U.S. Government battles insider trading to level investment playing field

July 27
7:50 PM 2013

The government has been on a roll in cracking down insider trading schemes this year, with the SAC Capital and owner Steve A. Cohen facing securities and wired fraud charges and the suspension of the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index.

Last Friday saw hedge fund tycoon Steve A. Cohen charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with failure to supervise two employees who are similarly facing insider trading charges. The Justice Department followed up the case against Cohen by filing criminal charges against SAC Capital, his hedge fund firm.

Also, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman had investigated the premature release by Thomson Reuters of the University of Michigan's index on consumer sentiment to a group of investors earlier this summer. Reuters was given a court order and had agreed to suspend the move while stating that "news and information companies can legally distribute non-governmental data and exclusive news through services provided to fee-paying subscribers."

"The securities markets should be a level playing field for all investors," remarked Schneiderman in a statement. U.S.

Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara agreed with his notion of fairness. TBharara told CNBC's Jim Cramer, "I think people need to believe that the markets are fair, and that the same rules apply to everyone. I don't want to buy a stock because I have a feeling that someone knows more than I do."

Despite government efforts however, the investment playing field was far from levelled and will most likely never be, according to Reuters columnist Bethany McLean.

"Life isn't fair, and as we all know now, the playing field hadn't been leveled. Individual investors, whether operating via discount brokerages or with the dubious benefit of Street research, were just cannon fodder for the so-called smart money-including, not surprisingly, Cohen's SAC Capital - which made fortunes by shorting dot-com stocks ahead of the crash," McLean said in a column discussing the issue.

She pointed out that the rise of hedge funds, which are reputed to pay any amount for vital information, had contributed dramatically to the growth of various exclusive services that in turn lead to insider trading. The Goldman controversy a few years ago where favored clients were given access to analysts' assessments was given as an example.

"Goldman paid $22 million to settle charges that it failed to supervise research analysts' communications adequately, which is utterly absurd due to the pretense that communications can be supervised: Important investors can have a private conversation with an analyst, or with company management, whenever they want," explained McLean.

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