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ILLIQUID STOCK OPTIONS DISPLAY AN UNREAL PICTURE OF THE MARKET: SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE BOARD OF INDIA

Illiquid stock options not only displays an unreal picture of market activity to other investors but also defeats the basic premise of screen based electronic trading system and price discovery mechanism by execution of pre-decided reversal trades at irrational/arbitrary prices, as was held by Rajesh Gujjar, ADJUDICATING OFFICER, SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE BOARD OF INDIA, in the matter of dealing in Illiquid Stock Options at the BSE [ADJUDICATION CRDER NO: Order/RG/NM/2021-22/14719/3], on 13.01.22.

The facts of the case were that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) conducted investigation into the trading activity in illiquid stock options on Bombay Stock Exchange Limited (BSE) for the period April 01, 2014 to September 30, 2015, observing large scale reversal of trades in the Stock Options segment of the BSE. Pursuant to investigation, it was observed that during the period, total of 2,91,744 trades comprising substantial 81.41% of all the trades executed in stock options segment of BSE were non genuine trades. The non genuine trades resulted into creation of artificial volume to the tune of 826.21 crore units or 54.68% of the total market volume in stock options segment of BSE during the IP. It was observed that Shri Ankit Katiyar HUF (Noticee) was one of the various entities who indulged in execution of reversal trades in stock options segment of BSE during the IP. Such trades were observed to be non-genuine in nature and created false and misleading appearance of trading in terms of artificial volumes in stock options segment and therefore were alleged to be manipulative, deceptive in nature. In view of the same, SEBI initiated adjudication proceedings against the Noticee for violation of the provisions of Regulations 3(a), (b), (c), (d), 4(1) and 4(2)(a) of SEBI (Prohibition of Fraudulent and Unfair Trade Practices) Regulations, 2003 (PFUTP Regulations, 2003). SEBI appointed the undersigned as Adjudicating Officer under Section 15-I of the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 (SEBI Act, 1992) read with Rule 3 of the SEBI (Procedure for Holding Inquiry and Imposing Penalties) Rules, 1995 (Adjudication Rules, 1995) vide order dated July 02, 2021 to inquire into and adjudge under Section 15HA of the SEBI Act, 1992 against the Noticee for the alleged violation of aforesaid provisions of PFUTP Regulations, 2003. The appointment of the AO was communicated vide communique dated July 06, 2021.

The Adjudicating Officer, Securities and Exchange Board of India, held that dealing in Illiquid stock options not only displays an unreal picture of market activity to other investors but also defeats the basic premise of screen based electronic trading system and price discovery mechanism by execution of pre-decided reversal trades at irrational/arbitrary prices. Such activity deliberately or otherwise damages market integrity apart from presenting wrong picture of liquidity to gullible investors which could affect their trading/investment decisions. Options as financial instruments, ordinarily, provide hedging avenues to investors. It was observed that the trading of the Noticee in the instant matter was abnormal and was clearly designed to create artificial volumes in the illiquid stock option contracts, fail to justify any of the normal strategies of hedging/ arbitrage. In my view, the abuse of such financial instruments, which are made available to the investors for the purpose of protection of their investment portfolios from the risks of adverse price movement, needs to be dealt with strictly. It was also noted that while the stock exchange provides a platform for carrying out the trades, the obligation to ensure genuineness of the trades executed on the exchange platform primarily lies on the Noticee.

In view of the facts, circumstances, and claims in the instant case, as well as placing reliance on precedents, the Adjudicating Officer held that the trading behaviour of the Noticee confirms that such trades were not normal and wide variation in prices of the trades in the same contract in a short time without any basis for such wide variation, all indicate that the trades executed by the Noticee were not genuine trades and being non-genuine, created an appearance of artificial trading volumes in the contract. Thus, it was found that the allegation of violation of provisions of Regulation 3(a), (b), (c), (d), 4(1) and 4(2)(a) of PFUTP Regulations, 2003 by the Noticee stand established.

The Adjudicating Officer imposed a penalty of Rs.5,00,000/- (Rupees Five Lakh only) upon the Noticee, under Section 15HA of the SEBI Act, 1992 for violation of provisions of Regulation 3(a), (b), (c), (d), 4(1) and 4(2)(a) of the PFUTP Regulations, 2003. Additionally, the Noticee was directed to remit / pay the said amount of penalty within 45 days of receipt of the present Order.

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Judgement reviewed by Bhargavi

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