Goldman Busted For "Asymmetric Service Initiative" Aka Leaking Inside Information To Whales

Tyler Durden's picture


Back in August 2009 we asked a very simple question: "Is Goldman's Selective Trading Disclosure A Legal Way For Preferred Clients To Front Run The Market?" Today, nearly three years later, the SEC answers our question. The answer - a resounding yes.

As a reminder, "Zero Hedge has long been discussing the impact of selective informational disclosure, be it in the context of trading or research asymmetries, which promote a two-tiered market, where privileged accounts of major broker dealers receive "tips" ahead of "everyone else." The quid's pro quo is that these "privileged" few end up executing the bulk of their trades with the broker-dealer, thus ramping up riskless agency revenues. In essence the clients' capital risk is mitigated, while the return to the "perpetrator" is augmented by collecting a disproportionate share of the bid/offer spread in the given security. Whether this tiering mechanism occurs via Flash orders, SLP provisioning, actionable IOIs, advance selective notice of a large flow order, a phone call, a limited Bloomberg blast, or an Instant Message, the ethics of the practice are undoubtedly shady, and potentially borderline criminal. But no one is the wiser, as both sender and receiver of information know to keep their mouth shut. Until today, when the WSJ blows one aspect of this practice out of the water, by focusing on Goldman's selective informational disclosure to preferred clients, and is likely to create much more headache for Goldman's PR department and its staunchest CNBC-based prosecutor-turned-supporter and soon to be Sellout author." 

The penalty? A whopping $22 million, better known as the firm's YTD tab at Hustler Club, or between 0.1% and 0.2% of the total benefit the firm reaped by perpetuating this illegal practice for years. But just you wait: the retail investor will come storming into stocks knowing full well fair and equitable punishment has been dispensed and the now, finally, the market is no longer two tiered, where the retail investor is always and only the patsy, and everything is again fair.

Key selections from the SEC charge:

during weekly “huddles,” the firm’s analysts could share material, nonpublic information about upcoming research changes. Huddles were a practice where Goldman’s stock research analysts met to provide their best trading ideas to firm traders and later passed them on to a select group of top clients…The SEC in an administrative proceeding found that from 2006 to 2011, Goldman held weekly huddles sometimes attended by sales personnel in which analysts discussed their top short-term trading ideas and traders discussed their views on the markets. In 2007, Goldman began a program known as the Asymmetric Service Initiative (ASI) in which analysts shared information and trading ideas from the huddles with select clients.”

And there you have it: want to engage in an illegal trading scheme for years? Just come up with a cool sounding name. Asymmetric Service Initiative is just purrrfect.

Full SEC charge (and order pdf link):

SEC Charges Goldman, Sachs & Co. Lacked Adequate Policies and Procedures for Research “Huddles”

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged that Goldman, Sachs & Co. lacked adequate policies and procedures to address the risk that during weekly “huddles,” the firm’s analysts could share material, nonpublic information about upcoming research changes. Huddles were a practice where Goldman’s stock research analysts met to provide their best trading ideas to firm traders and later passed them on to a select group of top clients.

Goldman agreed to settle the charges and will pay a $22 million penalty. Goldman also agreed to be censured, to be subject to a cease-and-desist order, and to review and revise its written policies and procedures to correct the deficiencies identified by the SEC. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) also announced today a settlement with Goldman for supervisory and other failures related to the huddles.

“Higher-risk trading and business strategies require higher-order controls,” said Robert S. Khuzami, Director of the Commission’s Division of Enforcement. “Despite being on notice from the SEC about the importance of such controls, Goldman failed to implement policies and procedures that adequately controlled the risk that research analysts could preview upcoming ratings changes with select traders and clients.”

The SEC in an administrative proceeding found that from 2006 to 2011, Goldman held weekly huddles sometimes attended by sales personnel in which analysts discussed their top short-term trading ideas and traders discussed their views on the markets. In 2007, Goldman began a program known as the Asymmetric Service Initiative (ASI) in which analysts shared information and trading ideas from the huddles with select clients.

