BURNT BY STOCKS
I LOST $700,000 IN 3 MONTHS
Student on winning stock market streak, then he loses dad's life savings
• OCT LAST YEAR: Just a student in Australia, he makes $80,000 from trading
• DEC LAST YEAR: Back in S'pore after exams, he role-plays trading & makes an imaginary $100,000 on 1st day & $110,000 on 2nd day
• DEC-JAN: Convinces dad to give him life savings of $300,000. But he loses it & the $80,000
• Feb: Girlfriend dumps him. He stops trading for 2 weeks.
• FEB: He puts money on stocks of 9 companies when market reopens after Chinese New Year
By Maureen Koh
12 March 2007
EVEN before he graduated from an Australian university, this Singapore engineering student earned $80,000 in a month.
Mr Chan (we are not giving his full name to protect his identity) did not have a job.
The 27-year-old was betting on the Singapore stock market, and managed to pick the shares whose prices rocketed in the recent bull run.
Buoyed by the success, his father was convinced that his only son had a Midas touch. So, the 67-year-old former sailor, who runs a shop selling women's clothes in Chinatown, gave his son $300,000 - his whole life savings - to invest in shares.
That was a couple of months ago.
Today, Mr Chan has not only lost all his father's savings, he has incurred another $320,000 in trading losses.
When the global market went through a sudden meltdown last week, so did his luck and fortune.
In just two days, Mr Chan chalked up a few hundred thousand dollars in losses when The Straits Times Index (STI) dived by 75.9 points on 27 Feb and another 127.87 points (the steepest dive in 20 years) on 28 Feb.
He said: 'Everything bombed in just 48 hours. My life, my future... and now, even my parents could lose their home.'
In three short months of trading, Mr Chan has lost about $700,000.
Although the market has regained some of its earlier losses this week, the recovery means little to him.
Mr Chan was dabbling in high-risk contra trading, where you buy and sell the same shares within three days, putting up no money and earning the profits when share prices go up. But investors can lose money when the stock market is having a downturn, and they will have to pay the losses to their stockbrokers within days.
Mr Chan bought heavily into popular counters such as DBS, UOB, Capitaland and even China stocks such as Longcheer Holdings, and hoped to sell them for a gain before the usual deadline.
But as the market dipped suddenly and he could not afford to pay and keep all the shares, he had to make up for all the losses he incurred during his trading period.
Even after exhausting his previous winnings, his father's savings, and loans from friends, he still owes two of his remisiers more than $200,000.
To add to his woes, his girlfriend of eight years has also walked out on him, disappointed by how his gambling had cost him dearly.
Most of his friends are also avoiding his calls or finding excuses not to meet him. Word has gone around that he is desperate for money because he has already borrowed some $70,000 from 20 of his friends.
Mr Chan said: 'No one can blame them for avoiding me. Thankfully, I still have my parents on my side, otherwise I'd probably have gone insane.'
To help him, his father is prepared to move to a smaller home if needed. While the family is scrambling to raise the money to clear the debt, Mr Chan admitted he had entertained thoughts of filing for bankruptcy.
He said: 'I was told if I did that, it'd be tough for me to find a decent job.'
During the interview with The New Paper on Sunday, Mr Chan became rather agitated and restless when he related his problems. 'Look, it's fine if it's just me, but I've got to think of my parents,' he said.
This is a far cry from October last year when he was preparing for his final-year examination in Perth.
At a group study session, one of his Singaporean classmates checked on his own trading account and shouted happily when he made a few thousand dollars.
Mr Chan recalled: 'I was hooked from the minute he started talking about how easy it was to make a profit.
''He encouraged me to do likewise and even suggested that I start off with contra trading since I didn't have much cash.'
Mr Chan then contacted a cousin, who had an online trading account in Singapore, and asked him to buy some shares he selected.
He said: 'I made $23,000 by the end of the first week and my friends started calling me Prince Midas.
'I guess I sort of got carried away when I made another killing of about $30,000. I got bolder and by the time I stopped because of the exams, I was richer by $80,000.'
Mr Chan returned to Singapore in early December after his examinations and shared the news with his father and 58-year-old mother. They were impressed with his 'windfall'.
Still, he insisted that it was not the 'easy cash' but boredom that got him trading again.
He said: 'I wanted to take a break for a couple of months before looking for a job, so I was idling during the day when my parents and my girlfriend were at work. 'I was surfing the Internet when I decided to check out the SGX homepage. I randomly picked a few companies and the chart pattern I saw was definitely encouraging.'
He started to monitor the shares, and role-played as if he had bought heavily into them.
When the STI closed on the first day, he had made an imaginary $100,000; on the second day, it was another $110,000 'win'.
'I was, like, geez! If only I had dealt in real money. Then it occurred to me, maybe this is my calling. If I were good, I could afford to let my parents retire comfortably, have a lavish wedding, and upgrade my Honda Civic.'
Over dinner that night, Mr Chan shared his plan with his parents and asked them if they would like to pool in their money.
He said: 'My father told me, no risk, no gain.' Two days later, the senior Mr Chan transferred $300,000, his whole life savings, to his son's bank account.
Flushed with cash, Mr Chan was able to open trading accounts with three stockbroking firms. He was so focused on his new 'responsibility' that he 'ate, slept and breathed stocks'.
From analysing companies' chart patterns to buying stocks after a fall, Mr Chan traded shares of up to six companies at one go.
'I thought I was so smart to diversify... you know what they say, never put all your eggs into one basket,' he said.
But when he registered the first negative return, Mr Chan 'freaked out'.
'I felt it should not have happened because people were making money.'
The $28,000 loss was just the beginning of his nightmare. He said: 'I lost control. I could not afford to lose the money. My family does not belong to the high-income strata.'
His confidence level dipped further when he kept picking 'the bad eggs'.
As his stocks dipped further, he started to panic and began to ask his friends for loans.
To help him, his girlfriend applied for four bank overdraft facilities and even maxed the limit on five credit cards.
She was the only one who knew the true extent of his losses.
Mr Chan said: 'I couldn't tell my parents. But my girlfriend was there for me... until she could not take it anymore.
He covered his face for some seconds and said quietly: 'I've let her down. Really.'
In his bid to win his girlfriend and his money back, Mr Chan said he stopped trading for about two weeks, but continued to monitor the charts.
Hoping to recover some of his earlier losses, he set his sight on the stocks of nine companies when the market re-opened after the Chinese New Year.
But Mr Chan ended up suffering $100,000 in paper losses and $220,000 in contra trading.
He said: 'I went in for the kill, only to find I could barely stay alive less than five trading days later. My loved ones may now have to 'die together' with me.'
He added: 'I don't even know if I have the money to return to the university for my convocation end of this month. I can't bring myself to think of what's next.'