InvestSMART

Mysterious falls or Monday syndrome?

Inexplicably steep falls in a handful of resources stocks, on thin volumes, triggered a rumour yesterday that a Hong Kong hedge fund was having its portfolio liquidated by its prime broker.

Inexplicably steep falls in a handful of resources stocks, on thin volumes, triggered a rumour yesterday that a Hong Kong hedge fund was having its portfolio liquidated by its prime broker.

The theory was that the fund had been caught short by "holding" too many resources stocks and not enough financials in the wildly swinging market conditions, suggesting it had been hurt playing in short-selling conditions.

Some were saying the fund may have been linked to investment bank Morgan Stanley, although Insider could neither get that confirmed nor denied by the local office.

One of the factoids being applied to give that theory credence was unusually high turnover in would-be copper and gold miner Indophil Resources, which has had Morgan Stanley entities actively trading its stock for much of this year and were last seen disclosing a holding of about 30 million shares.

Turnover in Indophil hit more than 60 million shares yesterday, although Insider believes there is significant double-counting in that because it appears one line of 21.4 million shares traded at 33.5? at 10.30am was turned around and sold less than six minutes later at 35.5? a share.

That is a $400,000 profit in less time than it takes to drink a cafe latte, and suggests the first deal was not a stockbroker buying the stock as principal, as is often the case in large lines, because Insider can imagine the enraged call they would receive from their client for having taken such a thick wedge out of the middle.

Then again, it might also mean the original seller was "distressed", and had to get out as quickly as possible without finessing the market for a better price.

Insider does hear that the last buyer of Indophil also bought several other large lines, but was a long fund that might be a more stable investor.

While Indophil's price firmed on the day, three other resources stocks of a similar market size suffered painful falls on teeny turnover - which does make Insider wonder whether there was someone cleaning out a small portfolio in a hurry (then again, it was Monday and weird things happen without an overnight lead from overseas).

Conquest Mining, Intrepid Mines and Silver Lake Resources all suffered falls in the high teens, percentage-wise, but on negligible volumes. That might get them "speeding" tickets from the ASX, but do not expect the companies to have any meaningful explanations for the events.

COINCIDENCE

Singapore's government investment corporation might have publicly spanked investment bank UBS over its rogue trader losses last week, but the bank's chairman, Kaspar Villiger, said the state had no influence over the departure of the chief executive, Oswald Gruebel, at the weekend.

Still, the fact that Gruebel quit while the UBS board was waving its corporate flag in Singapore to coincide with its sponsorship of the formula one grand prix there is a remarkable coincidence of events.

Among the differing interpretations of why Gruebel chose to leave is a report that it was because he could not get the board to agree to replace Villiger as chairman with Axel Weber sooner, rather than later. Weber, who used to run Germany's central bank, is scheduled to officially become deputy chairman of UBS next March and take over from Villiger in 2013.

ODD RATIONALE

ConnectEast's decision to opt for a suspension of trading in its stock before this morning's investor vote on selling out to Horizon Roads once again underlines the odd rationales being used for such trading halts.

The toll road operator's statement said it was a matter of "best practice" and caution to ensure that trading "takes place in an informed market" - all pretty much word-for-word the ASX's own listing rules, so the company can hardly be faulted on those grounds.

Insider finds it hard to understand, though, what was different between Monday and Friday to warrant a suspension - unless of course the voting on the takeover scheme had clearly tipped against the ConnectEast board-backed Horizon offer of 55? a unit.

There was one media report on Monday indicating a high voter turnout before the meeting, but no real facts on which way they had jumped. Given that specialist shareholder proxy soliciting firm Radar Group has been on the case, that could be read as an outcome in favour of the takeover.

Proxy voting, online and by mail, closed on Sunday, so the ConnectEast board, and presumably its welcomed suitors from Horizon Roads, all have a very good idea which way the wind is now blowing on the scheme.

The ConnectEast chairman, Tony Shepherd, had been telling investors for days, through ASX announcements and newspaper ads, that the numbers in the poll were close and it was important that investors registered their vote.

In part, that campaign also reflected the need to be able to prove to the court, which will place the final stamp of approval on the scheme, that the company had done all things possible to tell investors what was going on and to give them every opportunity to vote on the outcome.

If ConnectEast is, however, aware that the vote on the bid is lost, the call to halt trading is presumably designed to protect investors from buying or selling the stock without that knowledge.

The answer might be that the toll road group, instead of stopping trading, could have adopted that other best practice concept of continuous disclosure and revealed the results of voting that it already has in hand since Sunday.

insider@fairfaxmedia.com.au


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