According to the SEC’s order, the programs created a serious risk that Goldman’s analysts could share material, nonpublic information about upcoming changes to their published research with ASI clients and the firm’s traders. The SEC found these risks were increased by the fact that many of the clients and traders engaged in frequent, high-volume trading. Despite those risks, Goldman failed to establish adequate policies or adequately enforce and maintain its existing policies to prevent the misuse of material, nonpublic information about upcoming changes to its research. Goldman’s surveillance of trading ahead of research changes — both in connection with huddles and otherwise — was deficient.

“Firms must understand that they cannot develop new programs and services without evaluating their policies and procedures,” said Antonia Chion, Associate Director in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

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Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:28 | 2338381 GeneMarchbanks
GeneMarchbanks's picture

Is this bad?

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:38 | 2338429 Al Huxley
Al Huxley's picture

Only for muppets, not for real people though.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:27 | 2338578 Precious
Precious's picture

Of course the "justice" department will never shut down this crime syndicate under RICO, because the fairies at DOJ are owned by Goldman (every night).

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:28 | 2338589 Carl Spackler
Carl Spackler's picture

Greg Smith blew the right whistle.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 16:42 | 2339322 BarberKen19
BarberKen19's picture

my neighbor's mom makes $82 hourly on the computer. She has been out of a job for ten months but last month her pay check was $14998 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this web site and click Home .....  WWW.LAZYCASH.COM

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:34 | 2338386 hedgeless_horseman
hedgeless_horseman's picture



What about the ISM?  Don't they release reports early for select clients?  Is this any different?

According to Joseph E. Stiglitz, former chairman of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors, "The ISM Manufacturing Report On Business® has one of the shortest reporting lags of any macro-economic series and gives an important early look at the economy. It also measures some concepts (such as lead times and delivery lags) that can be found nowhere else. It makes an important contribution to the American statistical system and to economic policy."

Sun, 04/15/2012 - 07:07 | 2346284 oogs66
oogs66's picture

Yes. Think of it as independent research and not a government release

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:31 | 2338389 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

And the punishment for this bad behavior will be...

Wait a minute, your representatives change the laws so that it isn't actullay illegal anymore.  Nevermind.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:40 | 2338441 AlaricBalth
AlaricBalth's picture

Have checkbook. Will settle.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:36 | 2338625 NotApplicable
NotApplicable's picture

Submit voucher to Benron. Receive instant reimbursement.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:33 | 2338402 q99x2
q99x2's picture

Death Penalty Bitchez

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:34 | 2338409 seabiscuit
seabiscuit's picture

Squid pro quo.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:35 | 2338412 AndrewCostello
AndrewCostello's picture

They get away with anything and everything, because the reality is "The Elite" are the defacto rulers of the world.  Break free, read this book and stop being a slave:

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:54 | 2338476 DogSlime
DogSlime's picture

Surely you mean "buy my book"?

If you're really trying to promote freedom from "The Elite", why not publish your work online for all to read and include a "donate" button?


Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:05 | 2338508 Schmuck Raker
Schmuck Raker's picture

I has hoping for a free investment seminar at my local Marriott.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:38 | 2338632 NotApplicable
NotApplicable's picture

Woo Hoo, bagels!

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:29 | 2338601 Precious
Precious's picture

C'mon.  It has 4 reviews.  What more do you want?

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:39 | 2338431 LongSoupLine
LongSoupLine's picture


Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:40 | 2338437 WhOracle
WhOracle's picture

22M... seriously...

Enough with freaking settlements , prosecution to the full extent of the law for everyone.


Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:47 | 2338458 SheepDog-One
SheepDog-One's picture

That would be like fining me $5 for being caught stealing millions in bank robberies...people should be hanging these assholes.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:59 | 2338490 Sabibaby
Sabibaby's picture

They need to be slapped on the wrist with the sharp side of a butcher knife.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:47 | 2338461 AcidRastaHead
AcidRastaHead's picture

Meh, the government has it's own asymetrical justice initiative.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:37 | 2338626 Carl Spackler
Carl Spackler's picture

"22M... seriously...

Enough with freaking settlements , prosecution to the full extent of the law for everyone."

