ASIC widens probe into selective briefings

The corporate regulator is widening its inquiry into selective briefings by Australia's biggest companies, by putting accountants, investment bankers and stockbrokers under the microscope.

The corporate regulator is widening its inquiry into selective briefings by Australia's biggest companies, by putting accountants, investment bankers and stockbrokers under the microscope.

This builds on a surveillance campaign of analyst briefings for the coming earnings season after a series of briefings by gold miner Newcrest came into focus.

Newcrest's relationship with certain analysts has been under scrutiny after its share price fell by nearly 15 per cent in the 72 hours before a major restructure was announced. The company has long denied giving selective briefings.

In a speech on Wednesday night, ASIC commissioner John Price said the "confidential information project" would examine whether tougher penalties or more guidance were warranted.

"We will be speaking to accountants, investment banks, brokers and listed companies to understand how they handle confidential information prior to its announcement to the market," Mr Price told the Australasian Investor Relations Association. "We think it's important to address any perception about there being unfair differences in access to material information in our market".

He said it was essential that listed companies had in place proper systems for handling confidential information.

ASIC intended to "focus people's attentions on their existing legal obligations," and if the briefings uncovered evidence of "market abuse" the regulator would seek appropriate penalties.

"Let me be clear that the abuse of confidential information is market misconduct," Mr Price said. Anyone trading on confidential information could also be breaking insider trading rules, he added.

Several employees of large listed companies have said much more caution was being exercised when arranging interviews and information for public consumption.

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