Some call them Robin Hood and others say they are pirates.
But researching institutes specializing in ripping profits by short selling targeted listed companies are becoming so popular now that they are not only increasing in numbers but also resembling all the like of an industry rather than individual adventures.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing since, as former market regulator Martin Wheatley has noted, their presence serves as a constant reminder for the companies and thus add discipline to the markets. That's the positive note - as long as there are sound reasons for those companies to be named and shamed because of wrong doings.
But what if the whistle blowing is based on "alternative facts" but not facts?
Recently, the share price of AAC Technologies, a supplier of acoustic components for Apple Inc, crashed after short-seller Gotham City Research questioned the company's accounting.
The stock tumbled 29 percent from this year's high of HK$116.5 per share to HK$82.6 before its trading was halted.
Then, curiously, another short seller Anonymous Analytics issued a report stating exactly the contrary, backing AAC and saying the Gotham City got it wrong and its report was riddled with inaccuracies.
So, who to believe?
Indeed, this is an irrelevant question. Whether the batman's report was true or not, everybody - especially the retail investors - would run for safety first just as what one will be expected to react at a concert upon hearing a bang.
In the unsafe world today, a stampede is bound to ensue even if the sound is caused by a firecracker, not a bomb.
Short sellers borrow and sell shares only to acquire them at a lower price at a later stage, which is a normal activity but short-selling hunters look for companies with questionable accounting practices. They spread the word and take profits from their victims' crashes.
Would it be too much of wishful thinking to expect them to display a high standard of discipline when their world isn't subject to the rules that companies in the stock exchanges and licensed analysts are required to observe?
If it was irregular for them to go hunting in the past, it's become all the more regular nowadays.
According to Bloomberg, at least 18 companies listed in the SAR were targeted in the past 12 months.
China Huishan Dairy Holdings on the Hong Kong stock exchange, for example, fell 85 percent earlier this year after it was singled out for attack by Muddy Waters. Tech Pro Technology Development, a mainland-based LED maker, lost 94 percent of its market worth after GeoInvesting LLC said it was shorting the stock at a conference last year.
Two more stocks were added onto the list yesterday.
Muddy Waters announced it's targeting furniture maker Man Wah Holdings whereas GeoInvesting LLC said it's aiming at Dali Foods Group. Understandably, the share prices of both stocks slid.
While the presence of such short sellers may not be a bad thing, it will be necessary for the Securities and Futures Commission to monitor the situation with greater concern.