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Dear SEBI. Can We Short Please?

The catalyst that turns fantasies into realities came in the form of this SEBI order for OneLife Capital Advisors (covered here). 


SEBI (Indian market watchdog) barred this company, several others and the merchant bankers to these initial public issues from accessing the securities markets. SEBI accused them of diverting IPO proceeds, performing shoddy due diligence and aiding promoters to prop up prices post-listing.


Unsurprisingly, in the beginning of the end scene, OCAP IN is down 15% as of this writing. A pummelling, rightly deserved. The end would be interesting. HaLin rued their inability to initiate Shorts on such cases, in the previous post.  


The Shorts are common whipping lads when markets and companies come under fire. The chorus against Shorts is inversely related to (1) market levels/stock prices, and (2) the acceleration of the fall from grace. Shorts are blamed for disrupting markets, for acting on misplaced rumours, for cornering poor and genteel companies looking to create employment in a socially responsible manner, and for generally being Evil. 


Few derive satisfaction from seeing others go bust and the Shorts aren't St. Good Guys at all times. But in certain instances, measured corrective forces in markets (provisions for single-stock shorts, for example) are a necessary counter-weight to the (sometimes questionable) actions of companies and issuers. A Long-only market character leads to a one-sided world, loaded in favour of companies. Frauds, historical and prospective, find a fertile setting to grow unabated in such an environment. 


Shorts impose a certain discipline on company managements, inducing them to contemplate the ill-effects of their actions, if exposed. Since the effect would directly be experienced by insiders through a drop in value of ESOPs/insider holdings, the Short-brigade bring some semblance of sanity to markets (its another matter that the Shorts themselves go insane occasionally!).  


The purging exercise brought about by the Shorts is a case of Darwinian survival of the fittest in business. By shorting dodgy companies into extinction, Shorts ensure that capital eventually finds its way to places where it is most welcome. (Social fallouts of capital re-allocation, a touchy subject, is left for another day)


The SEBI has a fine balancing act. If it raises minimum qualifying criteria, there's a risk of keeping public markets off-limits for fledgling companies reliant on capital for growth. This would impel them to seek capital from private sources, which come with their associated pros and cons. Relaxing qualifying criteria would attract shady companies. It is a tough problem which is, like so many things in life, without a black or white framework for a solution.


It is in such situations that Shorts serve a useful purpose. 


Is the SEBI listening?    





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