Understanding Round-Trip Trading

Understanding Round-Trip Trading

Round-trip trading is an unethical technique involving buying and selling securities on the same day or between companies to create the illusion of high trading activity. Legitimate traders don't engage in manipulative behaviors. Acceptable round-trip trades include swaps among institutions, unlike deceptive round-trip trading.


Round-trip trading is an unethical market manipulation technique that involves a series of wash trades. This practice includes repeatedly buying and selling securities to inflate trading volume and balance sheet figures, thereby manipulating the activity and interest in a stock. It has been evident in various high-profile scandals, including the Enron collapse. Legitimate investors do not engage in such manipulative behaviors.

A Detailed Look at Round-Trip Trading

This practice of creating the illusion of high trading activity without generating actual income or earnings for the company behind the security is known as round-trip trading, also referred to as churning or wash trades. This deceptive practice can be carried out in various ways, like a single trader buying and selling the security on the same day or two companies trading securities between themselves.

It's essential to differentiate round-trip trading from legitimate practices, such as those by pattern day traders who frequently execute multiple transactions on the same day. However, legitimate traders must meet certain criteria, like maintaining at least $25,000 in account equity and reporting net gains or losses as income.

Acceptable round-trip trades include swap trades, common among institutions like commercial banks and derivative product traders. In these cases, securities are sold to another party with an agreement to repurchase the same amount at the same price in the future. Unlike deceptive round-trip trading, this type of trading does not inflate volume statistics or balance sheet values.

Round-Trip Trading Example: Enron

Enron's collapse in 2001 serves as a well-known instance of round-trip trading, where the company used off-balance-sheet special purpose vehicles to move valuable stocks in exchange for cash, creating a deceptive appearance of profitability while hiding assets on its balance sheets. Despite the illusion, Enron's true financial struggles eventually surfaced, leading to investigations by the SEC and prosecutions of key individuals, including high-ranking employees. The accounting firm responsible for Enron's bookkeeping also faced consequences for destroying evidence relevant to the case.


Round-trip trading is an unethical practice that creates the illusion of high trading activity and inflates balance sheets. Legitimate traders avoid manipulative behaviors, while deceptive round-trip trading has been involved in high-profile scandals such as Enron. As investors, it is important to understand the differences between legitimate and unethical trading practices to make informed decisions and avoid fraudulent activities in the market.

Round-Trip Trading
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)