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11/30/2011

40 years of good governance

The MAS is celebrating 40 years of good governance. The little glitch created by the toxic notes and Lehman bonds were the exceptions of an otherwise a glittering record of how well a govt treasury transcended smoothly from a developing to a developed country. And there were many good people at the helm of the MAS to make it happened.

The road forward is treacherous with the products of the great American Ivy League universities producing crooks and scoundrels to run the American and international financial system with no qualms about moral goodness. It was like if they were told to go out and grab everything they could with their privileged education and membership to an elite class.

MAS had done well but could not prevent major hiccups along the way that are beyond its control. No one will blame MAS for making a slip here and there. But MAS should do its utmost to ensure that slips that are preventable would not be allowed to happen too often. The toxic notes incident was a wake up call that deregulations and a laid back approach is just not workable.

Are there any more toxic notes equivalents in our system that is waiting to blow up in the face of the MAS? Hopefully there isn’t. When the toxic notes were allowed into the system, I believe, due diligence would have been done by the respective organizations and some confidence that they were reasonably sound products for the markets. One lesson from this debacle is never to allow the salesman who is peddling the product to do the due diligence. He will do whatever and just enough to convince everyone that all is fine. There are vested interests in the peddlar to want to push his products into the market.

What is the state of health of our financial market? Or specifically, what is the state of health of the stock market. Every piece of news reported is good news. Our stock market is in the pink of health and we are marching confidently to become a major financial centre in East Asia, contending for the top position with Tokyo and Hongkong. I really hope that this is the case.

There have been many uncomfortable noises in the finance industry since the introduction of high speed trading system and high speed computers, the latter being plug into the stock exchange’s trading system. Everyone is told that this is a good thing, the way forward. Everything is simply fine, going as planned.

The uncomfortable noises and reservations about high speed trading and the unfair advantages they have over ordinary traders have been highlighted by American and European experts. Many smelt foul but would not go too far to say anything worst. And the fouling is more than meets the eyes or at least this is the general perceptions of market stakeholders. The outsiders do not have access, and do not know enough of the high speed computer trading platform to make an informed judgement.

What is high speed trading and how much do we know of this new animal is still a big question. Is it simply a case of innocent computers that just attached itself to the exchange computer system to facilitate high speed trading, and nothing more?

Perhaps it is opportune at this time for MAS to commission an in dept study of high speed trading and whether it violates the basic principles of a level playing field for all stake holders. Or is high speed trading a Frankenstein in the making and the untold damages are still unfolding? An independent team to investigate this system is needed to address the discomfort among the stakeholders, and to confirm that any misgiving is unfounded. A thorough study is warranted to assure all stake holders that they are not sucked into a quagmire without knowing what is happening.

And MAS owes this responsibility to do its part for the interests of all stake holders. If there is a lemon in the financial system, it is important to sieve it out asap before it turns into another Lehman crisis. Would MAS take on this task, or it has done so and that everything is in order? The high speed trading platform and the high speed computers are fair trading instruments that do not have added advantages over other players, nothing unfair, and there is nothing to worry about.

Such an assurance will be most welcomed to put many insecure and suspicious minds at ease. Until then, the lack of understanding of the true nature of high speed trading, how it actually works, will only lead to misunderstanding, speculation and misgivings. Transparency and public education on high speed trading system are needed for it to be accepted as a neutral tool and fair to all stake holders. Everyone wants to believe that high speed trading and high speed computers are fair game.

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