The demise of IndyMac, coming on the heels of Bear Stearns' desperate sale to JPMorgan Chase, is a sure sign of the fragility of today's markets. What's needed now, more than ever, is reliable information for investors and confidence that trading can be conducted without the illegal influence of manipulation.
Because financial institutions depend on confidence, they are uniquely vulnerable in the current climate. A "run on the bank" can take hold quickly, and can be fatal. But stampedes are not always rational.
When an irrational panic is fueled by a sense of urgency, false rumors that must be acted on immediately and the fear that everyone else may get out first, market integrity is threatened. It is the job of market cops to provide a measure of confidence that financial information about public companies is accurate and reliable — and when it is not, to punish those responsible.
Who profits from intentionally false information in the marketplace? Those who are in on the scam and positioned to benefit from the predictable response of others who believe the fraudulent information to be true.
The classic "pump and dump" scheme, in which a stock is inflated through false information and then dumped on unsuspecting investors when the perpetrators flee, is one example of how this works. "Distort and short" is the same thing in reverse.
Naked short selling can turbocharge these "distort and short" schemes. In a naked short, the usual process of short selling is circumvented, because the seller doesn't actually borrow the stock and simply fails to deliver it. For this reason, naked shorting can occur even when actual shares aren't available in the market. It allows manipulators to force prices down without regard to supply and demand.
The SEC is committed to maintaining orderly securities markets. The abusive practice of naked short selling is far different from ordinary short selling, which is a healthy and necessary part of a free market. Our agency’s rules are highly supportive of short selling, which can help quickly transmit price signals in response to negative information or prospects for a company. Short selling helps prevent “irrational exuberance” and bubbles. But when someone fails to borrow and deliver the securities needed to make good on a short position, after failing even to determine that they can be borrowed, that is not contributing to an orderly market — it is undermining it. And in the context of a potential “distort and short” campaign aimed at an otherwise sound financial institution, this kind of manipulative activity can have drastic consequences.
— Speech by SEC chairman[
Naked Short Sales
In a "naked" short sale, the seller does not borrow or arrange to borrow the securities in time to make delivery to the buyer within the standard three-day settlement period. As a result, the seller fails to deliver securities to the buyer when delivery is due; this is known as a "failure to deliver" or "fail."
For further information on short selling, naked short selling, and threshold securities, please see the Division of Trading and Markets' Key Points About Regulation SHO. Additional information relating to the SEC's activities relating to short selling can be found in the SEC Spotlight on Short Sales.