Monday, January 4, 2016
Assume you acquire some nonpublic information about a company that will have no predictable effect on the company’s stock price, but will affect the volatility of that stock price. Is that information material nonpublic information for purposes of the prohibition on insider trading?
That’s one of the issues addressed in an interesting article written by Lars Klöhn, a professor at Ludwig-Maximillian University in Munich, Germany. The article, Inside Information without an Incentive to Trade?, is available here. His answer (under European law)? It depends.
Here’s the scenario: one company is going to make a bid to acquire another company. The evidence shows that, on average, the shareholders of bidders earn no abnormal returns when the bid is announced. There’s a significant variation in returns across bids: some companies earn positive abnormal returns and some companies earn negative abnormal returns. But the average is zero. Of course, the identity of the target might affect the expected return, but to pose the problem in its most complex form, let’s assume that you don’t know the target, just that the bidder is planning to make a bid for some other company.
In that situation, the stock is just as likely to go down as to go up if you buy it. Because of that, Professor Klöhn argues that the information should not be considered material to anyone buying or selling the stock.
However, the information about the bid will make the bidder’s stock price more volatile. The average expected gain is zero, but either large gains or large losses are possible, increasing the risk of the stock. Professor Klöhn argues that, since this risk can be diversified away, it should not affect the bidder’s stock price. However, the increased volatility would allow a trader to profit trading in derivatives based on the bidder’s stock. In other words, the information should affect the value of derivatives. Therefore, the information should be considered material in that context, and anyone using the nonpublic information to trade in derivatives should fall within the prohibition on insider trading.
It’s an interesting article, not very long and definitely worth reading. Professor Klöhn’s focus is on European securities law, but American readers should have no trouble following the discussion.