turnover on Singapore's main board was holding up. It came in at S$85.85 billion (about HK$376.26 billion), from S$86.09 billion in the same period last year. Now this should give the commissions debate some food for thought.