Sometimes, the future comes at us very quickly. Such is the case with the funky trading in Maverick Tube
As you may recall, an interesting article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out that during the three days preceding the announcement, July call options on Maverick with a $60 strike (which were way out of the money at that point) traded more than 1,000 contracts per day. They had traded an average of 100 contracts or so during the prior months.
Can you say insider trading? I knew you could. So, it seems, can government securities regulators.
On Monday, the SEC handed down a civil suit against a group of defendants in Argentina and Uruguay, alleging trading on material non-public information and seeking the usual relief, including disgorgement of the ill-gotten gains.
The complaint, which you can read here (in a PDF) makes for some interesting reading. As I mentioned originally, you can't trade anything these days without leaving a paper trail a mile wide, and the SEC clearly has the details on dozens of funky-looking trades worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
What are the odds that a Merrill Lynch
Pretty much zero. No one in his right mind would gamble that kind of money on out-of-the-money options with such a small amount of time left before expiration -- unless he knew something.
Unfortunately for those of us who like a good page-turner, the SEC is, so far, short on the details of just how these people got insider information. That will likely be forthcoming. In the meantime, the SEC filed a restraining order to keep the ill-gotten moola from leaving the brokerages.
It's not unusual for complaints to evolve like this, as the case of the Adidas/Reebok insider trading showed. The original complaint referred only to the suspicious trading in out-of-the-money call options for an account held by a Croatian woman. It took a while for the SEC to lean on characters and come up with the entire tangled web, which allegedly involved employees from Goldman Sachs
If you like to see what crawls out from under a rock when it's turned over, keep an eye on this one. I suspect that there are a few more creepy crawlers yet to emerge.
Seth Jayson wonders whether insider traders ever make it onto those lists of the world's dumbest criminals. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any firm mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.