|StockGate: Bank of America, SG Cowen Made 'Bets' Against Companies, Says WSJ |
Jul 8, 2004 (financialwire.net via COMTEX) -- (FinancialWire) Bank of America's (BAC) Banc of America Securities LLC and Societe Generale's (SCGLF) SG Cowen Securities Corp. are being investigated for possible insider trading relative to PIPE transactions related to hedge funds, according to the Dow Jones' (DJ) Wall Street Journal.
"The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is looking at whether hedge funds, tipped off to Pipe deals by brokers, made bets against the companies' stocks before the deals were consumated and publicly announced," according to the WSJ.
Usually such "bets" are in the form of short sales, sometimes "naked short sales."
WSJ said BayStar Capital, a California hedge fund, is specifically being probed.
In a June 23 release, the SEC stated it has put into place Rule 202(T), which establishes procedures to allow the Commission to temporarily suspend the operation of the current "tick" test in Rule 10a-1, and any short sale price test of any exchange or national securities association, for specified securities.
Through a separate order, the Commission will suspend, on a pilot basis for a period of one-year, the tick test provision of paragraph (a) of Rule 10a-1, and any short sale price test of any exchange or national securities association, for approximately one-third of stocks in the Russell 3000 index.
The order also will suspend, on a pilot basis for a period of one year, the tick test provision of paragraph (a) of Rule 10a-1 for short sales executed in any security included in the Russell 1000 index after 4:15 p.m. Eastern, and all other securities after the close of the consolidated tape, and until the open of the consolidated tape the next day.
The pilot will commence on January 3, 2005 to permit broker-dealers and self-regulatory organizations to make the necessary programming adjustments.
The Commission deferred consideration of the proposal to replace the current "tick" test of Rule 10a-1 with a new uniform bid test. The Commission could reconsider any further action on these proposals after the completion of the pilot.
Rule 203, which will incorporate current Rule 10a-2 and will create a uniform Commission rule requiring broker-dealers, prior to effecting short sales in all equity securities, to "locate" securities available for borrowing.
There will be limited exceptions from the locate requirement, including for short sales by registered market makers in connection with bona-fide market making.
Rule 203 also imposes additional requirements on designated "threshold securities." Rule 203 defines a threshold security to mean an equity security for which there is an aggregate fail to deliver position for five consecutive settlement days at a registered clearing agency of 10,000 shares or more and that is equal to at least 0.5% of the issue's total shares outstanding.
Where a clearing agency participant has a fail to deliver position in threshold securities that persists for ten consecutive days after settlement, the participant must take action to close out the position. Until the position is closed out, the participant, and any broker-dealer for which it clears transactions, may not effect further short sales in the particular threshold security without borrowing or entering into a bona fide arrangement to borrow the security.
Rule 203 will become effective 30 days after publication with a compliance date of January 3, 2005, to permit firms to make programming and procedural adjustments.
Rule 200, which among other things, will redesignate current Rule 3b-3 with some modifications to define ownership and aggregation of securities positions, and include a requirement to mark all sell orders in all equity securities. Rule 200 will become effective 30 days after publication.
The Commission also adopted amendments to Rule 105 of Regulation M to remove the current shelf offering exception, and issued interpretive guidance addressing sham transactions designed to evade the rule.
The amendment applies to short sales effected within five days prior to the pricing of a shelf offering. Such short sales may not be covered with offering securities purchased from an underwriter or other broker-dealer participating in the offering.
The Rule 105 amendments will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, and the interpretive guidance will be effective upon such publication.
Opponents of naked short selling were, however, quick to denounce the provision that allows market makers an exemption, and many market observers said that the SEC should provide a public list of companies that fall into the "threshold security" category.
"The SEC claims that the number of companies involved in this 'threshold security' category is 4% of all publicly traded companies. If in fact it is that small the process is certainly manageable," said the website InvestigatetheSEC.com at investigatethesec.com . "It is also the right of every issuer, in protecting their business and their investors to know the status of their stock trading."
Some were discussing whether the SEC can keep such information private under the Freedom of Information Act.
Recently observers were surprised to find a comment letter submitted to the SEC by Mike Alexander, Senior VP of Charles Schwab, that admits outright that brokerages regularly ignore rules and regulations, saying it is not rules that need to be written; it is changes in behavior that is needed.
