Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The SEC charged Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. with securities laws violations for having inadequate policies and procedures for controlling access to institutional customer order flow. Merrill Lynch agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and pay a $7 million penalty, among other remedies. According to the SEC’s order instituting proceedings, Merrill Lynch utilizes institutional equities "squawk boxes," which are internal intercom systems used by broker-dealers to broadcast institutional customer order information to traders and sales traders at the broker-dealer. From 2002 to 2004, several Merrill Lynch retail brokers at three branch offices permitted day traders at other firms to listen to confidential information on large unexecuted block orders of Merrill Lynch’s institutional customers. The Merrill Lynch brokers put their telephones next to the squawk boxes and let the day traders listen to the squawk box, often for the entire trading day. The day traders used the broadcasts to trade ahead of the orders placed by Merrill Lynch’s customers.