Hazards of being a stockbroker engaged in e-trading

Shares of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK) leapt 24 per cent to RM17 in the last 10 minutes of trade, on heavy volume, on 5th Oct 2009.

Not long after the market closed, however, Bursa Malaysia said it received a request to cancel a trade for the stock, arising from a "participant's error". It later told brokers that it had reviewed the request and decided not to approve it. The stock exchange also said KLK's sudden share price jump was brought about by "matching of market orders at the pre-closing phase of the day".

Today, my boss Mustapha Kamil wrote a commentary on this incident.

IT HAS got to be a hazardous job being a stockbroker. One moment of a lack of concentration and there goes half a million ringgit.

Earlier this week, a broking house made a costly error, not necessarily in making an investment decision but more towards execution of the trade itself. Nobody knows what exactly happened, but the bungling brokerage paid dearly.

But mistakes like this happen and being a trader, especially those engaged in electronic market trades, is not always a walk in the park. Assuming all stockbrokers genuinely care for their clients and not just their commissions (they earn when you buy or sell), or in the case of forex traders, care only for how much spreads they make on a trade, any kind of broker will devote all his time towards ensuring that the client makes a profit and avoids a loss.

For stock and currency brokers, they manage and review their clients' portfolios, based on the constant research they carry out on securities, the economy and all other matters that could affect investor sentiment and the investment itself.

Armed with this information, they advise their clients and, with permission to proceed, will then buy or sell on the exchange. Today, much of trading is performed electronically; and to become a successful and perhaps useful stock or currency broker, speed is of the essence. The broker must be able to cope with a large volume of incoming information at any one time, working swiftly without losing any accuracy.

A political or economic event can suddenly move a market, leading to frenetic trading without notice. In such a volatile situation, and with millions usually resting on what the broker decides upon, the ability to cope with pressure is critical. Unfortunately, not all can withstand the demands of the job.

A forex trader friend, who once traded for Citibank in Kuala Lumpur, said bladder problems are common among currency traders because they dare not leave their trading screens to even ease themselves. Those who engage in overnight trades are even worse off as the currency market is like a 7-Eleven store: it never closes.

But for some, it is this living on the edge and walking on thin ice acts that continues to drive them. They are the adrenalin junkies who spend their days and nights trying to beat the market. Perhaps, in the thick of action, at times, they suffer lapses in concentration. That was probably what happened to the unfortunate broking house this week.

For traders, be they those who trade in stocks, bonds, currencies or even insurance, the computer is heaven-sent. With one touch of the keyboard, a trader can move hundreds of millions across the trading floor, and across continents in the case of currencies.

But still, the computer is only as clever as the guy sitting in front of it. Traders, at times, talk about the perils of working with computer keyboards. Beware before pressing the "Enter" key on a computer keyboard, for it is an irreversible action.

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