Nepali Times
Economic Sense
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For Nepalis, there seems to be very little difference between the parliament and the stock exchange: in both we make noise and get a result. The Beed is yet to understand the connection between the stock market and the advent of loktantra or Nepal becoming a republic.

The Nepal Rastra Bank made an announcement as hastily as any political party last week, and then investors went and stalled the transactions at the stock exchange just like the political players stall parliament. And then, when the market reopened after a week, prices plummeted.

Beed predicted just such a bear run in his last column after the bull hit the wall, and it seems to have started. Suspended trading of certain stocks has become as regular as suspended proceedings in parliament.

The problems at the Nepal Stock Exchange are twofold. The first is that it is basically an extension of the casino, with people speculating rather than investing wisely. The other is that the volume of stocks is too low.

Globally, the development of stock markets has only worked well when guided by institutional investors rather than individuals. In Nepal we have individual investors, led by some rogue insiders, who have turned it into a punters' den. The stock exchange has been relegated to a racecourse, with betting dependent on the alcohol content in one's blood rather than rational thinking by one's brain.

The Nepal Rastra Bank, as this Beed has been harping on about for years, should not run things in knee-jerk fashion. In 1994, just such behaviour by the bank killed the stock market for more than a decade, and it seems not to have learnt from the mistake. The regulation of markets and the financial sector has to be an ongoing exercise, not just a reaction to the latest problem.

The wave of demonstrations that have come after the advent of loktantra in Nepal seems not to have frightened off the financial sector. Closure of the stock exchange in this way is unacceptable. If, next time, interest rates were slashed to head off inflation, would the banks be closed too, by depositors unhappy with their lower interest rates?

It is vital that the financial sector is seen to be stable if the country is to build credibility as a place to invest in. If we claim to be part of the global economy, then closing the stock exchange has to be seen not only as primitive behaviour but completely unacceptable. Mobonomics may be the order of the day in Nepal, but not elsewhere in the world.

The business sector also needs to pull up its socks. Corporate governance should be a way of life if Nepali companies are to compete in the global arena. Relying on insider trading or dodgy legislation will not work in the long run.

Looking ahead, the stock exchange must provide the necessary avenues to assist in funding Nepal's economic growth, but this must be based on sound international practices. Beed would humbly suggest the following:

. Make trading paperless to reduce speculation

. Give the regulators stronger, on-going powers

. Give favourable tax breaks to mutual funds and institutional investors so that individuals go through them instead of trading directly in the market

. Acknowledge that stock investment is a long-term game and not a short-term gamble, and accept that decent returns will only occur if the market is healthy

. The stock exchange should never be closed except for holidays.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)