Selective Disclosure by Issuers, its Legality and Ex Ante Harm
Company Lawyer, Vol. 24, p. 144, 2003
4 Pages Posted: 24 May 2003
Selective disclosure by issuers may sometimes violate rule 10b-5 if the issuer, as an entity, obtains an improper "personal benefit."
Uncertain is the stock price accuracy benefit of the insider trading resulting from selective disclosure. The interval between the trading and public disclosure may be too short to produce a significant economic benefit. Furthermore, if share prices are already quite far from their fundamental value, insider trading may sometimes move prices farther away from accuracy.
Are investors injured when an issuer engages in selective disclosure that results in insider trading? The answer may be yes, both ex post and ex ante. Ex post, the insider trading injures preempted and/or induced traders.
Some commentators argue that, ex ante, induced or preempted traders are not injured because share prices will discount both the risk of becoming a victim of an insider trade and any loss of liquidity caused by a widening of bid-ask spreads by market-makers and specialists. Presumably, this discount will harm issuers by lowering the price at which they issue shares.
Nevertheless, ex ante, insider trading may still harm preempted and/or induced traders if the market is unable to determine an appropriate discount for the risk of becoming a victim.
Assume arguendo that the market is able to determine this discount. If the SEC forbids selective disclosure by issuers, the discount will decline. The prohibition transfers wealth from insider trading tippees to all shareholders. Even if some investors receive a windfall because they originally bought at a discount, the SEC may decide that insider trading profits are an even less deserved benefit.
Additionally, even if stock prices discount the risk of harm from insider trading, investors would benefit from the decline in the uncertainty of injury that would result from a broad SEC prohibition of selective disclosure. Because the risk is associated with trading, not holding stocks, a diversified portfolio does not eliminate the risk (even assuming investors are diversified).
Furthermore, even ex ante, frequent traders are disproportionately harmed by insider trading, again because the risk is associated with trading. One might argue that, because of the deterrence of excessive stock trading and speculation, the nation might actually benefit from an increase in bid-ask spreads and disproportionate harm to frequent traders. Nevertheless, the SEC may disagree. It may view its mission as encouraging securities trading in this country to improve the liquidity of the American stock market.
If so, the Commission may wish to forbid selective disclosure by issuers, as it has done partly with Regulation FD. Such a prohibition would reduce both bid-ask spreads in the United States and the uncertainty investors face in becoming victims of a stock market insider trade. As a result, the liquidity of U.S. markets would increase.
In short, selective disclosure by issuers harms investors, both ex post and ex ante.
Keywords: Selective disclosure, insider trading, inside trading
JEL Classification: G18, G28, G38, K14, K22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation