Securities Exchange Commission (SEC)

U.S. regulators, in particular the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”), are intently pursuing market manipulation enforcement. The September 30 end of the 2019 fiscal year brought with it a flurry of press releases from four different agencies announcing settlements of spoofing-related enforcement actions against trading firms, banks, interdealer brokers, and traders.
Continue Reading Spoofing Enforcement Intensifies

On May 7, 2019, Representative James Himes (D-Conn) introduced the “Insider Trading Prohibition Act” (H.R. 2534). The proposed legislation would amend the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, §§15 U.S. Code § 78a et seq. (the “Act”) by inserting a new section that defines the elements of criminal insider trading.

The bill’s objective is to eliminate the ambiguity of the offense as it is conceived under current law. It would also significantly expand the potential scope of criminal liability for insider trading in several ways: first, by eliminating the existing “personal benefit” requirement; second, by expanding the scienter requirement from willful to reckless use of “wrongfully obtained” material non-public information; and third, by expanding the definition of “wrongfully obtained” information to include stolen, hacked, and fraudulently obtained information.
Continue Reading New Bill Seeks to Bring Clarity to Insider Trading Law

Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) took a break from its recent focus on digital assets and the Best Interest fiduciary standard to publish a Risk Alert encouraging investment advisers and broker-dealers to revisit their policies and procedures relating to Regulation S-P (“Reg S-P”) (17 C.F.R. Part 248, Subpart A), which sets out requirements designed to protect customer information and records. The Alert highlights several key compliance issues identified by the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) during exams completed in the past two years.
Continue Reading SEC Issues Risk Alert on Customer Privacy Safeguards

Three prominent trading exchanges did not exactly show their government overseer the love this Valentine’s week.  On February 14, 2019, the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) filed a petition for review to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit against the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”), seeking review of a controversial transaction fee pilot program, slated to take effect in April.  The Cboe and Nasdaq literally followed suit a day later, with nearly identical petitions.  The petitions seek a ruling that the pilot program is unlawful under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Administrative Procedure Act and a permanent injunction barring the SEC from implementing the pilot program. 
Continue Reading Where is the Love? Exchanges Sue SEC Over Market Access Fee Pilot Program

On January 22, 2019, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) released its annual priorities letter highlighting its regulatory program’s points of emphasis for the coming year. The most immediately recognizable difference between this year’s edition and previous ones is that its traditional title, “Examination Priorities,” has been updated to include “Risk Monitoring,” the process by which the self-regulatory organization initially identifies problem areas through surveillance, firm reporting, surveys, questionnaires, and examination findings.

FINRA’s 2019 “Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter” (the “Letter”) also discusses three entirely new priorities: online distribution platforms, fixed income mark-up disclosure, and regulatory technology. Finally, the Letter lists ongoing areas of focus, and alerts firms that it will continue to assess protocols to handle the risks posed by “bad actors” with problematic regulatory histories.
Continue Reading FINRA ANNOUNCES 2019 REGULATORY PRIORITIES

The Enforcement Division of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently released its annual enforcement report (“Report”) for fiscal year 2018. The Report reflects an increased focus on retail investors, cryptocurrency, cybercrime, and individual accountability. Further, it showcases that SEC enforcement continues to be robust under the Trump administration, despite industry and media expectations to the contrary.

In fiscal year 2018, the SEC brought 821 enforcement actions, an approximately 8.8% increase from last year. The SEC collected approximately $3.9 billion in monetary penalties, a 4% increase from last year. Notably, however, a significant portion of this amount came from a single case, in which $1.8 billion in disgorgement and penalties were awarded for a large-scale corruption scheme. Moreover, while total monetary penalties rose, there was a decrease in the total amount of disgorgement imposed. This is likely due in part to the Supreme Court’s 2017 Kokesh decision, which held that SEC claims for disgorgement are subject to a five-year statute of limitations.  
Continue Reading SEC Enforcement’s Annual Report Prioritizes Retail Investors, Cryptocurrency, Cybercrime, and Individual Accountability

In the aftermath of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) latest Report of Investigation (“Report”) regarding cyberattacks via “spoofed or manipulated electronic communications,” companies should prepare to adjust and update their internal controls or face possible enforcement actions for violation of federal securities law.  Released as a warning to public companies about recent cyberattacks, the Report’s emphasis that companies maintain proper internal controls to combat cybersecurity issues indicates SEC enforcement actions for lack of proper cybersecurity procedures and supervision are on the horizon.    
Continue Reading Fool Me Twice…SEC’s latest Cyber-Fraud ROI Indicates Future Enforcement Against Hacker Victims

On September 11, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York denied[1] a motion to dismiss an indictment of a Brooklyn real estate entrepreneur in relation to two virtual currency investment schemes and initial coin offerings (“ICOs”). The indictment, which charged securities fraud against Maksim Zaslavskiy, was based, in part, on the theory that the cryptocurrencies at issue were securities. In his motion to dismiss, Zaslavskiy argued that this premise was faulty and the ICOs offered by the two companies he owned, REcoin Group Foundation, LLC (“REcoin”) and DRC World, Inc. (“DRC”), were not, in fact, securities. The court, then, was called upon to consider whether the securities laws apply to cryptocurrencies. The court also considered Zaslavskiy’s argument that the securities laws are void for vagueness as applied to cryptocurrencies and token sales.
Continue Reading New York Federal Court’s View on Cryptocurrency as Securities

On July 18, 2018, the SEC ramped up its oversight of alternative trading systems (“ATSs”) by adopting a series of rule amendments imposing public disclosure requirements on ATSs that trade NMS (“National Market System”) stocks (i.e., stocks listed on a national securities exchange). The amendments also require ATSs to establish written procedures to protect subscribers’ confidential trading information. Initially proposed in 2015, the amendments will take effect on October 9, 2018, per the July 18th Notice of Final Rulemaking.
Continue Reading SEC Tightens Alternative Trading Platform Oversight

On June 25, 2018, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a revised opinion in United States v. Martoma, No. 14-3599, Dkt No. 226. (2d Cir. Jun. 25, 2018) (“Martoma”). While the outcome for Matthew Martoma does not change—his conviction for insider trading still stands—other defendants facing insider trading charges may once again, at least for the present, avail themselves of the Second Circuit’s more stringent personal benefit test under United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014) (“Newman”).
Continue Reading Hello, Newman. A Second Circuit Panel Revives U.S. v. Newman’s Personal Benefit Test, Maybe.