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SEC suspends trading in 15 stocks, in whack-a-mole against social media hype

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission building in Washington.
None of the 15 companies suspended Friday have filed information with the SEC for over a year.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

U.S. regulators are engaging in the stock market’s version of whack-a-mole — racing to suspend shares of companies with dubious prospects that have been hyped to the moon on social media.

In a statement Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission said it temporarily halted trading in 15 companies due to concerns that their stock prices were artificially inflated.

“We proactively monitor for suspicious trading activity tied to stock promotions on social media, and act quickly to stop that trading when appropriate to safeguard the public interest,” said Melissa Hodgman, acting director of the SEC’s enforcement division.

The SEC crackdown adds to the fallout from the GameStop Corp. frenzy, in which an army of day traders banded together to drive long-ignored stocks to the stratosphere. The regulator has routinely sought to remove moribund companies from exchanges because it’s worried about retail investors suffering losses, but that effort has picked up pace amid this year’s wild trading.

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In Friday’s action, regulators are venturing further into one of the market’s rowdiest districts, targeting penny stocks driven into price and volume frenzies by incessant social media pumping. Frenetic trading, often in profitless companies, on lightly regulated broker networks is perhaps the most extreme example of speculative excess in the 2021 market, a landscape that has also included soaring cryptocurrencies and the craze over special purpose acquisition companies.

Two weeks ago, the SEC suspended trading in SpectraScience Inc. — a firm that had surged 633% in 2021 to just over two-tenths of a cent before the halt. The SEC’s order noted that while the company hadn’t filed reports in years and its phone number doesn’t work, “social media accounts may be engaged in coordinated attempt to artificially influence” its share price. SpectraScience volume surpassed 3.5 billion shares on a single day in late January as the stock surged 167%.

None of the companies suspended Friday have filed any information with the SEC for over a year. Under the federal securities laws, the SEC can prohibit trading for 10 days and bar a broker-dealer from soliciting investors to buy or sell the stock again until certain reporting requirements are met.


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