SINGAPORE/HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Several brokerages in Singapore could lose millions of dollars in the wake of recent sharp price falls in three stocks, traders said, and as the stock exchange probes short-selling in two of the stocks early this week when they were subject to trading curbs.
Singapore Exchange Ltd (SGX), both the market operator and regulator, suspended trading in shares of Blumont Group Ltd, Asiasons Capital Ltd and LionGold Corp Ltd last Friday following the big price moves. On Sunday, it declared them "designated securities" - its first such move in five years.
Under the rules imposed by the SGX, traders cannot short-sell the stocks and buyers have to pay cash up-front. Once bought, the shares cannot be sold until they are deposited into the buyer's account, at least three days later.
Traders now say there is widespread confusion over the trading curbs, and particularly over when they were allowed to sell. Some bought shares after the trading suspension was lifted on Monday and sold on the same day - so falling foul of the SGX rules and risking a fine.
"Owing to the confusion, many clients have sold these securities before the due date," Mr Jimmy Ho Kwok Hoong, President of The Society of Remisiers (Singapore), wrote in a letter to The Straits Times on Friday. "They now run the risk of a possible buying-in with fines for short-selling, unless the SGX makes an exception to the rule for these trades."
All this comes on top of trading losses racked up when these three stocks crashed. All have dropped by more than 80 per cent since last Thursday's close, turning them back into the penny stocks they were before their dramatic gains in recent months - a surge analysts said was not backed by business fundamentals.
Some brokerage clients have refused to pay up, or have disappeared, three traders told Reuters on Friday. Individual traders, or remisiers, who have to foot the bill may have to declare bankruptcy or sign a bond to pay off what they owe in installments to the brokerages.
"Because SGX lifted the suspension so quickly (on Monday), there wasn't time for information to be disseminated down the stream," said one of the Singapore traders. "The brokers are further down the food chain than the credit department, and even the credit department, which has to control the limits, wasn't really clear about the rules."
It is also unclear how they should now be dealing in the three companies' shares.
The SGX said late on Thursday it would take appropriate disciplinary action as part of its investigation into short-selling of Blumont and Asiasons stocks, though it did not say what those measures would be.
One trader said the SGX is also asking for the names and addresses of people using direct market access (DMA) to trade in the shares. Investors use DMA to electronically trade large blocks of stock quickly, cheaply and without identifying themselves to the market.
The SGX, which allowed DMA trading in September 2012, has the right to request identifying information, but rarely does so, the trader said. A spokeswoman for the SGX said it is standard procedure "to call on all our member firms to check on orders and trades executed in our markets."
Mr Lee Porter, managing director at Liquidnet Asia Pacific, said such requests are more common in other exchanges. "If there's any wild swings in prices it's not unusual for regulators to ask brokers who their underlying customer was," he said.
The SGX said it uses the "designated securities"classification when it believes there may have been market manipulation of a stock, excessive speculation or if it is otherwise in the market's interest to do so. It said on Thursday it was monitoring the market in the three stocks, and would lift the designation "as soon as it is appropriate to do so."