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Insider Trading

The Insider Trading Scandal - What did Martha Do?


Martha Stewart has been in the news for several months because the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission believes that Martha Stewart was told by her friend Sam Waksal that his company ImClone’s cancer drug had been rejected by the Food and Drug Administration before this information was made public. This rejection was a huge blow to his company and the price of its stock went down dramatically. However, Martha Stewart wasn’t financially hurt because she had her broker sell her 4000 shares before this news was made public. If this is true, and it should be noted it hasn’t been proven yet, then Martha Stewart is guilty of insider trading.

What Is Insider Trading?

When most people hear the term “insider trading” they think of the illegal version. However, the term “insider trading” can also mean the perfectly legal buying and selling of stock by a company’s corporate insiders. Insider trading is legal when these corporate insiders trade stock of their own company and report these trades to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). That way the insider trading is not kept a secret and anyone can find out a corporate insider’s opinion of his or her company.

Insider trading is only illegal when a person bases their trade of stocks in a public company on information that the public does not know. It is illegal to trade your own stock in a company based on this information but it is also illegal to give someone that information, a tip, so they can trade their stock.

Why Is Insider Trading Illegal?

The SEC’s job is to make sure that all investors are making decisions based on the same information. Insider trading can be illegal because it destroys this level playing field.

Punishments and Rewards Associated With Insider Trading

According to the SEC website there are almost 500 civil enforcement actions each year against individuals and companies that break securities laws. Insider trading is one of the most common laws broken. The punishment for illegal insider trading depends on the situation. The person can be fined, banned from sitting on the executive or board of directors of a public company and even jailed.

The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 in the United States allows the Securities and Exchange Commission to give a person a reward “a bounty” to someone who gives the Commission information that results in a fine of insider trading.

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