Ethics Case Study of the Week: Buying and Selling at Same Time OK?

By Gary Sarkissian posted 27 days ago


CFA Institute’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct codify the ethical guidelines for the investment profession that are critical to maintaining the integrity of capital markets and investor trust.  Members, candidates, and even firms make a commitment to uphold these standards as they help elevate ethical decision-making universally around the globe.  

As investment professionals, we are certain to face important ethical decisions in our day-to-day activities.  Some scenarios we encounter will be straightforward, while others may be more complex.  No matter what circumstances we face, continuous learning remains imperative in an investment industry that continues to evolve with products undergoing innovation and a regulatory environment continuing to adapt.

For that reason, each week we will feature a sample case from CFA Institute’s Ethics in Practice Casebook.  Each case is built upon a real-life example that may involve a regulatory matter or even a CFA Institute Professional Conduct investigation.  At the end of the case is a multiple-choice question that addresses the ethical nature of the actions taken in that case.  

This week’s case involves Standard II(B) Market Manipulation. 

Buying and Selling at Same Time OK?
Meyers Associates is an investment firm providing both advisory and investment banking services. One of Meyers investment banking clients, IWEB (which manufactures and markets data storage products and cloud based software), wants to raise its stock price to facilitate a private offering, for which it will be using Meyers as its placement agent. George works for Meyers Associates as an investment adviser. To assist IWEB with its plans, George solicits several of his advisory clients to buy IWEB stock, and at the same time solicits other clients to sell IWEB stock, frequently effecting matched orders among his customers. For a 10-day period, these trades represented 48% of the total market volume of IWEB, and the price of the stock increased from $0.12 to $0.19 and then stabilized at $0.18 for the next several days. George’s actions are

A.  acceptable if the purchase and sale of IWEB stock fit within each of his advisory clients’ Investment Policy Statements.
B.  acceptable because he was acting to promote the interests of his client, IWEB.
C.  acceptable as long as he discloses to his advisory clients Meyer Associates’ investment banking relationship with IWEB.
D.  unacceptable.

What do you think is the correct choice?  Feel free to discuss in the comments below and make sure to check back later this week as we post the analysis.  The completion of this case qualifies for 0.25 hour of Standards, Ethics, and Regulation (SER) credit

[Update – 9/3/2020]
Welcome back!  Here is the analysis of this case:

This case is about market manipulation. Market manipulation damages the interests of all investors and lowers investor confidence in capital markets by disrupting the smooth functioning and efficiency of those markets. CFA Institute Standard II(B): Market Manipulation prohibits members from “engaging in practices that distort prices or artificially inflate trading volume with the intent to mislead market participants.” George’s trading of IWEB stock for clients is distorting both the trading volume and the market’s price-setting mechanism for that stock for the purpose of misleading investors in IWEB stock. George engages in the trading to assist IWEB with its private offering, not to benefit his advisory clients. Therefore, even if the trades fit within the respective IPS of his clients, the trading is unethical, making Choice A incorrect.

One element of the CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making Framework is identifying to whom a duty is owed. Oftentimes, there are conflicting duties that must be sorted out. Although George is attempting to benefit one client (IWEB) through the trading, he cannot do so at the expense of his advisory clients because he has a duty to all his clients to treat them fairly. And although investment professionals have a duty to work on behalf of clients, they have a greater duty to protect the integrity of financial markets. Engaging in market manipulation, even to assist clients, is unethical, making choice B incorrect. Choice C is also incorrect. While oftentimes investment professionals can mitigate conflicts of interest through disclosure, disclosure of the potential conflict in working for IWEB in an investment banking capacity, does not allow George to use his advisory client accounts to engage in market manipulation. George’s actions are unacceptable, Choice D.

This case is based on a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) enforcement case from 2016.

Image by Edgar Oliver from Pixabay

© 2018 CFA Institute. All rights reserved. You may copy and distribute this content, without modification and for non-commercial purposes, provided you attribute the content to CFA Institute and retain this copyright notice. This case was written as a basis for discussion and is not prescriptive of how a business situation or professional conduct matter should or should not be handled or addressed. Certain characters mentioned are fictional to facilitate discussion, and any resemblance to actual persons is coincidental.