The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating charges of insider trading in options to buy stock of Sante Fe International Corp., the California oil-drilling company being purchased by the government of Kuwait.
Investors who bought Sante Fe International options last Thursday stand to make a $2,100 profit for every $6.25 investment as a result of the announcement Monday that the government-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corp. plans to purchase all of Sante Fe's 49 million shares of stock for $51 a share.
The Sante Fe options were considered a long-shot speculative gamble, but there was heavy buying just before the takeover announcement, options traders on the Pacific Stock Exchange complained yesterday.
As a result of the offer by Kuwait for Sante Fe International, the persons who bought options for $6.25 each will be able to buy 100 shares of the company for $30 a share ($3,000 total) and immediately resell the stock to Kuwait Petroleum for $51 a share ($5,100 total) yielding a $2,100 profit on the $6.25 investment.
Traders on the Pacific Stock Exchange said thousands of options were sold at very low prices and could yield anywhere from $10 million to $30 million in profits at the expense of the options traders.
Pacific Stock Exchange officials said the exchange is investigating possible irregularities in the trading and has informed the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC, as usual in such cases, refused to officially confirm or deny whether it is investigating the matter, but agency sources said the SEC "would be derilect if we didn't" investigate the allegations.
Sante Fe industries issued a statement denying its employes were involved in any last-minute buying of either the options or the company's shares.
Congressional critics of Arab investments in the United States quickly jumped into the dispute.
Rep. Benjamin Rosenthal (D-N.Y.), chairman of a house subcommittee that held hearings on Arab investment last week, sent telegrams yesterday to SEC Chairman John S.R. Shad and Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan asking them to block the sale.
Rosenthal also called for the SEC to suspended trading in Sante Fe stock and options, but the agency said there was "neither the necessity nor the justification" for shutting down the market.
Rosenthal, who plans to hold hearings on the sale next week, said in his wire to Shad that he had "received reports of extensive insider purchases of call options in recent weeks for the purchase of Santa Fe International.
"I am informed that several substantial call option orders recently came from the Kuwait office of a leading U.S. broker and from Swiss brokers whose unnamed clients stand to make millions," he said.
Several traders on the Pacific Stock Exchange said they believed many of the options were purchased through the Kuwait office of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fen ner and Smith, this country's biggest stockbroker. Merrill, Lynch officials could not be reached for comment.
Call options are financial instruments that give investors the right to buy 100 shares of a stock at a specified price and date. The options buyer hopes to make money when the price of the stock rises above the price at which the option gives the right to purchase.
Last week Sante Fe International stock was selling for about $22 a share. and options to purchase the stock on October 16 for $30 a share were selling for only $6.25.
Since Sante Fe International stock would have to jump more than $8 a share in only two weeks for investors to make a profit, the options were "virtually worthless" and there was little trading, said Thomas Heebner, an options trader for First Options Corp. of San Francisco.
But when options trading opened on Thursday, Heebner said, the first Sante Fe International order was for 300 options--enough to buy 30,000 shares of the stock. More orders followed, he added.
"Very seldom does anyone come in and buy heavily when the option is so far out of the money and there's just 11 trading days left. It's just unheard of," said Heebner.