Articles Posted in Insider Trading

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The processes of setting and communicating prices are two of the most fundamental roles of a business. Price affects a business’s sales, revenue, investment returns, and ultimately profit. As a result, the term “price fixing” has a strong negative connotation, and deservedly so. Restrictions on price competition represent actual threats to the economy, and they carry the possibility of harsh penalties. However, the term sometimes may be misused in reference to pro-competitive, legal conduct, which actually may be beneficial for businesses and consumers.

In a recent decision, an administrative law judge dismissed three illegal price-fixing charges brought against McWane, Inc. by the Federal Trade Commission, but upheld four charges alleging that it illegally excluded competitors from the market.

The privately-owned McWane, Inc. is the nation’s largest manufacturer of iron pipe and other products used in water distribution and wastewater treatment. In January 2012, the FTC Complaint accused McWane of orchestrating a complex scheme in which it worked with competitors Star Pipe Products Limited and Sigma Corporation to raise and stabilize prices. The FTC also alleged that a trade group was created to assist in this illegal scheme by serving as a clearinghouse through which the companies could exchange pricing information.

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As a lawyer who has successfully defended many types of insider trading allegations by both the SEC and CFTC, I am often asked to explain what type of insider trading is prohibited by the CFTC within the commodities and futures markets?

I. General Overview and Background of CFTC
Generally, regulation of the U.S. financial markets is divided between the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), with authority over securities, and the Commodity and Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”), with authority over futures/derivatives. See Gary Rubin, CFTC Regulation 1.59 Fails to Adequately Regulate Insider Trading, Note, 53 N.Y.L. SCH. L. REV. 599, 606 (2008-09). The Commodity Exchange Act (“CEA”) of 1936 was the first major congressional initiative aimed at regulating derivatives. See Commodity Exchange Act of 1936, ch. 545, 49 Stat. 1491 (1936) (codified as amended at 7 U.S.C. § 1 (2006)); see also id. at 604. Generally, the CEA expanded upon prior acts by increasing the Secretary of Agriculture’s authority and making it “unlawful to engage in commodity brokering without first registering with the secretary.” Rubin, supra, 53 N.Y.L. SCH. L. REV. at 605 (citing CEA § 5, 49 Stat. at 1492-97).

The CFTC was established by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act (“CFTCA”) of 1974, which granted the CFTC the exclusive authority to regulate futures contracts. See 7 U.S.C. § 2(a)(2). The CFTC is a federal regulatory body that regulates the entire commodities futures industry. In its mission statement, the CFTC describes its main purposes as preventing fraud and promoting competition, stating, “[t]he CFTC’s mission is to protect market users and the public from fraud, manipulation, and abusive practices related to the sale of commodity and financial futures and options, and to foster open, competitive, and financially sound futures and option markets.” CFTC, About the CFTC, http://www.cftc.gov/About/MissionResponsibilities/index.htm.

Prior to the enactment of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank Act” or “the Act”), the CFTC was viewed as “a regulatory agency with a small bark and even less bite.” Peter J. Henning, C.F.T.C. Is Set to Get Tougher on Fraud, New York Times, Dealbook, available at http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/c-f-t-c-is-set-to-get-tougher-on-fraud/. However, with the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFTC has gained new authority to regulate derivatives, credit default swaps and the exchanges that will trade these contracts.
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