FSA fines ex-analyst £50,000 for instant messaging

Margaret Cole

The FSA has fined a former senior research analyst £50,000 for sending instant messages to clients implying he had inside information about a company which then had a substantial impact on its share price.

Christopher Gower, then working for MF Global Securities and MF Global UK, met with the Punch Taverns’ chief executive in May 2008.

They discussed an application made by Enterprise Inns plc to HM Revenue and Customs for approval to convert to a Real Estate Investment Trust.

After the meeting Gower sent a Bloomberg instant message to 14 MF Global clients, a Bloomberg reporter and MF Global equity salesmen saying:

“*** HOT OFF PRESS*** Just had meeting with CEO of PUNCH TAVERNS.  They have heard from HM Revenue & Customs that it is highly likely Enterprise Inns has been granted REIT status and ETI are due to announce this on 13th May at interims.  Expect ETI to bounce (was up 10% on previous HMRC news) BUT then fall back as mkt realises it will take time to implement…. MORE on my meeting to follow…. Chris”  

The FSA says the message was misleading and inaccurate as it did not accurately reflect the conversation Gower had, and gave the impression of containing inside information which Gower did not have.

The message was widely circulated in the market and caused a substantial increase in the trade of Enterprise Inns’ shares.

FSA managing director of enforcement and financial crime Margaret Cole (pictured) says: “There is no excuse for a senior retail analyst to be so careless with messages that could have such an impact on the market. Gower’s dissemination of inaccurate information contributed to a large increase in the volume of shares traded and a disorderly market in Enterprise Inns shares.

“Maintaining market confidence is one of our key objectives and we hope that the fine imposed in this case will act as a reminder to approved persons of their obligations to ensure markets are not provided with careless misinformation.”

The FSA says it accepts Gower did not intend to give the impression that this was inside information but concludes that he failed to observe proper standards of market conduct in this matter.