The latest fiasco that has gripped the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brings to focus how the government supports shady investors being investigated for market offences, brushing aside the rule of law and blatantly ignoring analysis about the stock market put forward by the SEC, Central Bank and the Treasury!
The Treasury said the stock exchange was undergoing a correction, shredding to pieces a key argument put forward by influential investors and their crony brokers, attempting to wriggle out of investigations directed at them by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka (SEC), that the slump experienced by the Colombo Stock Exchange was the work of an anti-government regulator.
The stock exchange mafia have won round two of the ongoing battle with the SEC, with Thilak Karunaratne resigning from the Chairmanship of the SEC, the second in less than a year, with top government officials pressurising the SEC to backtrack investigations into market offences and relax certain restrictions in a bid to help certain high net worth investors recoup massive losses sustained in dubious market activities which the SEC was investigating.
Just as the Central Bank did in its annual report for 2011, the Ministry of Finance and Planning too acknowledged the market correction.
"There was a faster and more extensive improvement in the performance of the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE), particularly during the first two years since the ending of the conflict in May 2009. Continuing the upsurge, the equity prices increased to an all-time high by mid February 2011, but moved downwards thereafter. This reflected a correction of stock prices, which recorded a phenomenal increase during the previous one and a half years," the Treasury said.
Some brokers said the rise in stock prices was an indication of the prospects of the post-conflict economy, but in the absence of fundamentals, many established brokering firms referred to some of the stocks as ‘junk’ and ‘speculative’ counters, warning investors of the pitfalls.
Despite the acknowledgement of a market correction in its annual report, Treasury Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundera had told SEC commission members that he would like to see the stock market move up again, telling them that political considerations would receive more prominence at the end of the day (previously reported in these pages). He wanted the SEC to compromise, but Karunaratne had told him that the SEC would maintain accepted regulatory norms, and now he has resigned.
"The issue at the end of the day was not the SEC directives to cool-off an overheated market. This was just a front. The Treasury and Central Bank have acknowledged that the market was overheated, and that the slump was really a correction. What is a correction for the SEC, Central Bank and Treasury, is an anti-government manipulation for shady investors; and who does the government believe? Well, the answer is now very obvious isn’t it," a market analyst pointed out.