"Is there anybody? Save our souls, otherwise, we will kill ourselves."
During the trading hour an aggrieved stock investor posted the comment below an online news item amid the free fall of the stock market.
Another depressed investor was looking at the digital banner of a Bengali cinema titled "Nosto Jibon"--the Bengali word for spoiled life, hanging on the wall of Modhumita Cinema Hall just on the opposite side of Dhaka Stock Exchange. The investor thought that his life was also spoiled like the hero of that film. But shortly afterwards he differentiated his life with that of the hero, as the heroes usually get back their lives and families at the end of every traditional Bengali film.
The investor mourned standing on the same premises-Dhaka Stock Exchange-where hundreds of investors witnessed a devastating market crash, which swallowed their all belongings leaving the tear of eyes to mix with the mucus of their noses in 1999. Thirteen years after that all-devouring market crash, which instigated the then distressed investors to turn this premises into Kurukhetra, it was set to be turned into another battle field in early December, 2010, as the Bangladeshi stocks, prices of some of which rose above 4100 per cent in eleven months, became the most expensive in the world.
The 5th December of 2010 was a day of six records set at the Dhaka Stock Exchange. On the day, the benchmark general index reached the peak of 8,900-point mark, up by more than 200 per cent than the mark of two years back, through extreme price hikes of limited listed stocks. The members and executives of stock exchanges felt the warmth of boast, as their market capitalisation was about two times higher than the highest ever national annual budget, which was also termed as impractical and imprudent by some quarters.
The highest ever turnover value in that trading session hinted how many people from all walks of life and professions pumped money into the stocks. Many of them, other than the late comers, were able to change their lifestyle and others also followed them to change their stagnated lives. Some people, who led a comparatively happy life, bade good bye to the jobs of limited salary aiming for regular capital gains.
After the all-time high, the Dhaka Stock Exchange tumbled the next day when the benchmark index lost 147 points. The aspirant investors and stakeholders, however, hoped the market would bounce back the following day. But on the day another loss of 186 points was termed as a thunder from the blue, especially to them who hoped the market definitely would reach their desired level. But the imprudent but over-aspirant investors failed to exist on their favourite trading floors following two more consecutive losses of 186 and 285 points.
No, the curve of the benchmark index had not showed any sign of raising its head, as if it were coming towards the ground with an extreme gravitation force. Like a new-born waterfall the curve was coming down from the peak of a mountain, where it had arrived riding on manipulators, institutional investors and hundreds of imprudent retail investors. The benchmark index only knew how to post a gain in every trading session over two years due to successive fund injection by general and institutional investors. The tales of quick capital gain prompted numerous fresh retailers to enter the market by arranging money at any cost to purchase the most expensive stocks of the world.
But the manipulators, the cunning sponsor-directors of listed firms and institutions came out of the market by selling stocks at high prices leaving the imprudent retailers, who only preferred to count profits in unsold stocks, in an airy world of hallucination.
Due to poor market regulation by the stock market regulator, which rather worked in favour of the manipulators instead of protecting small investors' interest, the manipulators were successful in prompting retailers to implement their manuscript for hefty profits.
People from even the remote areas of the country entered the market following the melody of a flute mainly played by the titans to implement their agenda.
The characters of all major market crashes across the world are the same. When the market started to fall steadily in the absence of buyers, everyone groped for the exit-route by selling their stocks at any price they got. A disaster is a must when many people want to come out of a building through a narrow exit-way ahead of a blaze. The same situation was created here.
The market continued to lose stock prices, and different types of comments, which made evident the investors' state of minds, were being posted every minute in the space for comments on web pages of online news media.
"We have nothing to say. All are finished," Faisal's comment sounded like lamentation of a person whose belongings were reduced to ashes by a fire.
"The prices of all stocks are going down and down. Stop the market at once," Noman's said.
"My capital is losing by ten thousand after every five minutes of refreshing the website of the stock exchange. The market is affected by a hurricane", Himel posted the comment like a hurricane-affected man.
Being confounded, Royel prayed to the Almighty Creator, "Hey Allah, save us from the looters."
