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U.S. SEC to tighten insider trading rules, boost money market fund resilience

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Wednesday proposed tightening a legal safe-harbor that allows corporate insiders to trade in a company’s shares, and other rules to improve the resilience of money market funds.

The agency also unveiled measures to increase transparency around share buybacks and the complex derivatives at the center of New York-based Archegos Capital Management’s meltdown earlier this year.

The slew of long-awaited changes mark a milestone for SEC Chair Gary Gensler who has outlined an ambitious agenda to crack down on corporate wrongdoing, improve corporate governance and address inequities in the markets.

The changes, which are subject to public consultation, will affect a swathe of corporate America, from publicly traded companies and their top executives, to banking groups and asset managers including BlackRock, Vanguard, Fidelity and Goldman Sachs.

The proposed tightening of “10b5-1” corporate trading plans in particular was pushed by progressives who have long criticized the rules, saying they allow insiders to game the system and reap windfalls at the expense of ordinary investors.

The plans allow insiders to trade in a company’s stock on a pre-determined date, providing legal protection against potential allegations of insider trading. Critics say it is far too easy to adopt, amend or cancel trades with little scrutiny.

Wednesday’s proposal requires executives to disclose those plans and any modifications. For executives, the SEC also wants a “cooling-off” period of 120 days between the adoption of a plan and the first trade. For companies trading in their own securities, the cooling-off period would be 30 days.

The proposal would also bar insiders from having several overlapping plans, which Gensler said could allow them to cherry-pick favorable plans as they please.

While critics have long said the plans are flawed, trades by executives at Pfizer and Moderna during the COVID-19 vaccine development process renewed scrutiny of such plans and highlighted transparency issues, said Daniel Taylor a professor with expertise on issues related to financial disclosures at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“There is mounting evidence that these plans are, at best, being used in a manner in which they were not intended, and at worst, being abused to enrich corporate insiders,” Taylor said.

The SEC also said it wants companies to disclose share buybacks one business day after execution, in contrast to the current quarterly disclosure rule.

Investor groups welcomed the changes.

“Cleaning up practices that can be a pathway for abusive trades will help restore trust in our markets,” said Amy Borrus, head of the Council for Institutional Investors.

The SEC also detailed changes to address systemic risks in the $5 trillion U.S. money market fund sector, which was bailed out for a second time during the 2020 pandemic-induced turmoil.

Critics say the sector enjoys an implicit government guarantee.

SEC proposed new liquidity requirements, scrapping redemption fees and restrictions, and adjusting funds’ value in line with dealing activity, a process known as “swing pricing.”

While the funds industry has conceded changes are necessary, corporate groups may oppose some of the trading disclosures.

“Some of this appears to be overkill,” said Howard Berkenblit, partner at law firm Sullivan and Worcester. “A long cooling-off period and limits on the number of plans will be less popular and could cause a decrease in use of these plans.”

The SEC also outlined a plan to stamp out misconduct via security-based swaps.

Such derivatives were at the center of the Archegos meltdown, which left Wall Street banks on the other side of the family office’s trades with $10 billion in losses.

Under the new rule, investors will have to publicly disclose such trades.

 

(Reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington; Editing by Michelle Price, Nick Zieminski, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

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Pandemic darlings face the boot as investors eye return to normal life

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Stay-at-home market darling Netflix slumped on Friday, joining a broad decline in shares of other pandemic favourites this week as investors priced in expectations for a return to normal life with more countries gradually relaxing COVID restrictions.

The selloff, which began after Netflix and Peloton posted disappointing quarterly earnings, spread to the wider stay-at-home sector as analysts judged the new Omicron coronavirus variant will not deliver the same economic headwinds seen in the first phase of the pandemic in 2020.

“This a confirmation that the economy is gradually moving towards some sort of normalisation,” said Andrea Cicione, head of strategy at TS Lombard.

France will ease work-from-home rules from early February and allow nightclubs to reopen two weeks later, while Britain’s business minister said people should get back to the office to benefit from in-person collaboration.

“With a return to the office and travel lanes opening, darlings of the WFH (work from home) thematic are reflecting the growing reality that the world is moving slowly but with certainty towards a new normalcy,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore.

Netflix tumbled nearly 25% after it forecast new subscriber growth in the first quarter would be less than half of analysts’ predictions.

The stock, a component of the elite FAANG group, was on track for its worst day in nearly nine-and-a-half years following rare rating downgrades from Wall Street analysts.

“It is hard to have confidence that Netflix will return to the historical +26.5 million net subscriber add run rate post the 2022 slowdown,” MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson said.

“The decay rate on streaming content is incredibly rapid. ‘Squid Game?’ That’s so last quarter. ‘The Witcher?’ Done on New Year’s Eve!”

Exercise bike maker Peloton lost nearly a quarter of its value on Thursday, leading at least nine brokerages to cut their price target on the stock.

