SGX should be more proactive against potential insider trading


Published March 26, 2014

First Published in Business Times on March 26, 2014

Letter to the Editor

Mak Yuen Teen

LAST week was not a good week for the regulatory side of SGX. On the one hand, it was criticised for not querying Olam, while on the other, it was told that it was too easy on the trigger for “Trade with Caution” (TWC) alerts.

 

There is a role for TWC alerts, particularly for issuers which have unusual trading activities and which cannot explain them when queried by SGX. From our research, about three-quarters of responses to price queries say that they could not explain the price run-up or decline. SGX should focus on these companies when issuing TWC alerts, rather than companies which have attempted to explain the unusual trading activities. This is not to say that SGX should never issue TWC alerts in other cases but it should be more circumspect in doing so. Otherwise, over time, such alerts may cease to serve any useful purpose and we may then see a new alert in the form of Trade with Extreme Caution to differentiate it from Trade with Caution.

 

I appreciate that SGX is enhancing its regulatory role and the increase in its surveillance activities should be applauded. However, SGX and other regulators should recognise that surveillance is only part of the system of monitoring and enforcement.

 

In the case of the 75 per cent of issuers which say that they have no explanation for unusual trading activities, do the regulators track whether these issuers announce significant corporate developments soon after they issue their “no explanation” responses? Do they investigate whether the prior unusual trading activities were the result of leakage of information about these developments?

 

Olam, which was not queried, is far from being the only stock that has experienced significant price movements before a major corporate announcement. The issue should not primarily be about whether an issuer is queried, but whether there are unusual price or volume movements before major corporate announcements which may indicate possible insider trading. Some markets, such as the US, focus on investigations and enforcement rather than queries and public disclosure around these queries.

 

SGX and other regulators should examine the balance between surveillance and enforcement and ensure that sufficient resources are put into investigations and enforcement. This may require the government to review the resources allocated to agencies and units which are responsible for investigating and prosecuting capital market-related offences. Surveillance and enforcement need to go hand in hand and it is well accepted that the key to a robust capital market is effective enforcement. If enforcement is improved, we may also see a decline in the need to issue queries and TWC alerts over time as unusual trading activities may become less common.

 

Mak Yuen Teen

 

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