Lawsuits may provide answers on $8b meltdown

PHOTO: Lawsuits may provide answers on $8b meltdown

The legal action being taken against Goldman Sachs could throw new light on the $8 billion share meltdown in Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital last month.

Three investors - Ipco International boss Quah Su Ling and company secretary Ng Su Ling and Blumont executive director James Hong - are reported to be taking the United States bank to court in London.

A fourth investor - Mr Wong Chin Yong, the chief executive of Innopac Holdings - is said to be caught in the same trading debacle involving Goldman.

The issue they have with the global bank raises interesting questions: What caused Goldman to suddenly recall, at a moment's notice, the loans it had extended - using shares in the affected counters as collateral - just two days before their subsequent collapse?

Did any third party benefit from the investors' plight and the plight of others like them - when they were under pressure to redeem their loans - to "short-sell" the shares?

Legal papers filed by Ms Quah and Mr Hong showed that they had owned shares in Blumont, LionGold and Asiasons, which they had pledged to Goldman to secure loans for buying more stock.

Both people had opened accounts with the bank on the recommendation of investment consultant William Chan.

As the value of their share portfolios grew, their loan quantums jumped as well.

Then two days before the calamitous collapse of the three counters on Oct 4, they faced demands from Goldman to repay their loans, with just 90 minutes' notice given.

As Ms Quah related in the legal document backing her suit, she could not repay the $61 million owed to the bank "at such unreasonably short notice", and so was served with a notice of default, close-out and termination via e-mail at 1.37pm that day.

Forced-selling of her shares started soon after.

Ms Quah and Mr Hong also alleged in court filings that despite their proposals to try to settle the loans, Goldman continued to sell the shares that had been pledged with it.

Another interesting observation that emerged from Ms Quah's recounting of the events was that Goldman was able to sell some of her Asiasons shares on Oct 2 and Oct 3 without encountering a big correction in its stock price.

But on Friday, Oct 4, shortly after opening bell, Blumont, LionGold and Asiasons suffered huge plunges in their share prices.

This forced the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to suspend their trading to "safeguard the interests of the market as there could be circumstances that would result in the market not being fully informed".

Similarly, Ipco and Innopac shares plummeted sharply in price, possibly on concerns over the exposure Ms Quah and Mr Wong had to the affected counters.

Interestingly, when the SGX allowed trading of the three counters to resume the following Monday, on Oct 7, it took the highly unusual step of labelling them as designated shares, meaning contra trading and short-selling were banned.

In hindsight, the three counters made easy prey for short-sellers who may have come to know that Goldman was forced-selling a large amount of stock on the open market.

By "designating" the counters, was the SGX taking pre-emptive action to stop them from benefiting from the chaos?

As it is, extensive damage has been done to the penny-stock market with the share prices of Blumont, LionGold and Asiasons plunging by as much as 90 per cent in the past two months, causing huge losses to brokerages, remisiers and retail investors.

These include AmFraser Securities, which faced a potential loss of up to RM120 million (S$47 million) over the three stocks, and US-based Interactive Brokers, which said it might end up in the red to the tune of about US$68 million (S$85 million).

A number of remisiers in other brokerages were also said to have been hit with losses of a few million dollars each, while Mr Wira Dani Abdul Daim - the son of former Malaysian finance minister Daim Zainuddin - has had his Liongold shares forced-sold.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore and the SGX are "conducting an extensive review of the activities around these stocks".

Hopefully, they will be able to give the investing public some answers as to what exactly transpired in those frantic days.

Whatever their findings, Straits Times reader Tan Kok Thye aptly wrote in an e-mail that investors will always look back with horror that $8 billion could be wiped out just like that in a small stock market like Singapore, in such a short span of time.

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