Monirul Haque noted, "For God's sake, please stop this stock market right now."
Ashraf said, "Index will come down below 5000 points from 8,900 points."
"The economic affairs adviser to Prime Minister has termed the demonstrators uncivilised citizens. But what type of citizens were the looters of stock market?" Arafat said like a most aggressive man.
Osman Goni posted, "Honorable Prime Minister, will you not come forward to save us?"
Another online news reader delivered a warning for the government, "The government's capital will be vandalised in the upcoming election if our capital is usurped by the manipulators."
The comments of aggrieved and depressed investors were being more harsh along with the cruel nose-dive of the benchmark general index.
On the other hand, what was the situation on the premises of Dhaka Stock Exchange, situated in the commercial hub-Motijheel-in the capital? The traffic was halted by investors who came down to street leaving the trading floors. The groundnuts of a hawker were spread on the road, while he was running away to keep safe distance with the 'fastest man of the world' amid violent street protests by the angry investors. Pieces of bricks and stones thrown by investors were falling on the road like chest-rendering weapons. The pieces of giant side glasses from well-decorated offices were also falling down on the road and footpaths like a non-stop hailstorm with alarming sound.
The pain of losing money instigated the investors to set fire to tires and the whole Dhaka Stock Exchange area was enveloped by smoke. At one stage, the fire reached the hanging cables adjacent to the wall of the stock exchange building creating a more alarming situation with people locked inside the buildings. The security guards came forward with extinguishers to bring the devastating fire under control. But they had to face obstacles to put out the fire amid investors' protests. Some people were wounded while coming out of the exchange building.
There was a similarity between the intentions of carrying out destructive activities and the injection of excessive money into the stocks overlooking the cautions made by market experts. When the market experienced abnormal price hikes everyday, such investors had not paid heed to cautions made by stock market experts and media reports.
When the market continued its skyrocketing trend three months back, one day the maid servant of the former chairman of the securities regulator started crying saying that her husband would divorce her if her father failed to give him Tk 2 lakh as dowry.
When asked, what her husband would do with the money, the maid servant said, "My husband would invest the money in the stock market. He has heard that the stock market is a place of money and money."
The tantalising bullish trend of the stock market was so powerful that one decided to divorce his loving wife if he failed to get the money as dowry. Then looking at the pale face, wet with tears, of the maid servant, the former chairman of the securities regulator told himself, "The market crash is about to start."
Similarly, on the eve of the steepest market fall, the investors who once had not paid heed to cautions indulged in destructive activities on the stock exchange premises amid a significant number of law enforcers deployed on the stock exchange premises.
The passengers of some public buses, which were stopped by investors, started running to and fro. Some of them ran through the narrow lanes adjacent to the main road. By turning back rickshaws, the pullers paddled back their three-wheelers with their whole energy. Newsmen, photographers and television cameramen who came to cover the stock market also were in a critical position. Some of them wore helmets. Those who had no helmet were looking at the movement of stones, pieces of broken glasses and bricks covering their heads with side-bags or even the laptops and electronic notebooks forgetting their prices and sensitivity.
At one stage of investors' agitation, the police and the elite force Rapid Action Battalion came forward and charged batons and dispersed investors for some time. After a while, investors tried to gather in front of the exchange office from the narrow lines.
More than two thousand angry investors chanted slogans against the government, the finance minister, the governor of the central bank, policy makers of the stock market regulator and the president of the prime bourse. In loud voice some of them were scolding the president of the stock exchange, finance minister, the governor of the central bank and the finance adviser to Prime Minister. Some investors used slang words for scolding the president of the stock exchange. They screamed and scolded the leaders of the bourse.
On the other hand, the leaders of investors delivered speeches condemning the authorities concerned.
The investors who were observing the procession from upper balconies of adjacent brokerage firms and merchant banks were throwing papers into the air. The tattered papers flew like numerous kites without yarn over the city's commercial hub. It seemed from another part of the city that many white birds of the hawk family became busy for preys. Some people set fire in front of the collapsible gate of the bourse's office. By chanting slogans another angry mob guarded by law enforcers started moving towards the central bank within one hundred metres of the exchange office. The mob stopped in front of the central bank's gate, which was locked on the news that the investors were coming towards the bank.
