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Insiders sniff around even as watchdog strains at the leash

Calcutta, July 6: The chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), G. . Bajpai, says securities market regulator will penalise heavily, companies that are found guilty of ‘selective disclosure’ — or passing price-sensitive information to a chosen few.

Frowning on government officials for making irresponsible statements (on sale of state-run firms) to the media, Bajpai said Sebi will not spare even public sector companies if they were found to have committed the sin of sharing price-sensitive news with a few.

But even as Sebi seeks to set stringent standards on sharing of price-sensitive information, players in the securities market continue to outsmart the regulator. Big operators and broker syndicates got a whiff of at least three major corporate announcements in the recent past.

The sharp rise in the share price of these companies immediately before the announcement testifies to this. The cases under the glare are the announcement of a bonus issue by Indian Oil Corporation and I-flex Solutions, and Lupin’s deal with CVC International.

Indian Oil declared its 1:2 bonus issue on June 6. In the run-up to the announcement, the company’s stock gained more than 50 per cent in a month. The management says there was nothing unusual about the rally, as shares of all public sector oil companies had soared at that time.

I-flex Solutions declared on June 24 that its board of directors would meet in a week to consider a bonus issue. The stock shot up Rs 126 in a month to the announcement. In percentage terms, the rise was over 15 per cent and, hence, insignificant compared with Indian Oil’s.

Lupin’s deal with CVC International for sale of 12.5 per cent of the company’s shares was announced on July 3. The market knew that the company was in talks with potential investors, and that was even reported in a section of the media. Though the management kept sending out denials, brokers were confident.

Lupin started buzzing on bourses from April 1, and has since witnessed a steady increase. Between April 1 and July 4, the stock gained a whopping 135 per cent or Rs 175. Over the last one month, the rise was even more significant — 84 per cent, and Rs 140 in absolute terms.

Though the rally preceding Asian Paints’ announcement of a bonus issue was modest compared with the other stocks, some analysts say the share showed unusual strength in the run-up to the official declaration.

What is significant about these movements is the fact that the price of these stocks rose sharply and steadily. In most cases, the spurt is accompanied by a remarkable in increase in transaction volumes — the number of shares that change hands in a trading session.

Indian capital markets have a long and shadowy history of the broker-management nexus. Insider trading is not unheard of even in developed markets. But in India, far too many people and institutions have been singed by the shenanigans than in developed markets like the US.

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