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2013: Penny stocks collapse

Population White Paper raises tensions; haze hits record levels.

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THE year 2013 was a particularly touchy one for Singaporeans, with a stock market crisis, a blow-up over population policies and a record haze rubbing the nation the wrong way.

The most impactful market event since the global financial crisis happened on the morning of Oct 4, 2013 when the stocks of Asiasons Capital, Blumont Group and Liongold Corp collapsed after weeks and months of incredible appreciation.

The shockwave sent Singapore’s penny stocks diving, and led the Singapore Exchange to dig into its armoury for rarely used intervention measures. The stocks at the centre of the rout were suspended, then allowed to trade as designated stocks under cash-only terms.

The debacle resulted in sweeping raids by the Commercial Affairs Department amid suspicions of possible market manipulation, and the ongoing probe is the largest fraud investigation in Singapore to date. The episode also snuffed out appetite for penny stocks and depressed liquidity in the Singapore stock market.

Policymakers also responded with wide-ranging changes to the regulatory regime, including a minimum trading price requirement for Mainboard- listed stocks and a planned move towards collateralised trading.

Outside of the market, the White Paper on Population hit a sore spot when it used projections of a population of 6.9 million people by 2030.

The document became a symbol of wrong-headed policy for Singaporeans already frustrated with stretched infrastructure and loose immigration rules, and it sparked a massive protest at Hong Lim Park.

In the middle of the year, fires in Indonesia that were later identified as coming from palm oil concessions sent record levels of haze blowing into Singapore and Malaysia, sparking a rush for face masks and air purifiers. Companies and schools set limits on outdoor activity.

The episode strained relations between Indonesia and Singapore, and highlighted the difficulty of resolving transnational environmental issues.

The Business Times has been there to report and analyse the most significant news since 1976. Every week, this feature will showcase excerpts from the biggest stories for each year that the paper has been in operation. The full text of all the stories can be found online at bt.sg/bt_40