“Everybody is trying to explain the situation in their own fashion. And so much has come, that if I read all the news, then I also will get confused as to what all has happened”.
That is Harshad Mehta speaking. About the stock market scam of 1992. In his interview here.
We’re in 2020, and the way in which this scam was carried out so many years back still amazes people, as is visible with the success of the web series on this scam.
Since ages people have been thinking of the stock market as a way of making some quick money. I’m not here to promote investment or draw people to invest into the securities markets or for that matter, to give you some “tips”.
But as someone who is keenly into understanding securities laws and how these are brought in to rein manipulations, I am very much interested in why and how manipulation happens in the first place and how one can crack a scintillating career out of understanding this.
Although the “why” of all such activities often boils down to greed, there is always this added factor of someone understanding a system better than the others. And then, finding a loophole in it. That’s where we come to complexity.
If something is complex enough for the majority of people and most are unable to grasp it, someone will definitely be thriving out of understanding it better than the others.
Many people find the tax system complex. People are unsure how to present stuff in their tax returns; it requires effort to understand. Hence someone who understands how things are to be presented will be earning out of guiding others or doing this work.
Similarly, many people find the stock market difficult to grasp. There are technical and fundamental analysis conducted to predict how a particular stock will fare. There are research reports published analysing the business and financials of a company and the potential valuation and return on investment. Not everyone has the inclination or the time to dig deep into and keep track of such things and therefore, the ones that do, thrive.
In order to understand securities laws also, one needs to understand the basics of how the stock market functions, what features different securities have and which transactions happen with what intent. There is sufficient degree of complexity here and it isn’t something people can grasp immediately by reading. But if this world excites you, you will get a grip and will be able to make your mark as a securities lawyer. Again, not many people would be willing to rack their brains through this and hence those that get into it will achieve success.
Find something that is complex. Something that most people give up halfway through, trying to understand. If you are able to put the pieces of the puzzle together in such areas, you will triumph.
I am reminded of some wordings of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling (check if out if you haven’t yet, it’s awesome).
If you can make one heap of all your winnings,
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss
When I was a student, we had someone who was a dealer in foreign exchange teach us. He used to tell us that it all burns down to “taking a view of the market” and the attitude to “bet on anything that moves.” Risk hai, toh ishq hai.
Most people are, by default security loving. Risking income, success, or life is rare. However, those who do, can sometimes experience windfall gains. Even if they fail, where the attitude is to ‘start again without breathing a word about the loss’, this is still success.
You have to choose something that the herd doesn’t believe to be secure and thus, shies away from. When you choose this, with an experimental and open mind, at some point some experiment will work and give you astounding success.
Dealing in securities involves risk. And choosing to become a securities lawyer involves understanding that risk and choosing the uncommon too!
I can’t forget an occasion during my college days where one of our professors conducted a small survey in our class. He asked us whether we would like to be lawmakers, law followers or law breakers.
To his astonishment, the ‘lawbreakers’ exceeded the ‘lawmakers’ and ‘law followers’ put together. He was so surprised, he double checked with the class – “Are you guys really getting it? Lawbreakers mean people who break the law.”
He asked the lawbreakers why they chose to be so and to his further astonishment, many of them responded that there was a “thrill” in it.
No, I am not propagating violation of law here. But I am saying that there can be a “thrill” in finding out where the law falls short. You can choose to use that thrill to plug those gaps rather than take undue advantage of it.
Just like there’s hacking and then there’s ‘ethical hacking’. Both can be equally thrilling. You choose.
I have felt what it is like, to sit in the midst of traders at an erstwhile employer. You can literally sense changes in the tempo of the room with the movements in the market – they experience ‘highs’ without smoking anything.
Tracking them is as thrilling as being them. If you understand how intermediaries work, what makes them get into things like these and how do they execute it, it’s as thrilling as cracking a murder case.
I would go into flashback again here as I recall one wise-cracking friend. While talking about the topic “Money is a good servant but a bad master”, he said “Sure, let me get a lot of good servants and then I will tell you.”
There’s nothing wrong in seeking financial gains by using brains. It’s when greed makes you harm other people that the concern arises.
Speaking of money, we have heard of the net worth of really large companies or maybe even the total revenues of some cities or regions being USD 1 billion. But in market manipulation, numbers close to these can be reached by fines!! See here if you don’t believe me. It’s a humongous amount of money involved!
Closer to home, our own Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 specifies a maximum penalty of rupees twenty five crores for both insider trading and non disclosure of acquisition of shares and takeovers.
If I were to hold a contest of Indian laws based on the maximum fines of specific amounts included in them (because many financial laws will speak of fines in terms of x number of times the illegal gains), this one would be in the top three spots for sure. When I say it’s huge money, I mean it.
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To one heck of a thrilling career,