With the rapid innovation of technology penetrating our lives comes the need for increased regulation on the industries that are being impacted, and the stock market is no different. In the late nineties, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved the use of an electronic stock exchange system and by 1998, they authorized the use of High- Frequency Trading (HFT). HFT is a method of electronic stock trading where the trader uses high powered technology to complete automated trading at a large volume and speed. Because these trades are not made by people, but instead computers, they can be executed within millionths of a second. As the speed that HFTs have allowed for stocks to be traded at has decreased over time, their popularity has increased. By 2012, it was estimated that HFT accounted for almost 50 percent of all U.S. equity trades. Their popularity is contributed to HFT’s ability to allow traders to ensure they have the most up to date information on the market and ensure that they get the lowest price. This gives traders the power to buy and sell at high speeds, increasing liquidity in the market.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has shaken the world economy, not the least of which the financial industry. As the financial industry has adapted to work-from-home life under the coronavirus pandemic, industry regulators such as the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) have been forced to adapt rules to changing circumstances and shift their enforcement priorities to pandemic related fraud.
At the end of January, the Federal Reserve Board, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “Agencies”) approved a notice of proposed rulemaking (“Proposed Rule”) to amend the “covered fund” provisions of section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act, also known as the “Volcker Rule” (the “Rule”). The Volcker Rule is a regulation that generally prohibits banks from certain investment activities with their own accounts and limits their dealings with private equity and hedge funds, also known as “covered funds.”
This October, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed an emergency action and obtained a temporary restraining order in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against two offshore entities, Telegram Group Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, TON Issuer Inc. The SEC’s complaint asserted that the two offshore entities were conducting an unregistered offering of securities in the form of digital tokens in the United States and overseas, raising $1.7 billion to finance the businesses, including the development of its own blockchain the “Telegram Open Network” or “TON Blockchain.”
The Supreme Court has granted certiorari to consider whether the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has the authority to obtain disgorgement in district court actions. Disgorgement is the repayment of “ill-gotten gains” imposed as a court sanction to recover funds that were received through illegal or unethical business transactions. These recovered or disgorged funds are paid back with interest to those who the practice affected. Each year, the SEC obtains billions of dollars in disgorgement, so an adverse ruling by the Supreme Court could eliminate one of the SEC’s most important remedies for securities violations. In 2018, for example, the agency returned $794 million to harmed investors.
Although the nation’s longest-ever government shutdown has ended, agencies forced to furlough employees and shutter temporarily are still facing the effects of the funding gap. On January 25th, President Trump agreed to sign a continuing resolution that will reopen and fund the federal government through February 15th. The government reboot means that the roughly 800,000 federal employees furloughed or forced to work without pay should expect to receive their back pay soon, but the thirty-five-day suspension of government functions comes with significant aftershock. While various regulatory agencies scramble to address their backlog of work, life for Americans who interact with these agencies has been hindered indefinitely.
Both the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Labor (DOL) are pushing ahead with fiduciary standards for investment advisers despite the 5th Circuit striking down the DOL’s previous fiduciary rule earlier this year.
In the age of digitization, data seems less secure than ever. Public companies constantly attempt to safeguard both personal and financial data, yet their efforts fail due to new outbreaks of malicious encryption viruses and persistent email phishing attempts. Data breaches and cyber fraud carry severe financial implications for public companies who fall victim to these types of attacks. But a new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report says that public companies that are easy targets of cyber scams could also be in violation of federal securities laws and accounting regulations that call for firms to safeguard their assets. Although the SEC has issued its warning to public companies about the compliance and financial risks posed by cyber fraud, many companies are still struggling to implement effective protections against newly-evolved forms of cyber-attacks.
On September 11, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced two enforcement actions relating to failures to register by market intermediaries in connection with digital asset activities. Despite earlier suggestions that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) might be the primary self-regulatory organization (SRO) regulating this market, the main takeaway from these cases is that market intermediaries dealing in digital assets may also have registration and customer protection liabilities, and the failure to observe them can result in serious penalties.
On September 27, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint, alleging Tesla CEO and Chairman, Elon Musk, committed stock market fraud by misleading investors. The matter was resolved through settlement and later approved by a judge. It is hoped that the settlement will prevent Tesla and Musk from causing future market disruption and harm to shareholders.