The Securities and Exchange Commission is nearing the end of its investigation into whether people or entities with prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks attempted to profit from the devastating strikes.
"There are things we are still looking at," said SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt. "We are relatively close to finishing up what we need to look at."
The investigation began in mid-September after reports surfaced that significant trades were made in the futures exchanges in the days before Sept. 11. The speculation centered on trading airline and insurance company stocks.
The SEC was joined in its probe by securities regulators in Germany, Japan and Hong Kong.
Regulators were specifically looking at trading of so-called "put options," a financial maneuver that allows investors to profit from a drop in a particular stock's price.
"Puts" on companies affected by the attacks, especially airlines and insurance firms, grew in larger than normal volume in the trading days before the destruction. The speculation is that the traders in these puts had knowledge of the attacks beforehand because of some connection to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the primary suspects behind the attacks that have left roughly 5,000 people dead and missing in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
But a top official at one futures trading firm in Chicago said it's unlikely bin Laden or any of the terrorists were behind the trades.
Russell Wasendorf, chairman of Peregrine Financial Group Inc., said that the trades were probably associated with bad news about earnings and the industries involved. In fact, even before the Sept. 11 attacks the nation's airlines were expected to lose billions of dollars this year, an estimate that has now become much larger.
"It had nothing to do with bin Laden," Wasendorf said.
Pitt, a former SEC critic who has led the agency since August, told brokers at the closing session of the Securities Industry Association conference in Boca Raton that he will try to speed federal approval of securities industry applications for new programs and technology.
He said he plans to hire an economist and also create a new post, chief technology officer, so that the SEC can make decisions more on practical trends than legal prescriptions.
Pitt also said he expects the securities industry will resolve issues associated with research-analyst credibility, including analysts recommending stocks in which they have positions.
And he said he would attempt to tap the expertise and knowledge of industry groups that police firms and exchanges to help the SEC's enforcement division.