FILE – This Monday, June 29, 2020 photo shows the Reddit logo on a mobile device in New York. (AP Photo/Tali Arbel)

FILE – This Monday, June 29, 2020 photo shows the Reddit logo on a mobile device in New York. (AP Photo/Tali Arbel)

Regulators eye Reddit stock rallies, but manipulation may be hard to prove: Experts

Canadian law prohibits artificially affecting the price of a publicly traded security in a co-ordinated way

Canadian regulators have said they will act if they see “abusive” or “manipulative” trading, as Reddit and other social media sites stoke stock mania.

But experts say that legal action is not straightforward: it depends on whether rallies in stocks like BlackBerry and GameStop are co-ordinated and harmful or simply cases of contagious excitement.

It’s a debate that’s playing out on the forums themselves.

On Reddit’s Bay Street Bets, one user wrote of BlackBerry’s stock, “We will support it and make it climb together,” while another decried the idea that individual investors are some sort of Reddit army.

Lawyer Chris Sunstrum says that based on what’s been reported so far, the stock mania on Reddit forums is still in a grey area for regulators.

“Does this constitute market manipulation? … I think what the regulators are trying to figure out is, have they crossed that line,” says Sunstrum of Goodmans LLP.

“Your typical retail investor just going on a chat board and giving their opinion, or helping rally the troops behind buying GameStop, is probably not going to be offside.”

The warning about manipulative trading from the Canadian Securities Administrators and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada on Monday came after BlackBerry shares whipsawed over the previous week, mirroring trends seen in the U.S. with GameStop, AMC and other securities.

Canadian silver mining companies have also seen a boost recently, although chief executives and Reddit users alike said social media is not the only factor behind the precious metal’s rise.

So far, the social media dynamic around so-called meme stocks doesn’t fit “neatly” into any of Canadian securities laws, says Sunstrum — although it is still early days on the enforcement front.

Sunstrum says that out of all the potential accusations that could be brought against Redditors, market manipulation could become the biggest focus.

Canadian law prohibits doing something to artificially affect the price of a publicly traded security in a co-ordinated way, he says, though it can be a high bar to prove.

Another legal ramification for Reddit activity could be the charge of advising people about trading securities without the proper registration, though Sunstrum says it’s not clear that’s been the case over the past week.

Sunstrum says that other offences that could come into play include misrepresentation, where a person or company makes a statement that they know or should know is misleading or untrue in any material respect.

To fall into this category, the statement would be expected to have a significant impact on the market price of the shares, Sunstrum says, although he noted that defamation and libel could also come up as separate legal issues.

Ernest Wong, director of research at Baskin Wealth Management, says the Canadian market already has some limits in place that make it unlikely the situation in the U.S. will play out exactly in Canada. Canadian regulators and finance websites don’t list short-selling activity in the same way as the U.S., and the options market here is much smaller, Wong says.

Queen’s University associate professor Mohamed Khimji says further regulation also risks doing more harm than good.

“Is market manipulation the right expression? I don’t really have a problem with using that expression … I think the question is, really, is the activity harmful? Does it have negative effects on market confidence, the credibility of the stock markets in general?” asks Khimji, who researches business law.

“Any kind of buying and selling activity is going to manipulate the price at some level. That’s just how trading works.”

Khimji says that Canadian securities regulators tend to take the lead from U.S. regulators, and that action south of the border will give Canadian regulators something to go off. But, says Khimji, the market may adjust on its own.

“They’re really just two groups that have two different trading strategies … Both sides will learn lessons by the end of it,” says Khimji, referencing short-sellers as one group and retail investors as another. “I think this will just be priced in. Any short-seller of the future will think about this as a risk right here: what happened with GameStop, retail investors buying it up when it’s really cheap and driving up the price.”

Increasing regulation on retail investors could actually have the detrimental effect of limiting participation in the market, says Khimji.

“From a democratic perspective, I think it’s just helpful for as much (of) society to participate in the markets as possible. In any kind of regulation we need to be really sure that it’s going to help and not inhibit access,” he says, adding the stock market “shouldn’t just be for wealthy people.”

Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Stocks

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to Stoney and Minnie lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Most Read