The comments were directed towards proposed changes in the U.S. settlement system, but could easily apply to other regulations as well.
"Improvements in the U.S. settlement system will only be truly achieved if and when regulations are rationalized to ensure that all market participants are held accountable for compliance. For example, the industry has struggled with the issue of institutional trade affirmation for quite some time now. While the benefits to the clearance and settlement system are self-evident, Buy-Side firms and Custodian banks have been resistant to make those changes that provide for same-day trade confirmation / affirmation and assurance of trade settlement," said Alexander.
"Schwab opposes the notion that securities intermediaries such as broker-dealers be required to police compliance," he stated. "The NYSE and other SROs have had trade affirmation rules on their books for some time. However, such rules have not been effective in changing the behavior
of Buy-Side firms or their custodians; nor do the rules provide assurance that the affirmed trade will settle.
"Recognition of this fact is evidence that changes to the settlement cycle not only require overhauling systems, but also changing behavior. We believe that only by holding all market
participants directly accountable for making required affirmations will the necessary changes to behavior," he stated at sec.gov .
The marketplace is already upset over promises by the Berlin Stock Exchange, since broken, that it would delist any company upon request.
"Please understand that cessation of trading in the shares of XRAYMEDIA Inc. (XRYM) is not possible," the exchange told one such requester.
It's not just U.S. companies such as Whistler Investments (WHIS), Sonoran Energy (SNRN), Celsion Corporation (CLN), and eLinear Inc. (ELU) or Israeli companies that have had serious concerns about their unannounced and unathrorized listings on the Berlin-Bremen Stock Exchange.
Apparently, some 150 British companies are protesting the same fate.
A number of UK-listed companies have demanded a London Stock Exchange investigation after they found that their shares are being traded.
Meanwhile, Whistler, Sonoran and eLinear have announced they have successfully secured their delistings, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has rescheduled its open hearing to consider the adoption of amendments to Regulation Sho to July 8 at 9:30 a.m. The announcement is at sec.gov .
According to the London Money Telegraph, "several companies believe the market for their shares has been distorted and that they have fallen in value after trading started on the Berlin-Bremen exchange.
"Some smaller companies, whose shares are lightly traded in London, fear the Berlin market has been used by speculators to short-sell their shares."
The Telegraph said the number of companies are thought to be as high as 150, including even "larger companies" such as Matalan (OTC: MATNF) and Halfords.
Mladen Ninkov, the chairman of Aim-listed Griffin Mining (OTC: GFNMF), was quoted as saying: "We were put on the Berlin market without our knowledge by a German broker and now we've got about 8m shares out in a short sale. It is horrifying - that is about 4 per cent of the company and it is forcing the price down."
A spokesman for the London Stock Exchange said: "If there is evidence of market abuse we would refer that on to the appropriate authorities."
Whistler said that according to its transfer agent records, "we have 5,504,680 shares held by DTC, but the ADP broker search indicates of 6,217,458 shares being reported by broker/dealers as being held on behalf of their customers, indicating a short position of more than 700,000 shares. A summary report can be viewed at whistlerinvestments.com .
"We have therefore commenced work with DTC for a formal review of the reported excessive broker/dealer holdings of our stock so that we can conduct our corporate affairs properly in view of our planned stockholders meeting and other upcoming corporate matters. We again advise our stockholders make sure that they receive delivery of any shares that they purchase, and also that their stock is not being borrowed without authorization.
Holly Roseberry, President of Whistler Investments, states "We intend to get to the bottom of the excessive short position and bring stability back into the trading of our stock. We're happy to say that we have 5,133 stockholders and we expect all our stockholders to benefit from the shorters having to cover their short positions."
FinancialWire has reported on the disclosure that "Dateline," the investigatory TV program aired by General Electric's (GE) NBC unit, has purportedly been preparing a blockbuster expose of "Stockgate" (see separate story at financialwire.net).
