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The power of pennies

On 23 March shares of Jaya Holdings, a shell defined as a cash company under SGX's Listing Manual, traded for 1.6 cents. As I write this exactly one month later on 22 April, Jaya's shares trade for 6.2 cents and are top of the volume list. This is an awesome gain of 288 per cent in four weeks, a return that is only really possible in penny stocks and only when penny fever grips the market as it did for the past fortnight.

Jaya isn't alone in chalking up incredible gains. Since the start of the month, there have been many others. China water treatment firm SIIC Environment for example, has jumped from 15 to 23 cents for a gain of 53 per cent whilst even the three counters which are the subject of an official investigation into possible market manipulation have peformed well - Blumont has almost doubled from 0.9 to 1.7 cents, Liongold as more than doubled from 1.2 to 2.7 cents and Asiasons rose 80 per cent from 1.5 to 2.7 cents.

The penny push started when Hong Kong took off after the rules there were changed to allow mainland China investors to buy HK shares through the Shanghai-HK connection. Proprietary traders here, perhaps motivated by envy at the massive volume that HK was doing - roughly 50 times the turnover here on any given day - decided to try and generate some momentum of their own. The main targets were stocks that had been hammered to rock-bottom levels so downside had to be limited, and stocks which are not held or played by syndicates, so that there would be little resistance to their efforts.

As I've seen many times before, once momentum has been achieved, greed and fear of being left out take over and the penny rally takes on a life of its own. It has brought some respite to retail brokers and investors still reeling from a poor 2014 but a rally led by companies with no fundamentals doesn't realistically have a chance of lasting for a prolonged period. Volume on Tuesday showed signs of flagging and the same looks to be the case today.

 Still, April will go down in the market's annals as the month in which pennies fought back and showed just how powerful they can be,