CAPITAL MARKET CRASH: THE CASE AGAINST THE BANKS

EFCC Boss

EFCC Boss

When the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission demanded that some banks’ chief executives that had become richer than their banks should be questioned, it was the first formal acknowledgement of the abuses some commercial banks chief executives perpetrated in the Nigerian stock market while the gains and benefits in the market were on the upward swing.

Yet in a report filed by Reuters, a news agency, and published in various national newspapers in August 2007, it had become apparent that there were wary signs of obvious manipulations in the market for the benefits of a few, especially, banking chiefs.

“Investors in Nigeria’s burgeoning stock market are seeing danger signals that the recent rally is turning into a bubble,” the report filed in the third quarter of 2007, had observed .

“Concerns focus on banks, where share price growth has been spectacular since a wave of consolidation in 2005. Most bank stocks have more than doubled in value this year (2007) alone — some have risen by more than 500 per cent — and the majority now trade at more than 20 times their expected 2008 earnings,” the report alerted.

Furthering its alarmed reading of the stock market back in 2007 when it seemed everybody was a winner in the stock market, the Reuter report added:

“Investors say these multiples are unsustainable, even for a fast-growing “pioneer” market like Nigeria, where investor confidence has been growing steadily since economic reforms began in 2003. The report quoted Mr. Jonathan Chew of Imara Asset Management UK Limited which had $25 million invested in Nigerian securities back then as saying that:

“All the indicators of a market going out of control are here, when the entire retail sector is talking about stocks and shares, you know it is getting toppy,”

Reuters had observed then that fears of a bubble in the banking sector have mounted on reports that some banks were engaged in highly leveraged share purchase schemes through stockbrokers. The Reuters 2007 report supported this claim with the opinions of notable operators in the market.

“One senior bank executive said he knew of one case where a capital market operator borrowed six billion naira from a bank to invest in that bank’s shares.” The report asserted while quoting Bismarck Rewane who the report described as a consultant with Financial Derivatives Co. in Lagos who agreed that the practice (highly leveraged share purchase scheme) was widespread.

“Margin trading is the biggest gamble in town right now. It’s very dangerous,” Rewane was reported to have said.

The Reuters report also quoted Godwin Obaseki, managing director of Afrinvest, who said banks have extended big loans to brokers, perhaps as much as 20 per cent of the whole country’s credit.”

Obaseki was, however, quoted in that report to have said he did not know of cases where banks insisted on the loans being used to buy their own shares, which according to him, would be illegal.

More than a year after the report was filed, the Nigerian stock market had unraveled, the suspicion and alarming indicators have been more or less confirmed by the outburst of the SEC’s DG on banks’ high exposure to the stock market, but more than this is the confirmation of the existence of the illegality Obaseki had denied in 2007 about banks granting loans to stock brokers and investors on the condition that they use the facilities to buy their (banks) shares.

Indeed, the practice became a standard in the banking industry especially during the second wave of public offers conducted by listed banks on the Exchange. Industry players talked of how banks provided funds for brokers and other investors to acquire their own shares during public offer. Industry watchers explained that most of the banks resorted to this to make their standing in the capital market look good to the investing public.

Besides, public offers by the implicated banks provided opportunities for bank chief executives and other directors to jostle to take position in the equity of the bank to acquire enough stakes in the bank either to position for influence or to later trade in the equity when price of the stock moved up,” an expert revealed.

“Again, banks also engaged in providing funds to brokers and investors to acquire shares of banks considered choice banks, especially the shares of First Bank Plc, this is one of the reasons the public offer of the bank was over-subscribed by more than 600 per cent, the bank merely wanted to raise N100 billion but it ended up with more than N600billion, money mostly funded towards acquisition of its shares from other commercial banks,” the stock market expert said.

“The idea is that since public offers provide the opportunity to acquire enough shares without the possibility of price moving as a result of demand for the shares outstripping demand as it would happen in the secondary market, funds are routed into the market to acquire as many shares as possible during the public offer with intent at trading in the shares when they are listed for transaction in the secondary market,” the expert further explained.

While the bullish run persisted in the market, the performance of a bank’s stock in the stock market was a measure of the buoyancy of the bank, expert said; this, coupled with the desire of bank’s management to raise cheap funds from the market made many banks to provide funds to willing stock brokers and selected investors to mop their shares in the secondary market. Prices of such banking stocks naturally moved up because of the pressure of the programmed demand on the stocks.

“I can tell you that at a point in time, it seemed as if the only preoccupation of most banks was manipulating the stock market to wring out the last hope of gains. All these contributed to defacing the market and inevitably led to the crash of the Nigerian stock market,” an analyst submitted.

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2 Responses

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