ASIC's review comes a year after the Newcrest Mining scandal.
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The corporate watchdog will target stockbroking analyst research over the coming months to determine whether confidential information is being deliberately leaked by some of Australia's biggest companies.
The move follows a year-long review into the handling of market-sensitive information by ASX-listed companies, which found ''pockets of problems'' relating to continuous disclosure and insider trading rules.
While the review found no specific evidence of selective disclosure, it uncovered instances of ''poor practice'' in relation to the handling of sensitive information. These included companies briefing a select group of analysts on tours, such as a mining operation, or ''sounding out'' investment banks and brokers about strategic announcements before releasing them.
The review comes a year after a scandal involving Newcrest Mining, in which a host of analysts and investors appeared to anticipate a restructure of the company before the rest of the market. Fairfax Media believes that investigation is ongoing.
The probe into stockmarket research is expected to go to the heart of how analysts source the information they use to make stock recommendations. Research, especially from well-respected analysts, is capable of moving share prices.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission moved on Tuesday to warn companies that any breaches of the rules would be heavily penalised. It said it would begin a targeted review of research reports by analysts, with a focus on insider trading and continuous disclosure laws.
''Australia's rigorous continuous disclosure regime, combined with sound guidance and robust industry standards, ensures retail investors can be confident in the integrity of the market,'' ASIC commissioner John Price said.
''This is an area where ASIC has an ongoing interest. We do act, and we will act, where misconduct occurs.''
Despite uncovering evidence of poor practice, the regulator said the rules were sufficient to stop companies leaking information.
It was up to companies to remain vigilant and deal with ''any perception - real or otherwise - about unfairness in access to market-sensitive information'', Mr Price said.
But the Australian Shareholders' Association said ASIC surveillance was ineffective as companies were aware they were being watched.
It urged the regulator to introduce new rules to prevent leaks, which it said had become ''standard practice''.
''If ASIC is sitting in, one would assume the discussions are going to be … more circumspect,'' chairman Ian Curry said.
''If a company is going to have a briefing with an analyst or analysts or meet with ASA, for that matter, those briefings should be recorded and put up on a website.''
ASIC would not say how many companies it monitored during its recent review, only that it was a ''limited'' sample of small and mid-tier companies. All the companies were aware that the regulator was sitting in on briefings.
''Our intention in doing this was not to nab companies,'' Mr Price said. ''It's not illegal for someone to hold these sorts of briefings, it is illegal if you engage in insider trading or breach continuous disclosure laws.''
The Australasian Investor Relations Association, which represents listed companies, said the report was a ''call to action''.
''We will encourage our corporate members to ensure that they develop and implement written policies and practices,'' chief executive Ian Matheson said.
But Governance Institute chief executive Tim Sheehy said it was unfair to rely on corporate advisers such as investment bankers to keep market-sensitive information a secret.
''Companies own the information, and they need to ensure that their advisers have the necessary processes in place to protect it,'' he said. ''It's not a case of delegated responsibility.''
The ASA's Mr Curry said selective briefings happened ''very, very regularly''.
''It's a standard practice that most brokers and financial institutions would be meeting with companies regularly, certainly with the top 300 companies,'' he said. ''It's possible there will be instances where these people draw conclusions from these briefings.''