The ASX is the front-line regulator for companies lifted on the exchange — it queries and interrogates corporates via “please explain” letters (colloquially called “speeding tickets”) to query rapid price movements, suspicious spikes in trading volumes and odd changes in personnel such as directors and auditors. And when companies slip by the ASX, ASIC is there with a bigger stick — as we have seen with its crack down on companies not impairing overvalued assets at December 31 (such as Seven West Media).

But what happens when a “please explain” letter draws a blank, and odd market moves continue? Take the Ten Network, a basket case if ever there were one. Last week the shares lurched suddenly lower, dropping to an all-time low of 16 cents, and the ASX asked why. Ten replied that it didn’t know but pointed to selling by Lazards, a previously a substantial shareholder, which stopped being a substantial shareholder on May 10. More than 11.3 million shares were traded on Thursday and Friday, perhaps supporting the idea of more selling by Lazards as it quits its holding entirely?

But what about Monday, ASX? Shares in the Ten Network jumped more than 17% yesterday, from 17 cents back to 20 cents, without a query from the ASX, unlike on Friday, when they fell from 20 cents to 16 cents and copped a “please explain” from the exchange.

More than 5 million shares were traded on Monday, resulting in one of the sharpest price rises for the embattled TV broadcaster. So while a selling shareholder might make sense for a price fall, who was buying heavily yesterday driving the price higher? It was not logical, given Friday’s half-explanation from the board. There’s a bit of smoke and fire at work in Ten shares that the rest of the market is not privy to. And if there is another big price rise (or fall), perhaps a suspension might be considered by the ASX to concentrate the minds around the Ten boardroom table.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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