Insider Trading: Raj Rajaratnam vs. Pete Rose
A recent Wall Street Journal article written by Donald J. Boudreaux, a professor of Economics at George Mason University, makes the case that insider trading is actually healthy for the operations of the financial markets. The arrest of Galleon Group founder and hedge fund manager, Raj Rajaratnam, is a tragedy according to the article’s author. Specifically he says, “Insiders buying and selling stocks based on their knowledge play a critical role in keeping asset prices honest—in keeping prices from lying to the public about corporate realities.”
Oh really? Then I suppose Professor Boudreaux would be fine with all-time leading hitter and former Cincinnati Reds Manager betting on his own baseball team to win or lose.
Another disputed aspect of insider trading by Boudreaux is the inability to monitor the crime. “Insider trading is impossible to police and…parsing the difference between legal and illegal insider trading is futile—and a disservice to all investors.” Maybe heroin and cocaine should be legalized too, since we can’t completely police these crimes either? Seems to me the insider trading laws are pretty clear what insiders can and cannot do with material information. The digital world we live in today only empowers investigators more than ever to discover clear electronic footprint trails connecting trading and banking accounts. Certainly, there will be creative crooks like Bernie Madoff that can slyly succeed for a period of time, but those that grasp too far will eventually get caught.
Professor Boudreaux goes on to describe the scenario of an unscrupulous CEO at a hypothetical company (Acme Inc.) driving a company into bankruptcy. He argues employees, creditors, and investors would be better served by a CEO enriching himself with insider trading in the name of price efficiency. Capital productivity would be enhanced for creditors/investors thanks to information efficiency and employees could manage their job hunting effectively.
Sounds great Don, but in a legal insider trading world, don’t you think inefficient, unscrupulous behavior for siphoning information from executives might lead to distracting and wasteful corporate actions? If I’m an employee at ACME Inc. and I can make more money trading ACME stock, rather than being a productive employee making widgets, then it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where my 40 hour work week concentration will reside. Moreover, how is a sabotaging CEO, who is raking in millions by shorting his company’s stock ,supposed to be a good thing for stakeholders? I strongly disagree. Stakeholders will be jeopardized more by an unfocused, greed-absorbed workforce than by the current enforcement structure, which strives for an even playing field of information.
After forcefully arguing trading on insider information should not be prohibited, the professor hedges his stance by saying there are exceptions: “There are, of course, situations in which it is in the interest of both a company and the public for that company to delay the release of information.” For example, he describes a merger situation where early information leakage could “jeopardize the prospect of achieving greater efficiencies.” If according to Boudreaux, policing of insider information is impossible, then determining what he calls “proprietary” versus “non-proprietary” information is only going to stir up a worse hornet’s nest.
In the end, if price efficiency (see story on market efficiency) and cheaper cost of capital is Professor Boudreaux’s central aim, then perhaps disclosing inside information, rather than selfishly profiting from trading on inside information, is a more suitable approach. For Pete Rose, I recommend sticking to legalized sports betting in Las Vegas as a superior strategy.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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