The selloff erased nearly $2.5 billion from its market value after its CEO said the company was reviewing the size of its workforce and “resetting” production levels, though it denied the company was temporarily halting production.

Peloton’s shares were up nearly 5% on Friday morning, bouncing back somewhat from a 23.9% drop on Thursday, its biggest one-day percentage decline since Nov. 5.

HOME DELIVERY

Both companies were part of a group, along with others such as Zoom and Docusign whose shares soared in 2020, and in some cases 2021 as well, as people around the world were forced to stay at home in the face of the coronavirus.

However, thanks to vaccine rollouts and the spread of the less severe Omicron strain of COVID-19, life is returning to normal in many countries, leaving companies like Netflix and Peloton struggling to sustain high sales figures.

According to data from S3 Partners, short-sellers doubled their profits by betting against Peloton in 2021, the third best returning U.S. short.

Direxion’s Work from Home ETF has fallen more than 9% in first three weeks of the year, compared to a 6% drop in the fall of the broader U.S. stock market. Blackrock‘s virtual work and life multisector ETF has weakened more than 8% this year.

In Europe, lockdown winners are also going through a rough patch as rising bond yields pressurise growth and tech stocks.

Online British supermarket group Ocado, Germany’s meal-kit delivery firm HelloFresh and food delivery company Delivery Hero which emerged as European stay-at-home champions in the early days of the pandemic have underperformed the pan-European STOXX 600 so far in 2022.

(Reporting by Alun John and Julien Ponthus; Additional reporting by Nivedita Balu, Anisha Sircar and Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Saikat Chatterjee, Alison Williams and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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Bitcoin falls 9.3% to $36,955

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Bitcoin dropped 9.28% to $36,955.03 at 22:02 GMT on Friday, losing $3,781.02 from its previous close.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is up 2.4% from the year’s low of $36,146.42.

Ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, dropped 12.27% to $2,631.35 on Friday, losing $368.18 from its previous close.

 

(Reporting by Jaiveer Singh Shekhawat in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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Oil, gas investment forecast to rise 22% in Canada – Investment Executive

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It’s positive news for an industry that has now essentially recovered to its pre-pandemic levels, after a disastrous 2020 that saw oil prices collapse due to the impact of Covid-19 on global demand.

But CAPP president Tim McMillan pointed out that in spite of the fact that oil prices are at seven-year highs and companies are recording record cash flows, capital investment remains well below what it was during the industry’s boom years. In 2014, for example, capital investment in the Canadian oilpatch hit an all-time record high of $81 billion, capturing 10% per cent of total global upstream natural gas and oil investment.

“Today we’re at $32 billion, and we’re only capturing about six% of global investment,” McMillan said. “We’ve lost ground to other oil and gas producers, which I think is problematic for a lot of reasons . . . and it leaves billions of dollars of investment that is going somewhere else, and not to Canada.”

Investment in conventional oil and natural gas is forecast at $21.2 billion in 2022, according to CAPP, while growth in oilsands investment is expected to increase 33% to $11.6 billion this year.

Alberta is expected to lead all provinces in overall oil and gas capital spending, with upstream investment expected to increase 24% to $24.5 billion in 2022. Over 80% of the industry’s new capital spending this year will be focused in Alberta, representing an additional $4.8 billion of investment into the province compared with 2021, according to CAPP.

While the 2022 forecast numbers are good news for the Canadian economy, McMillan said, it’s a problem that companies aren’t willing to invest in this country’s industry at the level they once did.

He said investors have been put off by Canada’s record of cancelled pipeline projects, regulatory hurdles and negative government policy signals, and many now see Canada as a “difficult place to invest.”

However, Rory Johnston, managing director and market economist at Toronto-based Price Street Inc., said laying the decline in the industry’s capital spending at the feet of the federal government is overly simplistic.

He added while current “rip-roaring, amazing” cash flows and a period of sustained high oil prices will certainly give some producers the appetite to invest this year, Johnston said, it will likely be on a project-by-project basis and certainly on a smaller scale than the major oilsands expansions of a decade ago.

“You have global macro trends across the entire industry that have begun to favour smaller, fast-cycle investment projects – and most oilsands projects are literally the polar opposite of that,” he said.

One reason capital spending isn’t likely to return to boom time levels is because companies have become much more cost-efficient after surviving a string of lean years. And that’s not a bad thing, Johnston said.

“The decade of capex boom out west was tremendously beneficial for Canada and Albertans, but it also caused tremendous cost inflation,” he said.

“While what we’re seeing right now is not as construction-heavy and not as employment-heavy – and those are two very, very large downsides – the upside is that you’re much more competitive in a much more competitive oil market,” Johnston said.

In a report released this week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) hiked its oil demand growth forecast for the coming year by 200,000 barrels a day, to 3.3 million barrels a day.

According to the IEA, global oil demand will exceed pre-pandemic levels this year due to growing Covid-19 immunization rates and the fact that the new Omicron variant hasn’t proved severe enough to force a return to strict lockdown measures.

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