What Is Insider Trading?

What Is Insider Trading?

An insider is a person who has access to confidential information about a company or owns more than 10% of its stock. Individuals with insider information are allowed to purchase and sell shares; however, they are required to register these transactions with the SEC. Legal insider trading occurs frequently, for instance, when a CEO buys back company shares or when staff members purchase stock in the business where they work. The illegal use of non-public material information is typically done for financial gain. The SEC detects illegal insider trading by analyzing trading volumes that rise when there are no news updates from or about the company.


Insiders, entrusted with privileged access to invaluable non-public information about a corporation, hold the key to its inner workings. Moreover, they wield a significant influence through their stock ownership, surpassing the threshold of 10% of a firm's equity. This elite cadre encompasses the directors and high-level executives who shape the destiny of companies. Brace yourself as we delve into the world of these formidable power players.

Insider Trading Unveiled: Legal vs. Illegal

Within financial markets, insider trading takes two forms: legal and illegal. Understanding the nuances between these practices is crucial in navigating the intricacies of the corporate landscape.

Legal Insider Trading

Legal provisions allow insiders to purchase and sell shares of their associated company, including subsidiaries. However, such transactions are subject to stringent regulations. Advance filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must be made, ensuring transparency and accountability. Detailed records of these legal insider trading activities can be accessed through the SEC's EDGAR database.

Frequently occurring legal insider trading involves CEOs repurchasing shares of their own company or employees acquiring stock within their organization. Notably, the actions of CEOs can significantly influence the price movement of their owned shares. An exemplary case occurs when renowned investor Warren Buffett engages in share transactions within companies under the Berkshire Hathaway umbrella.

Illegal Insider Trading

In contrast, illegal insider trading is more notorious, driven by exploiting non-public material information for personal profit. This illicit practice extends beyond company executives, encompassing their acquaintances, relatives, or even ordinary individuals, as long as the information remains undisclosed.

For instance, consider a scenario where a CEO inadvertently reveals confidential quarterly earnings during a routine haircut. If the hairdresser capitalizes on this undisclosed information by trading on it, it constitutes illegal insider trading, potentially inviting scrutiny and enforcement actions by the SEC.

The SEC employs vigilant monitoring techniques to detect illegal insider trading. By analyzing trading volumes of specific stocks, they can identify irregularities. Unusual surges in trading volumes, devoid of any publicly disseminated information, act as red flags, prompting the SEC to initiate investigations. These meticulous probes aim to determine the responsible parties behind anomalous trading activities and ascertain the legality of their actions.

Insider Trading vs. Insider Information

Delving into the realm of financial markets, a critical distinction arises between insider trading and insider information. The latter refers to secret knowledge concerning a publicly-traded company that bestows an unfair advantage upon the trader or investor. Let us explore a scenario to illustrate this concept.

Imagine the vice president of the engineering department in a technology company, who, by chance, overhears a confidential conversation between the CEO and the CFO. In this discussion, held two weeks before the company's earnings release, the CFO discloses disappointing sales figures and a quarterly loss. This information remains undisclosed to the public, giving it the status of insider information.

Subsequently, the vice president, aware of their friend's ownership of company shares, acts ethically and advises their friend to sell the shares and consider opening a short position swiftly. However, if the friend were to execute trades, selling their shares and shorting 1,000 shares of the stock prior to the earnings release, it would transform into illegal insider trading. In contrast, trading the security after the earnings are public knowledge would not be deemed unlawful, as it does not confer a direct advantage over other market participants.


Insiders hold privileged access and significant ownership in corporations. Legal insider trading is common, such as CEOs repurchasing shares and employees investing in their companies. Illegal insider trading exploits undisclosed information for personal gain and faces regulatory scrutiny. Monitoring trading volumes helps detect irregularities. Understanding the distinction between insider trading and insider information promotes fair market practices.

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