Midday break for bourse makes return from today

The Singapore Exchange scrapped the 12.30pm to 2pm lunch break in 2011 to much acrimony from retail brokers, who lamented the loss of an opportunity to wine and dine clients, or to conduct research. However, now that the SGX is finally giving traders
The Singapore Exchange scrapped the 12.30pm to 2pm lunch break in 2011 to much acrimony from retail brokers, who lamented the loss of an opportunity to wine and dine clients, or to conduct research. However, now that the SGX is finally giving traders their lunch break back, few celebrated.ST FILE PHOTO

Trading will stop for an hour at noon; mixed reactions to lunch hour being reinstated 6 years after it was scrapped

They clamoured for its return for six long years, but when the Singapore Exchange (SGX) finally gave traders their lunch break back, few celebrated.

From today, the Singapore stock market will take a midday break from noon to 1pm, a shorter pause than the previous 12.30pm to 2pm lunch interval which the SGX scrapped in 2011 to much acrimony from retail brokers.

Is it a case of a battle won too late? Old-timers in the equities broking business grouse that business today is poor, and they pin the blame on SGX for taking away the break in the first place.

"This is another U-turn by SGX. It should not have been taken away in the first place," said one remisier bitterly.

Another remisier, who has over 20 years of experience at Singapore's largest brokerage UOB Kay Hian, said: "I do my own trading, but clients' business has gone down a lot. So I just pass time here."

When the break was scrapped in 2011, retail dealers lamented the loss of an opportunity to wine and dine clients, or to conduct research.

It came at a time when Asian exchanges were pressured to compete for volumes through longer trading hours.

That same year, the Tokyo Stock Exchange, noted for its short trading day, cut its lunch break by 30 minutes to an hour.

A GOOD THING

You get to go for a good lunch and come back, freshen up, your mind is much clearer.

REMISIER AT PHILLIP SECURITIES JOEY CHOY, on the benefit of having a break.

Hong Kong's stock exchange extended trading hours in two phases in 2011 and 2012 to match those in mainland China.

The SGX break was also abolished partly to address gap risk - the danger that traders may be unable to react to major movements in other markets during the break.

As continuous all-day trading from 9am to 5pm became the new norm in Singapore, brokerages rolled out a slew of initiatives to help trade representatives during the lunch break.

This included getting a buddy to put in trades for them, and making available iPads, mobile trading apps, and the option to route trades through a central dealing system.

There were various snags. Buddy systems did not materialise on a large scale as remisiers are usually solo operators who might not trust another person to handle their orders. As a result, many remisiers took hurried lunches to minimise disruption to clients.

Despite the exchange's best-laid plans, the promised additional liquidity from uninterrupted trading never materialised - as markets stayed stagnant while investors received knockout punches from S-chips' failure and the penny stock crash in 2013.

Another big impact was online trading.

Mr Esmond Choo, senior executive director at UOB Kay Hian, said a remisier does not need to pick up the phone and enter an order anymore, adding that over 50 to 60 per cent of contracts at UOB Kay Hian are trades done online.

He said he was indifferent about the lunch break being brought back. "If you have to interact with customers, you interact with customers."

But there are others more positive about the lunch break reinstatement. Mr Joey Choy, a remisier at Phillip Securities, said it is a good thing that people will have a break.

"You get to go for a good lunch and come back, freshen up, your mind is much clearer."

The return of the lunch break, for now, seems more like a nice-to-have for brokers' welfare than a game-changer.

Also on the bright side, brokers pointed to other changes taking place today that might help their business.

The tick size for stocks in the $1 to $1.99 range will be widened from 0.5 cent to one cent, meaning that stocks can move up or down by a wider percentage.

The forced order range will also be widened from 20 bids in either direction to 30 bids. This means remisiers can now enter a wider range of trade prices for clients without incurring a small cost should the price go beyond the range and the trade is "forced".

With the reintroduction of the lunch break, Singapore will still have one of the longest trading sessions in Asia. The Shanghai close is at 3pm, for example.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2017, with the headline 'Midday break for bourse makes return from today'. Print Edition | Subscribe