The Securities and Exchange Commission charged six “expert network” consultants and employees with insider trading on Friday, putting in doubt the expertise of those involved, not to mention the hedge funds and traders who hired them to provide the inside tips.
The SEC accused the group of illegally tipping hedge funds and other investors to generate nearly $6 million in gains on securities trades. The commission has been conducting an ongoing investigation into the activities of the expert networks, which are supposed to only provide professional investment research to clients. However, the six individuals charged blurred the lines, at least according to the SEC.
The commission noted that while it’s legal to obtain expert advice and analysis through expert networking arrangements, it's illegal to trade on material nonpublic information that is obtained in violation of the duty to keep that kind of information confidential.
Apparently no accountants were among those charged, but the inside information allegedly provided included financial results and sales forecasts, mainly at technology companies like AMD, Apple, Dell, Flextronics and Marvell. The consultants all worked for a group known as Primary Global Research LLC. They received hundreds of thousands of dollars in “consulting fees” from PGR for sharing the information they learned with other PGR employees, as well as clients, according to the SEC.
The SEC also charged two PGR employees for facilitating the transfer of inside information from PGR consultants to PGR clients.
One of those charged, David Longoria, a manager in chipmaker AMD's desktop global operations group, had access to sales figures for AMD's various operational units, according to the SEC. He also got AMD's financial results from a colleague, including the top-line quarterly revenue and profit margin figures, before they were released to the public. Longoria then shared this inside information with multiple PGR clients who, in turn, traded in AMD securities, said the SEC. In turn, from January 2008 to March 2010, Longoria received more than $130,000 for talking to PGR and its clients.
Presumably, PGR’s clients profited handsomely from this type of inside information, enough to make those consulting fees just the cost of doing business. No doubt the SEC is also looking into any investors who followed the advice of the “experts” and they may have to end up forfeiting their gains.