Hey, I agree with your sentiment.

The issue is probably that the SEC does not have enough tangible evidence to impose greater penalties, so they had to go with the wrist slap. 

There are probably few, if any, written documents coming out of these huddles, whereas the SEC bureaucrats could readily trace names and dates/times directly back to trades executed and agenda items at these "huddles."

In these "huddles," the trading plays were probably drawn up in the dirt, and then the QB erased the plays by kicking more dirt over the Xs and Os just before they went back to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball. Consequently, the SEC hears about this but has a tough time proving the extent of it.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:44 | 2338452 Cdad
Cdad's picture

The fact that M. Schaprio still has a job should tell you most of what you need to know...per "punishing" the criminal syndicate known as Wall Street.  Talk about an entity that needs to get the firehouse treatment...good grief.  End the SEC!

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:46 | 2338459 Bartanist
Bartanist's picture

Hey, has she been give a raise from her $8 million annual bribe, err I mean salary?

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:33 | 2338533 GoinFawr
GoinFawr's picture

I'm confused: your answer to a garbageperson not picking up the trash is to do away with garbagepeople altogether?

I think that I have a better suggestion: replace her with Bill Black. (First get him a shave and a decent suit so he doesn't look so much like James Adams or the reincarnation of Wiebo Ludwig, natch.)

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:41 | 2338643 NotApplicable
NotApplicable's picture

No, he wants to get rid of the litterers disguised as garbagepeople.

Garbagepeople, you see, are a fiction, as they're nothing more than the wolves guarding the hen-house.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 14:06 | 2338705 GoinFawr
GoinFawr's picture

"No, he wants to get rid of the litterers disguised as garbagepeople."... and replace them with what exactly? Dead air? That'll sure show 'em! Throwing out the baby with the bathwater isn't a solution.

Bill Black has over one thousand non-fictional convictions under his belt, so I have to ask: what is your real problem with my suggestion?

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 14:06 | 2338725 GeneMarchbanks
GeneMarchbanks's picture

Um, it's pragmatic not idealogical for starters. Also, government can't to anything right you blockhead. There are a multitude of reasons...

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 14:21 | 2338786 GoinFawr
GoinFawr's picture

How is replacing inadequate and/or corrupted civil oversight with absolutely no civil oversight 'pragmatic' when other functional options exist?

I offered a candidate with proven track record of being effective, IE 'doing something right', which directly contradicts your sweeping generalisation on a multitude of levels, you bird splatter.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 14:49 | 2338874 GeneMarchbanks
GeneMarchbanks's picture

You misunderstood, William would do fine work but doesn't really fit with the libertarian point of view therefore he is to be ignored. I was 'mocking' your suggestion as pragmatic and outside of lib ideology.

Now that I had to explain, is it doubly funny?

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 16:11 | 2339005 GoinFawr
GoinFawr's picture

Wow did I ever, and it is. I should have known that was too easy; and when combined with that 'whooshing' in my ears...colour me chagrined.

Hey! Who's downticking me for owning up? Well screw you and the horse's phallus you rode in on, testicle breath.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:35 | 2338620 mendigo
mendigo's picture

I agree.
SEC is only straight man in big scam.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:52 | 2338657 GoinFawr
GoinFawr's picture

Three cheers for 'Libertarians for the Further Deregulation of the Banks'!

Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 11:53 | 2341854 Ura Bonehead
Ura Bonehead's picture

End the SEC!

Start with ending FINRA.  THEN we can talk about changes at the SEC.  FINRA - Ms. Schaprio's former stomping grounds, where she personally earned MILLIONS - has two directives and they are: (i) put small firms out of business (the class of firm that tends to give a shit about the customer - small firms have been under-represented on FINRA's boards for YEARS); AND, (ii) collect fees/fines.  That's it.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:46 | 2338456 Bartanist
Bartanist's picture

Gee ... in another 3 years they will tell us that 90+% of the volume is conputers just manipulating the price.

