The Securities and Exchange Commission ordered more than two dozen
hedge funds to turn over trading information as it ramps up its
investigation into whether traders were spreading rumors to manipulate
shares, according to people familiar with the matter.
The order, dated Sept. 22, identifies six financial institutions the
SEC believes may have been subject to such manipulation. The order is
akin to a subpoena and requires information to be handed over with a
sworn statement attesting to its accuracy. It seeks a wide range of
trading data and email communications over a period of three weeks
involving American International Group Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Morgan Stanley, Washington Mutual Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co., according to the order, which has been viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The broad investigation, which was announced Friday, is part of an
effort to crack down on rumor mongering and abusive short selling,
which some believe contributed to the collapse of Bear Stearns.
Earlier this year, the SEC sent subpoenas to more than 50 hedge
funds looking at whether they were spreading rumors about Lehman
Brothers, including apparently false information about takeover talks
and the possibility of government financing.
In a regular short sale, a trader sells borrowed stock in hopes that
it drops and can be bought at a lower price. Under SEC rules, a trader
needs to locate stock to borrow ahead of a short sale, and the stock
needs to be delivered within three trading days.
Concerns about abusive short sales increased leading up to Lehman
Brothers' bankruptcy filing and moves by other financial companies to
seek cash infusions or merger partners. The SEC took the extraordinary
step last week of temporarily banning short selling in stocks of
financial companies. About the same time, it announced an investigation
into credit-default swaps, complex instruments akin to insurance
The order requested detailed and extensive information about
transactions conducted between Sept. 1 and Sept. 19, when certain
financial markets came close to freezing up, threatening the broader
economy. The requests include details of funds' positions in stocks,
derivatives, swaps and other financial instruments, as well as when
trades were initiated and settled and whom they involved.
The SEC is trying to determine whether any traders were involved in
abusive short selling, in which numerous short positions were placed at
once and the stock was never borrowed and the position never covered.
That method can have the effect of putting extra selling pressure on
stock prices. The subpoenas are seeking proof that firms located and
borrowed shares ahead of the short sales.
The SEC also is seeking detailed information about rumors or other
information received by the funds and how it was communicated. Hedge
funds also have to turn over information if they forwarded a message to
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