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Algo? What Algo?

The Securities and Exchange Commission has laid charges against a North Carolina-based investment adviser and its former owner for misleading an investment fund’s board of directors about the firm’s ability to conduct algorithmic currency trading so they would approve the firm’s contract to manage the fund.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Chariot Advisors and Elliott Shifman misled the fund’s board about the nature, extent, and quality of services that the firm could provide as he touted the competitive benefits of algorithmic trading in two presentations before the board. Contrary to what Shifman told the directors, the SEC says that Chariot Advisors did not devise or otherwise possess any algorithms capable of engaging in the currency trading that Shifman was describing. 

After the fund was launched, Chariot Advisors did not use an algorithm model to perform the fund’s currency trading as represented to the board, but instead hired an individual trader who was allowed to use discretion on trade selection and execution, the SEC alleges, adding that the misconduct by Shifman and Chariot Advisors caused misrepresentations and omissions in the Chariot fund’s registration statement and prospectus filed with the SEC and viewed by investors.

“It is critical that investment advisers provide truthful information to the directors of the registered funds they advise,” says Julie Riewe, co-chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s asset management unit. “Both boards and advisers have fiduciary duties that must be fulfilled to ensure that a fund’s investors are not harmed.”

According to the SEC’s order, Chariot Advisors did not have an algorithm capable of conducting currency trading. The ability to conduct currency trading was particularly significant for the Chariot fund’s performance, because in the absence of an operating history the directors focused instead on Chariot Advisors’ reliance on models when the board evaluated the advisory contract. Even though Shifman believed that the fund’s currency trading needed to achieve a 25 to 30 percent return to succeed, Shifman never disclosed to the board that Chariot Advisors had no algorithm or model capable of achieving such a return.

The SEC adds that because Chariot Advisors possessed no algorithm, currency trading for the fund was under the control of an individual trader who was not using an algorithm for at least the first two months after the fund’s launch. Shifman had interviewed the trader prior to her hiring and knew that she used a technical analysis, rules-based approach for trading that combined market indicators with her own intuition, the Commission claims. The trader traded currencies for the fund until September 30, 2009 when she was terminated due to poor trading performance. Subsequently, Chariot employed a third party who utilised an algorithm to conduct currency trading on behalf of the Chariot fund.

A hearing will be scheduled before an administrative law judge to determine whether the allegations contained in the order are true and whether any remedial sanctions are appropriate.

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