Views on improving the integrity of global capital markets
12 April 2018

Ethics in Practice: Material and Nonpublic Info or Not? Case Analysis Now Included

CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making Framework

What was your assessment of the fund manager’s actions in this week’s case (9 April)? Check out the analysis below.

As an investment manager, it is important to determine whether you can act information you receive, but do you know what kind of questions to ask to be sure you do not misstep ethically?

Case

Robles, a fund manager, visits the main manufacturing plant of a large international cement company. During his visit, the management of the company discloses that the company has purchased additional land and resources at this location that can easily be put to use for low-cost expansion in the future. Management claims that the expansion would result in a capital cost per unit of production nearly 30% cheaper than industry norms. Management tells Robles “confidentially” that the company may consider expansion when the global economic climate improves sufficiently to boost demand for their product. Based on this information, Robles buys stock in the cement company for the fund he manages. Did Robles act unethically? Choose your response and join the conversation to explain your choice.

  1. Yes because Robles traded based on material nonpublic information.
  2. No because Robles did not trade on material nonpublic information

Analysis

CFA Institute Standard II(A): Material Nonpublic Information prohibits members who are in possession of material nonpublic information that could affect the value of an investment from acting on that information. Information is material if it would significantly alter the total mix of information currently available in such a way that the price of the security would be affected. The nature, specificity, exclusivity, and reliability of the source of the information helps determine materiality. Information is nonpublic until it has been disseminated or is available to the marketplace in general. There are three pieces of information that are described in the case that are relevant to Robles’s decision to trade: (1) the purchase of excess land and resources at the site of the company’s main plant, (2) the calculation that using this additional capacity would reduce the company’s production costs to less than industry norms, and (3) the company’s expansion plans. Are any of these three pieces of information material nonpublic information?

The first piece of information about acquiring additional production assets would likely be considered material. But it is not clear when the purchase occurred. Was it recent? Is the purchase in the public record? It is possible that the purchase is already publicly known, and the management’s disclosure to Robles is nothing new. It is also possible that the purchase just occurred or is imminent and has not been announced publicly, which would make the information nonpublic. The second piece of information about being to produce at much lower costs would be material information. But it is unclear whether this information is known only to the company. Certainly, confidential proprietary manufacturing cost calculations would be nonpublic, but astute analysts with knowledge of the industry may be able to easily make this type of evaluation. In that case, the information may not be confidential. Finally the third piece about the company’s expansion plans are very likely to affect the price of the company’s stock and would thus be material information. But again, the information is not specific enough. Management tells Robles that the company “may consider” expansion when the global economic conditions “improve sufficiently.” The possibility that the company “may consider” expanding is vague and ambiguous. When the economy “improves sufficiently” is also subjective and indefinite. Even if this information is disclosed “confidentially” only to Robles and is not publicly available, it is not clear that general plans about possible expansion at some unknown point in the future rises to the level of material information.

In sum, a portion of the information disclosed to Robles by company management has the potential to be material. It is unclear from the facts of the case that the information is nonpublic. An argument could be made either way. We would need more information to make a determination about whether Robles violated the prohibition against trading on material nonpublic information.

The facts for this case were submitted by Shreenivas Kunte, CFA Institute Director of Continuing Education and Advocacy, India, Asia-Pacific Region.

Have an idea for a case for us to feature? Send it to us at ethicscases@cfainstitute.org.


More About the Ethics in Practice Series

Just as you need to practice to become proficient at playing a musical instrument, public speaking, or playing a sport, practicing assessing and analyzing situations and making ethical decisions develops your ethical decision-making skills. The Ethics in Practice series gives you an opportunity to “exercise” your ethical decision-making skills. Each week, we post a short vignette, drawn from real-world circumstances, regulatory cases, and CFA Institute Professional Conduct investigations, along with possible responses/actions. We then encourage you to assess the case using the CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making Framework and through the lens of the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct. Then join the conversation and let us know which of the choices you believe is the right one and explain why. Later in the week, we will post an analysis of the case and you can see how your response compares.


Image Credit: ©CFA Institute

About the Author(s)
Jon Stokes

Jon Stokes is the Director of Ethics and Standards Education at CFA Institute. His responsibilities include design and creation of on-line ethics education, development and maintenance of the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct, and the design and management of the CFA Institute Ethical Decision-Making and Giving Voice to Values education programs. Stokes holds a JD degree.

2 thoughts on “Ethics in Practice: Material and Nonpublic Info or Not? Case Analysis Now Included”

  1. Yudhavee Chuenbunluesook says:

    Robles does not violate the standard regarding material nonpublic information. The information received from the management is not considered to be material information since the claim from management lacks of evidences to support that the expansion will enhance the shareholder’s value. It is based on only the anticipation of management which might ultimately appear to be wrong.

  2. Matteo Cassiani says:

    The first part of the information could be actually material but, lacking some more details in the text of the case, one should assume that it is already public (acquiring land should be registered with authorities). The improvement in costs should be generally assumed modelling the production expansion while the “confidential” information on when to scale up production is so vague that it is probably non-material, even if the source of the information is reliable (insiders of the company). Given the description of the case, I am inclined to choose answer B.

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