It is not known if "Dateline" has uncovered continuing underworld connections to the scandal, but FinancialWire reported that Dateline may be pointing a large finger of conflict at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission itself, which reportedly receives a slice of every transaction fee as part of its budget. According to court filings supported by the O'Quinn/Christian legal network, almost $1 billion annually is received by the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. for its "Stock Borrow Program," which the lawsuits claim is just a fancy name for counterfeiting, as the DTCC purportedly lends out many multiples of the actual certificates in the float. Apparently the SEC receives a transaction fee for each transaction facilitated by these loans of non-existent certificates, which could knock a hole in its budget should the revenues from the practice be halted.
The North American Securities Administrators Association, comprised of state and Canadian regulators, has pointedly told the SEC that either it must rethink its cozy DTCC relationship, or it hints, some of its more aggressive state practitioners (think Eliot Spitzer) may do the rethinking for the SEC.
Naked short selling is worrisome for hundreds of small U.S. companies, including those recently asking to be delisted from the Berlin Stock Exchange, such as Golden Phoenix Minerals, Inc. (GPXM), Nannaco, Inc. (NNCO), 5G Wireless Communications, Inc. (FGWC), CyberAds, Inc. (CYAD), Provectus Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (PVCT), House of Brussels Chocolates (HBSL), InforMedix, Inc. (IFMX), Tissera, Inc. (TSSR), Americana Publishing, Inc. (APBH), Celsion Corporation (CLN), ChampionLyte Holdings, Inc. (CPLY), Pickups Plus, Inc. (PUPS), China Wireless Communications Inc. (CWLC), CareDecision Corp. (CDED), Titan General Holdings, Inc. (TTGH), IPVoice Communications, Inc. (IPVO), Whistler Investments (WHIS), WARP Technology Holdings, Inc. (WRPT), BGR Corp. (OTCBB: BGRR), ICOA, Inc., (ICOA), DICUT, INC. (OTCBB: DCUTE), NHC Communications Inc. (NHC), Stratus Services Group, Inc. (SERV), Golden Phoenix Minerals, Inc. (GPXM).
Berliner Freiverkehr (Aktien) AG has been singled out as the broker and market maker that has been "listing" the companies. It is suspected that one broker, RA Angsar Limprecht, is involved in all if not most of the listings.
Small public companies are squeezed not only by hedge funds, naked short sellers, overseas listers such as the Berlin Stock Exchange, and the out-of-control "Stock Borrow Program" run by the governance-conflict-laden Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, but to the amazement of the industry, as often and not by their own regulators.
A new staff recommendation by Annette Nazareth, director of the division of market regulation at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to "outlaw" ownership of paper certificates at the same time the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation is under intense scrutiny for alleged electronic counterfeiting has begun hitting the small public company markets, company executives, shareholders and manipulative short-selling opponents like the proverbial ton of bricks.
A Dow Jones (DJ) article by Judith Burns sparked the uproar, as the inextricably intertwined web of connections between the SEC and the DTC, which is sagging from the weight of conflicted governance by representatives from a rollcall of industry heavyweights, including NASD, which owns NASDAQ (NDAQ), the New York Stock Exchange, Goldman Sachs (GS) and Lehman Brothers (LEH), to name only a few.
The rule proposal would bar stock transfer agents from handling shares that carry any limitations on transfer. Control over stock certificates is one of the ways that small companies have combated illegal naked short sellers. Burns quoted Nazareth as saying that these companies' "self-help" efforts "aren't helping U.S. markets overall." Nazareth was quoted as saying restrictions on stocks are "a significant step backwards" in the "move from paper stock certificates to automated computerized trading."
Nazareth said that abusive "naked" short selling has been a problem "in some cases," but that is "best dealt with by a pending SEC proposal," presumably Regulation SHO.
SEC Commissioner William Donaldson purportedly publicly refused to answer any questions from the NASD about the timing of the Commission's consideration of the Regulation at a conference where he was simultaneously proposing early reforms of the mutual fund scandals. The Dow Jones said, however, that Robert Colby, SEC deputy market regulation division director, predicted the SEC will take that to a vote in early June.
The Dow Jones report noted that "naked short-selling occurs when sellers don't buy shares to replace those they borrowed, a manipulative practice that can drive a company's stock price sharply lower.
The stock certiticate plan has been put to a 30-day comment periodl Then the SEC would have to vote to adopt it. If adopted, Colby was quoted as saying that regulators might "sue firms that seek to impose restrictions on stock transfers."
