You'll recall that this started out as an investigation into a tactic which has been somewhat misleadingly called "market timing". Briefly, a mutual fund owns shares in a whole lot of other things (stocks, bonds, sometimes real estate). The stuff it owns changes value from time to time (quite frequently for stocks and, say, treasury bonds), and the fund periodically reports new prices to reflect the changes in the values of the stuff it owns. But if you know what the fund owns yourself, you can anticipate whether the price will go up or down, and buy and sell accordingly, racking up profit at no risk.
In the meantime, all sorts of other nasty practices have come to light, including fund managers trading in their own funds (obviously, against their own investors), and so forth. A few particularly hot items:
- Invesco, already under the gun for having solicited business from market timers, who churned their funds at the expense of their long-term investors, now finds that its prosecutors have poster children. Literally. One of the funds that market timers bilked was actually marketed to kids.
- The Putnam mutual fund company -- where some managers routinely traded in their own funds -- is telling the public that it has made a clean break with the past. In private, they're still playing hardball with prosecutors and former employees, as part of an apparent cover-up.
- And yet another large fund group, MFS, also seems to have been cooperating with market timers, at the expense of its long term investors.
- And here's another way that funds cheated investors: reporting prices that were flat out bogus, failing to reflect changes in the values of the underlying assets for days or weeks.
Lastly, the informant who first got New York DA Elliot Spitzer interested in mutual funds has come forward; she is Noreen Harrington, a former executive at a hedge fund that also made money (on behalf of its wealthy investors) in market timing, who had actually complained to her bosses about the practice. The fund says that she was "terminated for reasons having to do with her performance"; evidently, they thought she just wasn't a good fit for the business they were in. How right they were.