Undisclosed SEC Investigations
Management Science, Forthcoming
42 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2020 Last revised: 12 Aug 2020
Date Written: April 25, 2020
One of the hallmarks of the SEC’s investigative process is that it is shrouded in secrecy––only the SEC staff, high-level managers of the company being investigated, and outside counsel are typically aware of active investigations. We obtain novel data on all investigations closed by the SEC between 2000 and 2017––data that was heretofore non-public––and find that such investigations predict economically material declines in future firm performance. Despite evidence that the vast majority of these investigations are economically material, firms are not required to disclose them, and only 19% of investigations are initially disclosed. We examine whether corporate insiders exploit the undisclosed nature of these investigations for personal gain. Despite the undisclosed and economically material nature of these investigations, we find that insiders are not abstaining from trading. In particular, we find a pronounced spike in insider selling among undisclosed investigations with the most severe negative outcomes; and that abnormal selling activity appears highly opportunistic and earns significant abnormal returns. Our results suggest that SEC investigations are often undisclosed, economically material non-public events and that insiders are trading in conjunction with these events.
Keywords: SEC investigations, private information, managerial opportunism, insider trading, accounting fraud
JEL Classification: G34, G38, J38, K14, K15, K22, M41, M48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation