An analyst at a major credit ratings agency has been accused of tipping off two friends about an impending acquisition by a client, enabling them to make nearly $300,000 in illicit stock trading profits.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Sebastian Pinto-Thomaz learned of paint company Sherwin-Williams’ confidential plans to acquire rival Valspar when Sherwin-Williams consulted his employer about the potential effect of the deal on its credit rating.
Within minutes of Pinto Thomaz’s first contact with a representative of Sherwin-Williams, he allegedly called and texted Abell Oujaddou, a co-owner of an upscale New York hair salon.
According to the SEC, Oujaddou and Jeremy Millul, another friend of Pinto-Thomaz, bought Valspar securities on the basis of the analyst’s tips and made profits of $192,000 and $107,000, respectively, when they sold their holdings after the merger was announced on March 20, 2016.
Pinto-Thomaz, Oujaddou, and Millul are all named as defendants in a civil complaint in which the SEC is seeking disgorgement of trading profits and civil fines.
“Pinto-Thomaz’s tips violated his obligations to his employer and allowed his friends to reap nearly $300,000 in illicit trading profits,” Joseph G. Sansone, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit, said in a news release.
“Employees of credit ratings agencies often receive confidential corporate information ahead of mergers, acquisitions, and other market-moving events, and, similar to investment bankers, attorneys, and other corporate advisors, must not abuse this access by trading on the information or by tipping others,” he added.
The SEC said Pinto-Thomaz has been employed as a ratings analyst at the unnamed agency’s New York office since at least 2015. His responsibilities included analyzing Sherwin-Williams’ credit rating, among other issuers.
Pinto-Thomaz allegedly learned of the Valspar deal as early as 10:08 a.m. on March 8, 2016 and contacted Oujaddou nine minutes later. Oujaddou invested more than $700,000 in Valspar stock between March 10 and March 18, the SEC said.
On March 21, the first day of trading after the merger announcement, the shares jumped more than 23%.