What’s up at the stock market?

Updated April 12, 2019

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IF anybody is having one bad day after another these days, it is the stock brokers. Retail investors whose money is stuck in the exchange are, as usual, the unwitting victims in all this.

But it is the brokers who have to resort to sleeping aids to be able to get a good night’s sleep, because the spectre of broker defaults has raised its ugly head once again.

The stock market has seen two consecutive years of declines now after hitting a ‘historic high’ in the heady run-up to the inclusion in the MSCI index back in June 2017, when the giddiness seemed to know no limits.

Since hitting its peak of 53,124 points back in May 2017, one month before the reclassification into Emerging Market status by MSCI, the market ended trade yesterday at 36,787 points. That’s a fall of 30pc, and it is enough to make the hardiest stomachs a little weak.

The worst thing that the government can do at this point is look for ways to come in for a rescue. The last people in Pakistan who deserve to be rescued with taxpayer money are stock brokers.

It was bad enough that the government caved in to their demands and extended them sweeping tax breaks in the mini-budget of January 2019.

If a crumbling trade and cries for help from the broker community melt the heart of those in Q block, it will be a travesty.

First of all, there is no moral case for why the state should protect the interests of stock brokers.

It is not like they are exporters or industrialists, who either bring in valuable foreign exchange or provide large-scale employment and value addition in our society.

Second, these are some of the most unscrupulous elements in our economy, and past experience with bailing them out has yielded no results for retail investors, despite tall and vigorously made promises.

Instead, the government should start getting tough through the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

A powerful signal needs to be sent to the broker community that any default on client obligations will be dealt with an iron fist.

Any one among this fraternity who even thinks of abandoning their clients and fleeing abroad should realise that those days are long gone. If ever there is a need for the government to get tough on economic stakeholders, this is it.

Far more than currency dealers, it is the stock brokers who prey on the people’s trust and their vulnerability, and who need to learn that betting and speculating with people’s savings is risky business.

The market is going to fall further in days to come. The government must safeguard the interests of the small saver, even if a few brokers need to pay till penury for it.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2019