And in another 3 years they will tell us that ETFs and CDOs are bucket shop bets.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:42 | 2338647 NotApplicable
NotApplicable's picture

"Conputers." Nice.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:51 | 2338470 lizzy36
lizzy36's picture

$22M is a mere cost of doing business. Basically a rounding error.

Not sure why the SEC even bothered, except to continue some stupid PR program, that demonstrates "perception" of regulation matters more than actual regulation. 

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 16:18 | 2339238 mendigo
mendigo's picture

I suspect they had to seek permission to dis thier masters even to this extent. Would not want to jeopardize a job opportunity in this economy and limited openings in the porn industry.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:53 | 2338472 mammoth mo
mammoth mo's picture

Can I sign up to be fined 1% for making a fortune?

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:55 | 2338483 onlooker
onlooker's picture


Where or where is the outrage, the cry for justice, the demands for equality, the Senate hearings making broad coverage main stream news, and the President’s declaration of war on the thieves of America’s economic stability.


More 22 billions and not only would the Million $ Tax but help the economy yep, the 22 billion from the .000001 percent could also help out.


Where is the President when we need him---- oh yes, he is getting the boys to attack the opposition candidates wife in the upcoming election for never having worked. Much safer than the President attacking a major money .000001 percenter criminal threat to America. Brave, courage, honest may be words in question.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 15:38 | 2339076 WTFx10
WTFx10's picture

Fukin A

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 12:56 | 2338487 GeezerGeek
GeezerGeek's picture

I am soooo glad to hear that Congress wasn't the only group of people legally benefitting from inside information.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 17:12 | 2339435 Excursionist
Excursionist's picture

<sigh>  Trading based on inside information is not particularly isolated to a handful of 'bad apple' instances these days..  Another easy example that will never be prosecuted:  frontrunning today's PC shipment report from Gartner, likely leaked via the same 'huddle' concept as Goldman's.  If interested, plot HPQ vs. SPX between April 10 and April 12, and be sure to pay attention to volume.  And so, and so forth..

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 14:01 | 2338509 Mercury
Mercury's picture

All that's happened here (this plus last week's STOCK act) is that the political class has announced that the non-public info business is reserved for themselves and themselves only. Firms like Goldman have other jobs to do, God's work even...but not this.

 Do you think Ted Kennedy's son is a legal/medical genius or do you think hedge funds and pension plans pay his "consultancy" firm millions of dollars because he can -legally- (still!) selectively disclose healthcare related inside information?

 how the STOCK act was written:

The final version also left out a provision that would have required those employed in the burgeoning "political intelligence" industry to register with Congress in the same way that lobbyists do. In the political intelligence industry, people with access to insider information sell their knowledge of political developments to Wall Street investors, who then use it to make investment decisions.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:10 | 2338523 Downtoolong
Downtoolong's picture

There’s another dimension to all this which often get’s overlooked. If an inside client is hesitant or reluctant to participate, thus limiting the volume Goldman want’s to generate on the scam, Goldman is big enough and diverse enough to punish them for not towing the line. You’re either with them, or your against them, and it costs you to be against them. It’s not just driven by incentives. It’s absolute power to make it happen.

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:11 | 2338527 pashley1411
pashley1411's picture

I was waiting for the Goldman "but our advice has no discernable value" defense.  

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:15 | 2338539 Normalcy Bias
Normalcy Bias's picture

Wasn't this just assumed? How is this news, again?

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:24 | 2338550 web bot
web bot's picture

I don't even want to comment on this, but I need to.

In America, there exists the separation of church and state... a sensible idea... but when you have religion (aka morals) removed from the public square... you get this. Sure crooks and illegal activity has always existed... but today, if you are smart enough to get away with something illegal, it's extolled as a virtue... a virtue where one gets a slap on the hand, or some jail time in a cushy prision for white collar criminals. There is not sense of accountability. It`s a function of the rot in our Western Godless society.

Something is seriously, seriously, seriously wrong with the system and it needs fixing. Just how many QE$s are being used to drive profits at these major financial firms

, where lack of lending has been holding back economic growth?

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:25 | 2338572 bankrun
bankrun's picture

Morals do exist independently or religion you know? Organized religion is equally good at perverting them...

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