Do more to protect investors and monitor companies more closely

The Singapore Exchange Centre in Shenton Way.
The Singapore Exchange Centre in Shenton Way.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Recent reports about mismanagement or manipulation of the stock market by companies listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) have damaged the reputation of Singapore as a financial centre and shaken the confidence in its share market.

I am beginning to wonder whether SGX was acting too slowly in many of these cases.

Take, for example, the 2013 penny stock crash involving Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital and LionGold Group.

The illegal manipulation came to light only after their share prices had collapsed, which was too late for many investors, and led to $8 billion being wiped out.

Why were there no interventions by SGX for nearly a year when their share prices shot up by more than 10 times?

As for Noble Group, it took allegations by Muddy Waters Research, not stationed in Singapore, to cast doubts about the commodity trader's accounting irregularities.

The short-sellers insisted that Noble was not transparent with its reports, and this has proven true.

Now there is the case of Midas Holdings, which has been suspended for the last two years, was found to have no buyers and needs to be liquidated.

As late as two months before its suspension, Midas was still reporting positive cash flow and received many contracts for manufacturing of trains.

It turns out all that was false and appeared to be manipulated news.

There are as many as 30 counters in SGX and Catalist which are now suspended.

Retail investors are definitely not protected enough and that explains why many rights issues go unsubscribed when the mother share prices are lower than the rights subscription price.

Also, for the last three years, about 70 per cent of the initial public offerings (IPOs) have been trading below their IPO price.

Unless SGX and the Securities Investors Association (Singapore) do more to protect investors and monitor listed companies more closely, and not act only when prices collapse, the volume of SGX trades will hover at or below the $1 billion mark, a far cry from the early 2000s, when it was at $2 billion.

All these breaches are not healthy for the image of Singapore's financial hub status.

Matthew Yeo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2019, with the headline 'Do more to protect investors and monitor companies more closely'. Print Edition | Subscribe