Investigators at the Securities and Exchange Commission reportedly are looking into suspicious trading activity that occurred before news broke that Samsung Electronics Co. was allegedly in talks to acquire BlackBerry Ltd.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the SEC and its Canadian counterpart are investigating whether a Reuters news report might have been spurred by investors trying to game the market. The Reuters story, published Jan. 14, cited an anonymous source who claimed Samsung was looking to buy the Canadian smartphone maker for as much as $7.5 billion.
Rumors of mergers and acquisitions can send stock prices flying, creating opportunities for those privy to the deal to profit handsomely. It remains unclear whether the SEC suspects that information supplied to Reuters was false, or whether someone was acting on an authentic scoop. Regardless, trading on such news would be a violation of securities law.
A spate of options trades took place just hours before Reuters broke the story. One deal carried out around noon gave an investor the option to buy 200,000 shares of BlackBerry at $10 a share.
After the report came out, BlackBerry’s stock price surged 30% to close at $12.60, its largest one-day rise in years. The price increase would have given the option buyer the opportunity to make a profit of nearly $500,000. It’s unknown whether the individual behind the trade followed through.
According to Reuters, the SEC is trying to determine whether the BlackBerry source bought the options in question. Market manipulation, the spreading of false or misleading information to influence market movements, is notoriously difficult to prosecute.
Insider trading cases also have become increasingly tough to win. In December, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the convictions of two hedge fund managers who had been found guilty of insider trading. Federal prosecutors have since pressed the court to reconsider its ruling.
BlackBerry and Samsung have denied reports of an acquisition. Spokesmen for Reuters and the SEC have declined to comment on the report.