Ray Dirks, Kevin Chang and other stuff

a $30 million fine

According to the Wall Street JournalCiti technology analyst Kevin Chang was fired last month.  Citi was fined $30 million by state regulators in Massachusetts for his leaking the contents of a research report to influential clients the day before it was published.  Other investigations are ongoing.

What happened?

The Journal, whose account appears to be taken from the Massachusetts consent order, says Mr. Chang found out from an Apple component supplier, Hon Hai Precision, that Apple had cut back orders–meaning, presumably, that sales of iPhones were running considerably below expectations. Chang wrote up his findings in a report that he submitted to Citi’s compliance/legal departments for review.

While his report was being processed, Chang was contacted by at least one hedge fund, SAC, which was looking for corroboration of similar conclusions drawn in an already released research report by Australian broker Macquarie.  Chang promptly emailed the guts of his report to four clients, SAC, T Rowe Price, Citadel and GLG.

The legal issue?   …selective disclosure of the research conclusions.

not the first time:  the Ray Dirks/Equity Funding case

Mr. Dirks was a famous sell-side insurance analyst back in the early 1970s.  In researching Equity Funding, a then-high flying stock, he discovered that the company’s apparently stellar growth was a fiction.  The firm had a bunch of employees whose job was to churn out phony insurance applications for made-up people, which EF then processed and showed “profits” for, just as if they were real.

When he found the fraud out, Dirks immediately called all his important clients and told them.  They sold.  Only then did Dirks inform the SEC.

Rather than being grateful for his news, the SEC found Dirks guilty of trading on inside information and barred him from the securities industry–a verdict that was reversed years later by the Supreme Court.

two observations

1.  Why put important clients first, even at the risk of career-ending regulatory action?  After all, many sell-side analysts take home multi-million dollar paychecks.

Their actions show who the analysts perceive their real employers are.  Ultimately, they collect the big bucks because powerful clients continue to send large amounts of trading commissions to pay for access to their research.  If that commission flow begins to shrink, so too does the size of the analyst’s pay.

Also, an analyst’s ability to move to another firm rests in large measure on whether these same clients will vouch for him–and will increase their commission business with the new employer.

2.  What happens to people like Dirks and Chang?

Dirks was eventually exonerated.  While he was appealing the SEC judgment, his thoughts on insurance companies continued to be circulated in the investment community.  Only they appeared under the byline of a rookie apprentice to Dirks–Jim Chanos.

Dirks eventually established his own research firm.  Interestingly, when I Googled him this morning, I found that the top search results were all basically rehashes of the favorable information put out by Ray Dirks Research itself.  No one remembers the real story.

Chang?  I don’t know.  He lives in Taiwan, where I suspect he will catch on with a local brokerage firm or investment manager.  As far as Americans are concerned, disgraced analysts or portfolio managers tend to end up in the media.  For example, Henry Blodget, who wrote all those laudatory “research” reports for Merrill touting internet stocks he actually believed were clunkers, now works for Yahoo Finance.  You can watch similar characters every day on finance TV.  Crooked, maybe.  But they’re articulate and look presentable.  And that’s all that matters.



One response

  1. For the retail client, meaning the clients of Ameritrade, E*Trade, etc., the research they see is rather stilted. At least with the micro-cap research groups, everyone has a healthy skepticism which evens out their exuberance on stocks.

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