Thursday, 28 August 2008

PSE Trading (Extended Version)

Today, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) has issued a notice that it will extend its trading by 2 hours (2pm to 4pm) in 2009. This is said to coincide with the new trading system that they will implement (click here for the said item).

Is this good news? Before I answer that, let us try to recall what happened when they tried to extend trading back in 2002. If I remember it correctly, the reason the PSE extended the trading back then was to entice more foreign funds to place their money here. Extending the hours was supposed to address the problem of having different time zones at the same time. After eight months of extended trading, the PSE came up with the same result but with longer hours. In short, it was a useless endeavor. They reverted back to the usual schedule of trading at 9:30am to 12:10pm.

But times are different. The PSE board of directors seem to be more aggressive in capturing a bigger audience to place their money into the equitites market. This is also quite evident with the more frequent roadshows the PSE has been conducting in the provinces. They have also opened themselves to partnerships (official or otherwise) with different entities involved in stock market education, like my friends in Absolute Traders. Clearly, the PSE has a long uphill battle to capture even 5% of the total population. It was noted in a study that out of the nearly 80 million Filipinos, only some 400,000 individual accounts are trading the stock market. I'm not even sure if all those 400,000+ accounts are unique or some happen to be multiple accounts of one investor. So, optimistically, exposure of the stock market to the Filipinos is very minute. A little over 0.5% of the population plays the market. This is very disturbing since other developed nations have a substantial portion of their population playing their own market. The U.S. is said to have around half of the people trading, that includes ordinary housewives. In Hong Kong, even taxi drivers know how to trade stocks. So why can't we do it?

Probably we have to bring ourselves back to reality in order to answer the why. First of all, we have to see how our demographics are. A typical Filipino worker takes home minimum wage. As we all know, minimum wage isn't even enough to get by in Metro Manila. They would need to borrow money somewhere to make ends meet. Second, the typical Filipino is not educated enough about the stock market. Third and probably the hardest problem the PSE has to deal with, is that the local stock market's image is that of a rich man's club. I'm not surprised that many see the stock market as something that only rich people can get involved in.

The PSE is doing its best to address the last problem as this has been there since time immemorial. But I feel that they're not doing enough. They still need to be more aggressive in changing their image and educating the public. C'mon, we don't even have 1% of the population playing the market!

The second problem is currently being addressed by a number of groups and individuals. Ateneo has a tie-up with PSE to include market education into their curriculum. Different entities like Absolute Traders have been educating the public about the stock market in their own way. Slowly but surely, the PSE is getting help from different places.

It's the first problem that is almost impossible to solve right now. It's a socio-economic problem where the saying becomes true: the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. It is one problem every regime that has come and gone have tried to solve but to no avail. I think it's more proper to say that it's a problem they try to solve when it's election time but it gets ignored once they sit in Malacanang. When the Philippines gets to elect a government sensitive to this need and conscientious enough to do something about it shall we see lives improve.

Anyway, I'm digressing from the subject at hand. Going back to the question, is extended trading good news for the PSE? I sure hope so. All things being equal, we expect that there should be an increase in capital that's involved in the market. But that's not a realistic situation, it's an ideal one. I fear that we are just going to repeat what happened back in 2002. But as I said, things are different now. 2002 was in the midst of a long bear market. Interest definitely wasn't there. Currently, we're in a bear market too but not as bad as 2002. Traders are wiser now.

I wish the PSE good luck with this move and I hope it becomes successful. Seriously.

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