Trading drama likely to keep market riveted

PHOTO: Trading drama likely to keep market riveted

Washington, DC may be hogging the headlines with the partial shutdown of the United States government and the spectre of a US debt default, but there is plenty of local drama as well to keep traders here glued to their screens.

What was supposed to be a sleepy Friday trading session before the weekend turned out to be one of the most riveting trading days in recent history, as some of the most fancied stocks here started to slide precipitously right from the opening bell.

Alarmed, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) issued queries to six firms to explain the unusual trading activities in their shares.

It then suspended trading for three of them: Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital and Liongold. The other three continued to trade.

Innopac plunged 52.9 per cent with a record-breaking 670 million shares changing hands - the most for any SGX-listed stock in a single trading day - while ISR Capital crashed 30.3 per cent and ISDN Holdings lost 10.1 per cent.

Ipco International, which was not queried by the SGX but has a stake in Blumont, fell 12.5 per cent on a hefty turnover of 564.13 million shares.

On Sunday, the SGX lifted the trading suspensions on Blumont, Asiasons and Liongold. They will resume trading this morning, although with certain restrictions.

What had distinguished the affected counters were the recent rocket-like ascents in their share prices.

Since January, Blumont's price had shot up about 10 times before Friday's plunge, with its market capitalisation growing to a staggering $6.3 billion - making it more valuable than even well-established companies such as Keppel Land, which is worth $5.4 billion.

Similarly, Asiasons was the best performer on the FTSE ST Small Cap Index last month, as it almost tripled in price over the period.

Last Tuesday, the SGX registered its concern over Blumont's spectacular stock gain by asking the company how its market value could have increased so much.

In a detailed query, the bourse noted that the company had made nine acquisitions since December last year but added that given the investment quantums involved, these purchases might not be an adequate explanation for its skyrocketing share price.

At first sight, it would appear that the counters that plunged last Friday fall into two separate groups.

One comprises Asiasons, Liongold and ISR Capital: the former owns stakes in the latter two.

The other group is made up of Blumont and Innopac, which are linked to Ipco International.

But publicly available information suggests that there may be links between the two groups.

Innopac's latest annual report shows that as of April, Liongold has a stake in the company, while Ipco's chief executive Ng Su Ling, who is also a Blumont director, sits on Liongold's board.

In their replies to explain the drop in prices in their stocks, Blumont and Liongold alluded to the trading curbs imposed by brokerage UOB Kay Hian on their shares, which would require traders to put up cash payment for purchases above a certain limit.

But these restrictions are not exactly new: curbs on some counters, such as Blumont, had been imposed more than a month ago. Also, UOB Kay Hian had imposed curbs on 18 counters in all, so blaming the brokerage is insufficient to explain why the sell-off hit only some counters and not others.

Some dealers suggested trawling the insiders' trades for some insight. One nugget of information that emerged was that Ipco's Ms Ng had sold one million Blumont shares on Wednesday for $2.38 million. The announcement was made on Thursday afternoon after the closing bell.

Given the dramatic rise and fall of these counters, it is likely that other interesting developments will unfold.

Watch your trading screens.

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