The Securities Exchange Commission has been ramping up efforts over the last several years. In 2006, there were only 574 total enforcement actions, but by 2014, there were 755 cases, in which they up wound collecting an agency record of $4.1 billion.
Now, the SEC has set its sights on activist investors, although the hedge fund industry doesn’t appear to be too concerned about a debilitating clampdown.
The agency is investigating whether some activist investors illegally allied to target companies without properly disclosing their partnership, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
Although money managers are allowed to discuss trade ideas before they invest, they have to disclose that their participation with each other if their combined stake in a stock is more than 5%. Group disclosures also become necessary when an investor files a proxy statement in an attempt to change something at a company through a shareholder vote.
“When a company is underperforming, it makes sense multiple activists will be involved,” one unnamed manager told CNBC.com.
However, multiple hedge funds being in the same stock doesn’t always mean coordination.
“It doesn’t concern me,” an activist hedge fund client told CNBC.com, noting that coordination was an uncommon strategy, and that any group affected was going to be small. “It won’t affect their ability to operate.”
According to industry lawyers, hedge fund managers probably won’t have to tell their clients about any initial government letter requesting information, as they’re only likely to tell clients about inquiries if it’s material to their business. An SEC investigation is only a civil matter. Something like a Department of Justice criminal probe is far more serious.
“It’s not scary,” another activist manager told CNBC.com of the SEC investigation. “I wish they would spend their time on more useful things.”