Front-running is a term that often comes up in discussions about the stock market and financial markets in general. It refers to the unethical practice of a broker or trader executing orders on a security for their own benefit before filling orders for their clients. This practice can have serious consequences for investors and the integrity of the market. In this article, we will explore the concept of front-running, its impact on the financial industry, and some notable examples of front-running in recent history.

What is Front-Running?

Front-running occurs when a broker or trader takes advantage of non-public information about pending orders to execute trades for their own benefit. This practice is considered unethical because it puts the interests of the broker or trader ahead of their clients. By executing trades before their clients' orders, the front-runner can potentially profit from the price movement caused by the client's order.

Front-running can take various forms, but the most common scenario involves a broker or trader who has access to pending orders from their clients. They use this information to execute trades for their own account, taking advantage of the anticipated price movement resulting from the client's order.

The Impact of Front-Running

Front-running has several negative consequences for investors and the financial industry as a whole. Here are some of the key impacts:

  • Loss of trust: Front-running erodes trust in the financial industry. When investors believe that their brokers or traders are putting their own interests ahead of their clients, it undermines confidence in the fairness and integrity of the market.
  • Unfair advantage: Front-running gives the front-runner an unfair advantage over other market participants. By executing trades based on non-public information, they can profit at the expense of other investors who do not have access to the same information.
  • Market manipulation: In some cases, front-running can be a form of market manipulation. By executing trades before a large client order, the front-runner can influence the price of the security, potentially leading to a more favorable outcome for their own trades.
  • Reduced liquidity: Front-running can also reduce liquidity in the market. When investors suspect that their orders may be front-run, they may be less willing to participate in the market, leading to decreased trading activity and liquidity.

Notable Examples of Front-Running

Front-running has been a recurring issue in the financial industry, and there have been several notable examples of this unethical practice. Here are a few examples:

Example 1: Goldman Sachs and Abacus 2007-AC1

In 2010, Goldman Sachs settled a lawsuit with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for $550 million over allegations of front-running. The case involved a complex mortgage-backed security called Abacus 2007-AC1. Goldman Sachs was accused of creating and selling this security to clients while simultaneously betting against it.

The SEC alleged that Goldman Sachs failed to disclose to investors that a hedge fund client had influenced the selection of the underlying assets and had taken a short position against the security. By front-running their clients, Goldman Sachs was able to profit from the decline in value of the security, while their clients suffered significant losses.

Example 2: Raj Rajaratnam and Galleon Group

In 2011, Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of the hedge fund Galleon Group, was convicted of insider trading, which included front-running. Rajaratnam was found guilty of trading on non-public information obtained from insiders at various companies.

One notable example of front-running in this case involved Rajaratnam's trades in the shares of Clearwire Corporation. He allegedly received information about pending orders from a Clearwire executive and used that information to execute trades ahead of the client orders, profiting from the subsequent price movement.

Preventing and Combating Front-Running

Regulators and market participants have taken steps to prevent and combat front-running. Here are some of the measures in place:

  • Regulatory oversight: Regulatory bodies, such as the SEC, play a crucial role in monitoring and enforcing rules against front-running. They investigate suspicious trading activities and take legal action against individuals or firms found to be engaging in front-running.
  • Code of ethics: Many financial institutions have established codes of ethics that explicitly prohibit front-running and other unethical practices. Employees are required to adhere to these codes and face disciplinary action if they violate them.
  • Increased transparency: Improving transparency in the market can help deter front-running. By making order information more readily available to all market participants, it becomes more difficult for individuals to exploit non-public information for personal gain.
  • Technology and surveillance: Advances in technology have made it easier to detect and prevent front-running. Automated surveillance systems can monitor trading activities in real-time, flagging suspicious patterns or unusual trading behavior for further investigation.


Front-running is a practice that undermines the integrity of the financial industry and erodes trust in the market. It gives individuals an unfair advantage and can lead to market manipulation and reduced liquidity. However, regulators and market participants are actively working to prevent and combat front-running through increased oversight, ethical codes, transparency, and technological advancements.

By taking these measures, the financial industry aims to create a level playing field for all investors and ensure the fairness and integrity of the market. Investors should be aware of the risks associated with front-running and choose reputable brokers and traders who prioritize their clients' interests. Ultimately, a transparent and ethical market benefits everyone involved and fosters a more sustainable and trustworthy financial system.

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