Bosses snatch up firms' shares amid market slump

UOB Kay Hian is part of a business empire that includes the United Overseas Bank. Its chairman and managing director, Mr Wee Ee-chao, has spent $868,000 to purchase 620,000 of its shares.
UOB Kay Hian is part of a business empire that includes the United Overseas Bank. Its chairman and managing director, Mr Wee Ee-chao, has spent $868,000 to purchase 620,000 of its shares.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Such investment decisions help to instil public confidence in their companies

Company insiders including chief executives have been spending big - millions of dollars in some cases - on shares after recent market mayhem sharply depressed prices.

Analysts say market turbulence is conducive to insider buying, and that these moves could serve to stabilise broader investor sentiment.

One of the most active buyers has been Mr Wee Ee-chao, who in the two weeks following "Black Monday" on Aug 24 spent about $868,000 to buy 620,000 shares in UOB Kay Hian, according to data compiled by shareinvestor.com. Mr Wee is the chairman and managing director of the company.

In that period, Mr Wee, part of the Wee business empire that includes United Overseas Bank, also spent $3.3 million on 542,000 shares in UOL Group, where he is a non-executive director.

Remisier Alvin Yong said: "One thing we have noticed is the Wee family tends to be more active in buying back shares of their companies when the market comes down. UOL, for instance, has been trading below book value recently.

"Moves like these are usually investment decisions where individuals decide to bargain hunt, but these trades will also help send a positive message about the company and instil public confidence. It's killing two birds with one stone."

Regional markets have been in disarray in recent weeks amid the shock from China's move to devalue the yuan and concerns over mainland and global growth.

Share prices have dived as a result, with the local benchmark Straits Times Index hitting a full-year low on Aug 24.

Other major insider buyers include Mr Ron Sim, Osim International's founder and chief executive, who bought about 2.19 million shares in the massage chair retailer at a cost of about $3.2 million. He also spent about $680,000 to buy 733,000 shares in Perennial Real Estate Holdings, where he is the vice-chairman and non-executive director.

Meanwhile, property and hotel tycoon Koh Wee Meng has built his holding in Fragrance Group and Global Premium Hotels.

At Fragrance, he invested about $200,000 to buy 1.05 million shares in the residential developer, and $108,000 on 360,000 shares in hotel operator Global Premium.

IG market analyst Bernard Aw agreed that the current volatile market conditions are more conducive to insider trades.

"Depending on the individuals, senior figures in a company may find times like this a good opportunity to boost their shareholding at a bargain price. At the very least it will cut the amount of free floating shares and increase the stock value."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2015, with the headline 'Bosses snatch up firms' shares amid market slump'. Print Edition | Subscribe