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Insider Trading High: Power, Not Money

Media coverage on the latest revelations concerning insider trading raises an interesting question. If you didn't mean to break the law, and if you didn't make a profit from the indiscretion, did you actually violate the trust of your stakeholders?

This is the challenge facing the interpretation of the actions of former Advanced Micro Devices (AMD - Get Report) Chairman and Chief Executive Hector Ruiz. According to The Wall Street Journal, Ruiz shared confidential information about the chipmaker to one of the defendants in the ongoing criminal case involving AMD and hedge fund Galleon Group.

It appears that this action served no purpose for Ruiz, and by all reports it may be that Ruiz is less lacking in integrity than lacking in judgment at the point where he shared information with Danielle Chiesi, a defendant in the case and a former New Castle hedge fund employee.

There is no question he should have known better. His tenure at Texas Instruments (TXN - Get Report) and Motorola (MOT), before joining AMD, was a time that reflected a man who worked hard and was well respected as a leader.

And, of course, the most puzzling thing of all comes back to the purpose of this alleged insider trading. Ruiz did not apparently do any sort of manipulation of his own equities in a way to benefit from the AMD spinoff and actually lost money with everybody else.

In a recent story on insider trading, Reuters reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission has investigated more than 800 cases of insider trading in the last 15 years. In this latest case involving Galleon and billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, executives at companies such as Intel (INTC - Get Report), Google (GOOG - Get Report) and Akamai Technologies (AKAM - Get Report) are also part of the investigation into information shared inappropriately.

It appears that in most cases, those who did the sharing did not benefit ultimately from the transaction. But when it comes to the rules of ethics and compliance, there is not much room to wiggle. If you are an executive in the company and you have material and private knowledge of a future action that can influence the financials of that company, you have to keep your mouth shut.
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