We’ve all heard the expression “hard cases make bad law.”  But sometimes bad law is the result of bad cases – i.e., cases that should never have been brought in the first place.  That’s the case with the SEC’s prosecution of Ray Dirks, who died on December 9 at age 89.  I suspect that many

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Although Dodd-Frank was enacted in 2010, the rule needed to implement one of its provisions – the requirement to disclose hedging policies – only recently took effect.  In fact, for calendar-year companies, 2020 will be the first year in which the proxy statement will have

In December 2014, I posted my concerns with the law on insider trading.  Perhaps someone read it, because the following year, H.R. 1625, the “Insider Trading Prohibition Act,” was introduced in the House of Representatives.  I regarded it as imperfect but a start.   Of course, it went nowhere, and the state of the law has not changed.

Well, it’s back – sort of – and may have a bit of life.   H.R. 2534, with the same title as in 2015, was introduced by Congressman Jim Himes (D-CT), who introduced the 2015 bill, and co-sponsored by Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Denny Heck (D-WA).  What’s new about the bill is that it was approved – unanimously – by the Financial Services Committee in May.  That probably doesn’t mean anything, as Congress seems to be the place where legislation goes to die, but I suppose anything is possible.

Like its predecessor, it’s a start.  But I still think it’s imperfect.  The title of the first section is promising: “Prohibition Against Trading Securities While In Possession Of Material, Nonpublic Information.”  Sounds good, right?  The mere possession of MNPI means you can’t trade.  Wrong.  The text of the section gives the lie to its title.  Specifically, the prohibition exists only if the person trading “knows, or recklessly disregards, that such information has been obtained wrongfully, or that such purchase or sale would constitute a wrongful use of such information.”  In other words, (1) the bill seems to say it’s OK to trade while in possession of inside information as long as the information was not known to have been obtained wrongfully or is being used wrongfully (whatever the latter means), and (2) it would get us right back into the very issues that make the present state of the law so confusing.  You can’t trade in a stock if you know (or should have known) that the MNPI was wrongfully obtained, but what if you don’t know or have no reason to know it was wrongfully obtained?  If someone suggests that you buy (or sell) a particular stock, what is your duty of inquiry, and where does it end?Continue Reading There STILL ought to be a law

14779792521_b054cf2506_zIn the few days since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Salman v. United States, many commentators have said, in effect, that criminal prosecutions for insider trading are alive and well.  Alive, yes; well, maybe not.

At the risk of quoting myself, almost exactly two years ago I posted an item on this blog entitled “There ought to be a law”.  My belief at the time was that insider trading law is so byzantine that it’s impossible to know where legally permissible behavior becomes legally impermissible behavior.  For better or worse (worse, IMHO), nothing has changed all that much.  In the Salman decision, SCOTUS says that a prosecutor need not prove that a tipper received something of a “pecuniary or similarly valuable nature” to convict the tipper of illegal insider trading.  So far, so good.  However, as many commentators have pointed out, Salman leaves any number of other issues wide open.Continue Reading Insider trading: there still ought to be a law

A great deal has been written about the recent reversal of two insider trading convictions.  Specifically, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit threw out the convictions of Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson, hedge fund traders found guilty at the District Court level.

The press reports have treated the reversal as a major

Imagine the following scenario. Your company is publicly traded. As such, senior management is keenly aware of the potential for executives and employees trading in the company’s securities on the basis of material nonpublic information in violation of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and the infamous Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder. To prevent improper trading, the company has instituted an insider trading policy which, among other things, requires certain high-level executives to pre-clear trades internally, prohibits directors and officers from trading during “blackout periods” (i.e., the period immediately prior to fiscal quarter and year ends), and requires periodic training for all employees on the scope of insider trading laws. As model corporate citizens, all of the company’s directors, officers, and employees follow the company’s policies precisely. No one would dare to take the risk of attempting to gain illicit profits by trading the company’s stock while in possession of material nonpublic information.

One day, just before the end of a quarter (and therefore during a blackout period), analysts covering your company reduce their estimates for the company’s quarterly results which in turn, causes the company’s share price to decline. The company’s officers know that the analysts’ revised estimates are accurate and that the company will report sub-par earnings results the following week but none of those officers initiated any trades to improperly take advantage of this material nonpublic information. However, as a result of the decline in share price alone, one of the company’s executive officers unknowingly violated Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 and both he and the company are now potentially on the hook for insider trading liability. 

How can this be if none of the officers executed any trades you ask? The problem arises from the fact that company policy does not prohibit margining company securities. When the share price declined, the value of the securities in the executive’s margin account dropped sufficiently to trigger a margin call requiring the executive to deposit additional collateral to make up the shortfall or risk having the broker sell a portion of the pledged securities (this is similar to what happened to the founder and chairman of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. earlier this year). Regardless of which route is taken, the executive is in a problematic situation. 

If the executive does nothing and allows the broker to sell company stock, he’d be violating company policy by trading during the blackout
Continue Reading Margin calls: The insider trading trap