'Insider trading' canards
By John Stossel
Published: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 9:01 p.m.
Insider trading leads the news again, casting a cloud over Steven Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors' $14 billion hedge fund.
The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Mathew Martoma, who used to manage an SAC Capital division, with using inside information about tests on an Alzheimer's drug to trade stock of the company working on it.
The media love this stuff. I imagine reporters sitting around saying: “The SEC finally will punish greedy Wall Street!” But this is nonsense. Government prosecutors are as ruthless and greedy as anyone.
It's easy to hate the rich — and in our bailout economy, there are reasons for suspicion. But capital doesn't find the best outlets by itself. Hedge funds spot promising opportunities and quickly direct capital that way.
When government interferes with that, we all suffer.
Under current law, insider trading still happens. Stock prices routinely rise before takeovers. The line between research and felony is very fine.
What's legal? Even the lawyers can't agree. The SEC says it is illegal to trade “securities after learning of significant, confidential corporate developments.” But people in a stock trade never have the same information. One does exhaustive research about a company, another does less, and a third trades based on some market theory. In no way are these three “equal” in what they know.
Yes, you say, but the prosecutors allege inside information. One trader may be an employee of the firm. Why should he be free to use that information to buy or sell a stock?
Because America should be a free country.
Investors say the law persuades more people to invest. “It makes markets more robust. That gave us biotech, Wal-Mart, Microsoft,” says hedge fund manager David Berman. “Companies raise capital in U.S. markets because of that confidence.”
If a stock exchange or company wants to have a rule against insider trading, fine. Some of us will invest only in those companies or that exchange. But imprisoning select people who catch a prosecutor's attention stifles the flow of information.
In an actual free market, a company's stock prices embody traders' expectations about its future. Information confirms or upsets expectations, and that is reflected in prices. The sooner relevant information gets built into the stock price, the better for everyone.
As economist Warren C. Gibson writes: “When the dissemination of significant news about a company is blocked by insider-trading restrictions, that company's shares are mispriced relative to where the price would be if the news were out. If the news is bad, investors will buy at prices they would not have paid had they heard the news. Movement of capital toward more productive uses is inhibited. If it is good, some sellers will let go of their shares at prices they would not have accepted. ... In either case, there is a net loss to the economy.”
Vague anti-insider trading laws distort prices. Also, these laws, like all regulation, create a false sense of security. They lead people to think stock traders play on the same level field. Far better to encourage investors to be wary — not complacent — when they buy stocks.
If you object to insider trading, avoid companies that permit it.
But government should butt out.
John Stossel is host of “Stossel” on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of “No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates make inquiry into former Cy Young winner Johan Santana
- Police: Driver fell unconscious before Seton Hill bus crash
- McCutchen proposes to girlfriend on DeGeneres show
- Jeannette man accused in assault with tire iron
- Water line break closes Mt. Lebanon High School for Thursday
- Pittsburgh grand jury indicts Florida man for investment fraud
- Starkey: NHL stuck in stone age
- Steelers defense’s rapid decline looks similar to that of Steel Curtain’s
- Theft charges added against Penn Hills father, son accused in TV converter box scheme
- PNC plans to do away with tellers
- For the rest of us: Festivus pole put up at Florida Capitol