The recent lawsuit filed by Nanopierce Technologies (NPCT) alleges that the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. has a lot of reasons, almost one billion of them a year, to keep illegal naked short selling in operation. It was the shot across the bow by the legendary Houston law firms of Christian, Smith, Wukoson and Jewell, and OQuinn, Laminack and Pirtle, whose notches already include environmental targets, the breast implant industry and the tobacco industry, all brought to their knees.
In comments to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, C. Austin Burrell, who is providing litigation support and research for the law firms, said that StockGate is more massive than anyone may have imagined. "Illegal Naked Short Selling has stripped hundreds of billions, if not TRILLIONS, of dollars from American investors," and have resulted in over 7,000 public companies having been "shorted out of existence over the past six years." Burrell said some experts believe as much as $1 trillion to $3 trillion has been lost to this practice.
He stated that the restrictions on short selling were deliberately put into the Securities Acts of 1933 and 1934 because of the first-hand evidence then available that the "sheer scale of the crashes was a direct result of intentional manipulation of US markets through abusive short selling by a massive conspiracy."
Burrell noted that the 65-lawyer team presided over by lead lawyers Wes Christian and John O'Quinn has uncovered more than 1,200 hedge fund and offshore accounts working through more than 150 broker-dealers and market makers in a joint cooperative effort to strip small and medium size public companies of their value.
Recently the NASD and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved an interim naked short-selling band-aid, requiring U.S. brokers to make an "affirmative determination" that short-sellers, even foreign short-sellers, mostly Canadian, can find certificates to cover before processing the order.
Last year, many besieged public companies sought refuge from the manipulation by seeking to exit the DTC, but on July 8, 2003, the SEC stated "the issues surrounding naked short selling are not germane to the manner in which DTC operates as a depository registered as a clearing agency. Decisions to engage in such transactions are made by parties other than DTC. DTC does not allow its participants to establish short positions resulting from their failure to deliver securities at settlement. While the Commission appreciates commenters' concerns about manipulative activity, those concerns must be addressed by other means."
The Nanopierce lawsuit, said to be the first of many out of the box, emphatically suggests otherwise. According to lawyer Christian, et.al., the DTC is at the very heart of the problem, and has almost a billion dollars a year at stake in keeping the problem.
The Depository Trust Company (DTC) is a member of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, a limited-purpose trust company under New York State banking law and a registered clearing agency with the SEC. The depository supposedly brings efficiency to the securities industry by retaining custody of some 2 million securities issues, effectively "dematerializing" most of them so that they exist only as electronic files rather than as countless pieces of paper. The depository also provides the services necessary for the maintenance of the securities it has in "custody."
According to the suit, the DTCC has an enormous pecuniary and conflicted interest in the entire short selling scandal through the huge income stream they were realizing from it every day. They have made literally billions of dollars lending individual real shares, in most cases over and over, getting a fee each time they made a journal entry in the "Stock Borrow Program."
The Stock Borrow Program was purportedly set up to facilitate expedited clearance of stock trades. Somewhere along the line, the DTCC became aware that if it could lend a single share an unlimited number of times, it could collect a fee each time, according to Burrell. "There are numerous cases of a single share being lent ten or many more times," giving rise to the complaint that the DTCC has been electronically counterfeiting just as was done via printed certificates before the Crash.
"Such re-hypothecation has in effect made the potential 'float' in a single company's shares virtually unlimited and the term 'float' meaningless. Shares could be electronically created/counterfeited/kited without a registration statement being filed, and without the underlying company having any knowledge such shares are being sold or even in existence." Burrell said the Christian/O'Quinn lawsuits will seek to show that the "counterfeiting/creation of unregistered shares is a specific violation of the Securities Act of 1933, barring the 'Sale of Unregistered Securities'."
While the Nanopierce lawsuit has been filed at the state level, another companion lawsuit just heading to the courts on behalf of Exotics.com (EXII) will be argued at the Federal level.
Nanopierce's suit in the 2nd Judicial District Court in Nevada, is Case No. CV04-01079, alleges that the DTC's "stock borrow program" was "purportedly created to address SHORT TERM delivery failures," but that the "end result of the program has been to create tens of millions of unissued and unregistered shares to be traded in the public market," and in some instances resulting in "two or more shareholders who purchase shares in separate transactions to own the same shares."