Think hedge funds are full of villains slyly plotting to take your money and bring the civilized world to its knees?
Think again. It was hedge funders who exposed the "brazen" plot against Disney (DIS) that the authorities revealed Wednesday, the SEC went out of its way to note.
That said, we probably shouldn't get carried away with the idea that the guys who turned these clowns in deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor. Brazen in this case is shorthand for "I can't believe they really thought this could work."
The Securities and Exchange Commission sued a Disney worker and her boyfriend for trying to sell details of the entertainment giant's second-quarter earnings to unscrupulous investors. The two hoped to reap tens of thousands of dollars by selling the company's results to traders ahead of the release of the news and then sharing in the trading profits.
The Disney employee, Bonnie Jean Hoxie, was identified by the Los Angeles Times as a secretary to high-powered Disney flack Zenia Mucha. Hoxie's boyfriend, Yonni Sebbag, wasn't employed by the company. Both were arrested by the FBI.
"Hoxie and Sebbag stole Disney's confidential pre-release earnings information and put it up for sale," said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC's enforcement unit. "Fortunately, multiple hedge funds reported the illicit scheme, and the SEC and criminal law enforcement authorities acted quickly to stop this brazen attempt to establish an ongoing insider trading business."
The agency's acknowledgment that hedge funds supplied the information that brought down the scheme "is pretty unusual," said Bruce Carton, a former senior counsel at the SEC's enforcement division who now edits the Securities Docket securities law newsletter. "I can't remember anything quite like it."
If the episode means a bit of good press for hedge funds, it comes at a convenient time. Ever since the financial markets started melting down three years ago, CEOs and policymakers alike have questioned the role of shifty hedge fund types in supposedly orchestrating runs on big financial firms and, later, troubled nations such as Greece. It can't hurt the hedgies to be seen as helpful at a time when Congress is talking crackdown.
Yet as thankful as we may all be for the acts of law-abiding traders, Carton cautions that we shouldn't get carried away. The scheme Hoxie and Sebbag were allegedly trying to pull off, he says, wasn't among the most sophisticated operations ever seen on Wall Street.
Sebbag, for instance, made the following remark in an email to a hedge fund, according to the SEC complaint.
"I dont think we will get caught if we stay discret [sic] and careful. You can count on my discretion as i am counting on yours…. In regards to the earning reports, i will email it to you as soon as i have it and we'll make arrangements for the payment via wire transfer once you have it."
If this approach doesn't strike you as the ultimate in discretion, you're not alone.
"I think the hedge funds quickly realized they were dealing with an idiot," Carton said. "Even a dishonest person would realize the cost-benefit analysis on a deal like this was not very good."