When Red Flags Are Not Enough

Purchase out of the money call options set to expire in two weeks, do not have any activity on that stock before, exclusively use options when you have rarely traded options in the account before, purchase those options just before the announcement of the company’s acquisition, and then quickly try to move the money off-shore.

Those red flags were enough for the Director of Compliance Operations at Interactive Brokers to put a hold on the account of Luis Martin Caro Sanchez. After reviewing the trades, the information was forwarded to the Securities and Exchange Commission for investigation. It reeked of insider trading, so the SEC obtained an immediate freeze on the account and charged Sanchez with insider trading.

Sanchez had bought several hundred of the risky Potash call options on August 12 and 13, 2010. A week later, the acquisition was announced causing a dramatic rise in the price of Potash stock. Sanchez managed to reap nearly $500,000 in profits at a handsome 1046% return. The actions seemed to be so blatant that I labeled it the perfect way to get caught insider trading. Of course one of the key elements of insider trading is having access to inside information.

Suspicious trades alone are not enough. In order for the SEC to win an insider trading case against a company outsider, the SEC must prove that an outsider made his trades based on material nonpublic information given to him by an insider. The SEC failed to find a connection.

Sanchez claimed he made became interested in Potash based on a technical signal “when he observed a crossover signal in the exponential moving average for the price of Potash stock.” He made the buy after

“there was a consolidation of the impulse of the cross of mediums, average, and that consolidation is known as pull-back, and consists of a slight drop in the price after a push for a higher price. And there was a hole that was filled – a gap that was produced during the increase – the previous increase.”

In fairness to Sanchez, he is from Spain and the interview was conducted without a certified, neutral translator. But to me, his explanation is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo spewing out to make the SEC think he is a trading expert.

As much as the SEC tried, they could not link Sanchez to an insider. They could not even link him to his co-defendant, Juan Jose Fernandez Garcia. Both Garcia and Sanchez lived in Madrid and both made suspicious trades on Potash stock using accounts at Interactive Brokers. That was the only connection.

Garcia also happened to work at Banco Santander, who was an adviser to BHP in connection with its purchase of Potash. Garcia quickly settled with the SEC and forfeited his $576,032.00 in trading profits.

Sanchez was willing to fight for his windfall and challenged the SEC to prove he had inside knowledge. The SEC failed and Sanchez gets to keep his cash.


Red Flags is Rutger van Waveren