29 Nov 2018

Halifax administrator hunting down funds sent offshore

2:02 pm on 29 November 2018

The administrator of the troubled online trading broker Halifax is trying to "unscramble an omelette" and locate investor funds.

Stock market chart.

Halifax New Zealand has operated independently so local investors' money might be safe, a broker says. Photo: chatchaiyo/123RF

Halifax New Zealand has followed its Australian parent into administration with 3800 New Zealand accounts frozen as administrators try to sort out the group's affairs.

Lead administrator, Morgan Kelly of Ferrier Hodgson, said some New Zealand investors funds were traded offshore, and some traded directly through its parent, Halifax Investment Services.

His team of lawyers and accountants were in talks with international trading platforms to locate the funds and identify who they belonged to.

"We're trying to ascertain where all these investors fit, and where the cash, the investments, are actually located," Mr Kelly said.

"We're unscrambling an omelette to a degree."

Mr Kelly would not say how much money New Zealand investors had invested through Halifax, nor where the money was located.

"We don't have a clear picture of that yet."

Mr Kelly said he was in daily contact with the Financial Markets Authority (FMA), which was largely concerned about the safety of investors funds.

He said it was too early to know why Halifax had fallen into financial difficulty, but all issues, including possible misconduct, would be investigated.

Halifax offers trading platforms and administration of accounts for investors in risky and speculative trading in foreign exchange, futures and options.

One investor, with an account worth tens of thousands of dollars spoke to RNZ on the condition of anonymity, said they were frustrated by the lack of news.

"I'm just so angry with them. I'm fuming. I had a lady from Auckland on the phone yesterday in tears."

He said attempts to contact Halifax staff and administrators this week had been ignored.

"I can't believe there's just been a media blackout on it. What's going on? They're not saying."

The investor said he did not know if his money was safe.

Rule change needed

An Auckland-based licensed derivatives broker, Sargon Elias of GPP Markets, wants the FMA to reform its licensing rules.

Halifax is the first firm to hit trouble since law changes in 2014 required brokerage firms to have $1 million in cash as a safety net, Mr Elias said.

He said Halifax had a "unique" structure - having borrowed $1m from its Australian parent, which he said was legal, put Halifax New Zealand at risk.

"It's not a good structure to use... [Halifax New Zealand] has done nothing wrong and sort of been dragged down by the Australians."

Mr Elias said the derivative issuer licensing rules were complex and Halifax's problems were a reason for the FMA to change them.

Halifax New Zealand, which was 70 percent owned by the Australian parent, had operated independently so local investors money might be safe, he said.

Halifax New Zealand, which had up to 20 staff, was "small but significant," with a 4 to 5 percent market share, he said.