SGX looking at new penny stock rules

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Exchange (SGX) is mulling new rules on penny stocks after last month's meltdown in these counters caused huge losses to some investors.

SGX chief executive Magnus Bocker acknowledged that the saga, which wiped out billions of dollars in market value, has harmed the bourse's reputation.

"Is it reasonable to trade stocks that are denominated in a few cents? I don't think so. Some markets in the world have rules on how low the price of a stock can be," he told The Straits Times on Wednesday.

"Of course, these events will impact the market's reputation negatively. But we need to deal with that and work on it."

He alluded to rules in other markets, including the United States, on penny stocks. In the US, brokers are barred from trading penny stocks unless they meet the rules: they need to first approve the customer and inform him of the risks. Brokers and the firms also need to inform the customer of the compensation they get from the trade, for instance.

There is no strict definition here of a penny stock. Some market players say they are stocks trading below $1 a share, others say it is under 50 cents a share, the minimum price for new mainboard listings, or below 20 cents if they are Catalist counters.

The penny stock saga erupted early last month when Asiasons Capital, Blumont Group and LionGold hit dizzying highs, and then plummeted between 40 per cent and 60 per cent, prompting SGX to impose trading curbs on them.

"We have a great team looking at the specific three stocks but beyond that, we need to fundamentally review what are the lessons learnt and what are the changes needed," Mr Bocker said.

SGX already has other measures on the way. By early next year, it will bring in circuit breakers to automatically halt trading if hit by sharp price swings. It is also considering cutting the lots size from 1,000 units to 100 to make sound blue-chip stocks more affordable.

Should SGX have acted more swiftly when some of these counters touched astonishing highs instead of moving in when they collapsed? "We, the SGX, are not here to judge valuation (of a certain stock). The minute we do that, we are no longer operating a fair, transparent and orderly market. What we want is proper disclosure," he replied.

Critics claim that SGX was not quick to act given the conflicts of being a regulator and a commercially oriented corporation.

Mr Bocker said "anyone who thinks we are prepared to make short-term commercial decisions doesn't understand the exchange industry. The share price and long- term success of SGX are based on the trust in what we do. We always take short-term pain to keep the trust".

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