For US investors gone sour on Apple, buying Samsung is tricky

Inc

U.S. retail investors who have gone sour on Apple Inc after the drubbing the stock has been taking may want to think twice before trying to buy its main smart phone rival, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, at least in American markets.

Apple's market value dropped by about $50 billion late on Wednesday as disappointing results, due to weak holiday sales of its iPhone, sent its shares plummeting 10 percent. Samsung's success in taking market share with its cheaper smart phones is seen as a major reason for Apple's problems, making the South Korean company an obvious alternative for investors.

Yet Samsung, with a market capitalization of $236 billion, isn't listed as an American Depositary Receipt (ADR) on major U.S. markets, though other foreign companies such as Toyota Motor Corp and Sony Corp are. Instead, an unofficial version of Samsung trades on the over-the-counter market, commonly referred to as the Pink Sheets, under the ticker.

Opting for these unsponsored shares, which trade on what's formally called the Grey Market, means you get nearly all the traditional benefits of owning the South Korean-listed version of Samsung shares, including any dividend payments, though they might not give investors voting rights.

But investors should be wary. Low trading volume and high bid/ask spreads might make it hard for an investor to sell a position quickly if something goes wrong. And it's just as hard to jump in when the news is good.

An average of only 195 unsponsored Samsung shares have traded over the past five days, according to Thomson Reuters data, compared with an average of 271,053 locally listed Samsung shares on the South Korean market during the same period. The lack of liquidity could add costs such as higher brokerage fees and outdated price quotes when an investor wants to buy or sell.

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