Foreign investors typically do not have clear insight into the cost structure of stock deals in Serbia, in particular the costs of currency conversion.
Conversion losses and cash flow
Under the general rules of Serbian law, and subject only to several clearly defined exceptions, payments, collections and transfers between residents, and between residents and non-residents within Serbia are to be made in Serbian dinars (RSD). A separate rule concerning stock trades says that stocks are traded via the Serbian Central Securities Registry, Depot and Clearing House, and that stock purchase prices are paid within Serbia (essentially under supervision by the said Registry).
Due to the above rules, and given that stock trades are not exempted from the above rule on currency of payment, stock purchasers need to pay the purchase price for the targeted stocks in RSD. To do so, non-resident purchasers will typically need to transfer a certain amount of foreign currency to Serbia, which would, in the course of the transaction, be converted into the local currency and transferred to the respective seller. If the seller of the stock is also a non-resident, it will typically, upon receipt of the purchase price in RSD, want to re-convert the funds into a foreign currency, and then transfer them out of Serbia. These two conversions (one on the buy side and the other on the sell side) entail a hidden cost paid by the transacting parties, given that the exchange rates used in them are typically different. In some cases, depending on the banks performing the conversion and the currencies involved, the exchange rates can vary by up to 10 %.
Through this mechanism, a substantial amount of foreign currency can be “lost” through two conversion processes due to differences in the buying and selling exchange rates applicable to the foreign currencies involved and charged by the respective bank.
Stock deal cost structure
Apart from foreign currency conversion costs, stock trades entail other charges that can be classified as: (i) predetermined costs (charges determined in tariffs of competent authorities and taxes), and (ii) variable costs (costs that vary depending on a choice among different banks and brokers charging different fees). It should be noted that not all of these costs are chargeable in each and every stock transaction.
At present, the predetermined costs, ie charges determined in tariffs of competent authorities and taxes, are: (i) fee for opening a proprietary financial instrument account charged by the Central Securities Registry, Depot and Clearing House: RSD 500; (ii) charge for sale/purchase transactions entered into on the stock exchange or multilateral trading facility charged by the Central Securities Registry, Depot and Clearing House: 0.10 % of transaction value, but not more than RSD 1,500, or charge for OTC share sale/purchase transactions where settlement of securities takes place on a DVP basis: 0.10 % of transaction value, but not more than RSD 600,000; (iii) transaction fee (regulated and open markets) charged by the Belgrade Stock Exchange – 0.1 % or 0.12 % (for block transactions) of transaction value; (iv) capital gains tax – 15 % (natural persons) and 20 % (non-resident legal persons) (subject to double taxation treaties); (v) fee for obtaining certificate of tax clearance from tax authority – RSD 600 (needed to transfer funds out of Serbia).
Typical variable costs, ie costs that vary depending on a choice among different banks and brokers, are: (i) broker or bank commission for carrying out stockbroker activities concerning the sale/purchase transaction, normally determined as a certain percentage of the transaction value; (ii) brokers and authorised banks may also charge other fees (eg, for opening the proprietary financial instrument account, order placing/withdrawal, etc); (iii) other fees chargeable by the authorised bank with which the seller/buyer has special-purpose non-residential trading accounts.
Controlling stock trade costs
Prior to trading with Serbian stocks, non-resident investors should become informed about all applicable related costs they could face prior to entering into agreements with both a broker and a bank. Careful market insight is key in selecting the most cost-effective solution.
Ideally, both the seller and purchaser of stocks should use the same bank or broker for the trade, thereby gaining more leverage in negotiating fees, but also favourable exchange rates for the conversion of foreign into local currency and vice versa. The objective should be to negotiate such foreign currency buying and selling exchange rates that are as close as possible to the mid-market exchange rate published daily by the National Bank of Serbia, thereby reducing the related currency conversion losses.
It is highly advisable that foreign investors become informed about all applicable costs related to stock deals that they could face prior to entering into agreements with both a stockbroker and a bank.