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Editorial : Paralysis of HKEX's futures trading system

【明報專訊】CHAOS and confusion surrounding the futures trading system of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX) resulted in the unprecedented suspension of all derivatives trading yesterday afternoon (September 5). As Hong Kong is at an eventful juncture and foreign investors are having greater misgivings about the city, the incident will do all harm but no good to Hong Kong's image as an international financial centre — even if it was a purely technological malfunction with nothing to do with human interference such as a hacker attack.

No sooner had the markets opened yesterday morning than many security brokers found the futures and options trading system to be malfunctioning. Transactions were handled very slowly, so much so that it was impossible to place an order. Futures transactions dwindled considerably. As the situation persisted, HKEX announced at noon that due to prolonged connection problems with the Hong Kong Futures Automatic Trading System (HKATS), trading of all derivatives would be suspended from 2 pm so as to maintain order in the markets. Only the clearing system of derivatives would continue to operate. As the futures market was paralysed, some investors were unable to close their positions and would inevitably incur some losses. However, according to the Securities and Futures Ordinance, it is difficult for investors to claim compensation from HKEX. Some people in the securities industry say that what was fortunate was that there was not much fluctuation in the futures market yesterday morning. They do not believe investors have suffered heavy losses. Had the shutdown happened on the day before yesterday, when the Hang Seng index rose sharply by 1,000 points on the strength of the government's decision to withdraw the amendment bill, investors' losses would have been catastrophic.

The storm of protest against the amendments has been going on for nearly three months. Though Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre has not been challenged directly, the atmosphere for investment has inevitably been affected. Charles Li Xiaojia, chief executive of HKEX, stressed in mid‑August that HKEX was functioning normally in all aspects and that the system was secure, stable and unaffected by social turmoil. The words still ringing in one's ears, Hong Kong's futures market is in disarray at such a sensitive juncture. The Hong Kong government has recently taken out advertisements in foreign newspapers to stress that Hong Kong is still an economy with a solid foundation. The chaos in the futures market has poured cold water on Hong Kong's image as an international financial centre. The paralysis is serious in nature and has given rise to all sorts of discussion, with some netizens jokingly calling it "a non‑cooperation movement by HKEX". Some are sceptical whether HKEX futures market has a backup system, while others speculate on the possibility of a hacker attack.

Given the widespread feeling of unease in Hong Kong, anything untoward can easily give rise to speculation. For example, in early July a number of online forums and websites went down simultaneously. The server provider explained in no time that the problem was due to a bug, stressing that it had nothing to do with distributed denial‑of‑service (DDoS) attacks. Still there are people who believe there was a hacker attack. Yesterday HKEX said that an initial investigation suggested that the incident was due to a problem with the software of the trading system, and that HKEX was working together with the supplier for a solution. HKEX should inspect the whys and wherefores of the incident as soon as possible and explain in detail to the public. Any prevarication will only make investors even more vigilant.

明報社評2019.09.06:期貨市場癱瘓太兒戲 港交所有負公眾期望

港交所期貨交易系統大混亂,所有衍生產品交易昨午暫停,情况前所未見。香港正值多事之秋,外國投資者對香港戒心增加,即使事件純屬技術故障、不涉黑客等人為干擾因素,對香港國際金融中心形象也是有害無益。

昨天早上開市不久,多間證券行便發現期指和期權交易系統有問題,成交速度很慢,甚至無法落盤,期指交易明顯大減。鑑於情况持續,港交所中午宣布,由於電子交易系統(HKATS)長時間出現連接問題,為了維護市場秩序,下午2時起暫停衍生產品市場交易,只會維持衍生工具結算系統運作。期貨市場癱瘓,部分投資者未能平倉難免造成損失,然而根據《證券及期貨條例》,投資者很難向港交所追討賠償。有證券業人士表示,可幸昨早現貨市場波動不大,相信投資者損失有限,倘若是在前天「死機」,適逢政府決定撤回修例恒指勁升千點,投資者損失可以相當慘重。

反修例風暴持續近3個月,香港國際金融中心地位雖未受到正面搖撼,可是投資氣氛難免受到影響。上月中,港交所行政總裁李小加強調,港交所交易一切正常,「系統安全穩定」,未受社會動盪波及,言猶在耳,本港期貨市場卻在如此敏感時刻鬧出大亂子。近日港府在外國報章登廣告,強調香港仍是根基穩固的經濟體,今次期貨市場大混亂,猶如潑上一盆冷水,有損香港國際金融中心形象。這次港交所期貨交易癱瘓,事態嚴重,各界議論紛紛,有網民笑稱是「港交所不合作運動」,有人質疑港交所期貨市場是否沒有後備系統,有人甚至揣測會否涉及黑客攻擊,云云。

當下香港人心浮動,任何風吹草動很易惹來猜測。舉例說,7月初本港多個網上論壇及網站一度集體「死機」,伺服器服務供應商事後迅速解釋,問題源於系統一個「bug」,強調與「阻斷服務攻擊」(DDoS)無關,可是仍有人懷疑是黑客攻擊。昨晚港交所表示,初步調查顯示,事故原因是交易系統軟件出問題,交易所正與供應商合作解決問題。港交所應盡快查明事故始末,並向外界詳盡交代真相,含糊其辭只會導致投資者戒心增加。

■Glossary

malfunction : a fault in the way a machine or part of someone's body works

unease : the feeling of being worried or unhappy about sth

prevarication : the act of not giving a direct answer to a question in order to hide the truth

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