On hand mikes, the investors started advising the governor to stabilise the stock market increasing money supply through banking channels. They also left no stone unturned in revealing the governor's background, including his family status and the way of being educated with the help of neighbours. Some of them called the governor "Son of a farmer", although the fact is that the governor proudly spoke about his life's struggle in a write-up.
Some over-excited investors threw shoes towards the building of the central bank and its officials were looking at the activities of angry investors. Another angry mob joined in this demonstration chanting slogans with brooms. Some of them also threw brooms inside the bank's gate. It was not clear whether the central bank officials disliked the unruly activities by investors, as a significant number of those officials were also involved with the stock investment. Recently, through issuance of a circular, the central bank authority prohibited the visit of stock exchange website by their officials who frequently visited the site hampering official duty.
On the other hand, the law enforcers deployed on the stock exchange premises were not able to go for action spontaneously against the investors for their destructive activities. The law enforcers were also stock investors. That's why the declining trend of the stock market also broke their heart. The woes of aggrieved investors touched them. At one stage of continuous demonstrations, law enforcers became active with batons for dispersing aggressive investors. Who were not bleeding financially due to the steepest fall of the stock market? Some ministers, members of parliament and high officials of Prime Minister's Office and the Secretariat, the military officers and solders, the employees of private, government and semi-government offices, including the peons of different offices, were involved with the stock investment.
Many investors who lost their belongings during the 1996 market crash were also in the procession of losers in 2010. After the 1996 crash they had an experience that the stock market was not a money machine of permanent prosperity. But their repeated imprudent involvement with the market has proved that the general investors become absent-minded following the rumours and capital gains to chronicle another painful history of market crash for the sake of manipulators.
Doctors, engineers, businessmen, teachers, journalists, students of universities and colleges, pensioners, housewives, grocers, drug sellers, vegetable shoppers, and the boatmen entered the stock market, as they heard that the investments kept growing in every trading session. Even many security guards who had no idea about stock market became the part of it.
The ringleaders who played the key role to make the Bangladeshi scrips most expensive in the world with a view to offloading shares of the companies, which were in the pipeline to go public, became more frustrated. Their all arrangements of offloading shares were about to complete, but the elasticity of the market crossed its limit.
The people who were in offices and houses observed the deadly live demonstrations with similar support and mental agitation due to live broadcast of it by private television channels. After having the news of the steepest market fall, the 50-year school teacher Hashem Ali started caning on the back of his students in the class room because of silly mistakes.
Shankar Maazi, who used to sail a boat and knew nothing about the stock market, invested his hard-earned money in the stocks with the help of his neighbour who was somehow related to the stock market and lived in the capital. One day Shankar came to the capital market and told his neighbour to send back his money, although his investment in stocks was made in line with his own firm desire.
Shankar's neighbour could not realise whether he would laugh or cry when an uneducated and imprudent investor talked like this.
"Now why are you asking me to back your money invested in the market? It is you who invested money in the stocks in accordance with your desire, although I opposed your investment without proper knowledge about the stock market."
Shankar politely said, "I do not want profit. Give my invested money back and I will go home." Confounded, Shankar's neighbor only stared at him.
Preeti Mazumder, who loved to shop and see her face with bright make-up again and again on the mirror before going to an expensive restaurant like many housewives, also injected money into the market. She invested in stocks convincing her husband saying that the invested money increases every day in the stock market.
Within a couple of days Preeti made a significant amount of profits, which was normally earned by her husband in three months. Then she brightly said to her husband, "This is share market."
Like Preeti, many housewives came out of the drawing rooms prompted by the similar tale of profit making. But they never felt the necessity of cashing the profits, as they were the wives of well-to-do families. They were so hallucinated about profits that they never thought of cashing profits by selling out stocks.
At last, the tale of quick capital gains turned into the tale of sleepless and bone-breaking pains amid the steepest market fall ignoring violent demonstrations, mourning and all market supportive measures.
The writer is staff reporter of FE