Claim: In the days just prior to the
Origins: On 11 September 2001, four planes were hijacked and used in the Attack on America: American Airlines
The operation had taken years to plan, and the perpetrators knew well in advance which airlines would be affected.
In the month prior to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, unusual trading activity involving American and United Airlines stock was noted by market analysts who at the time had no idea what to make of it. Wildly unusual discrepancies in the put and call ratio —
(Options are wagers that the price of a 100-share block of a particular stock will rise or fall by a certain date. “Puts” are “shorts” — bets the stock price will fall. “Calls” are bets the price will rise. Thus, one who has reason to believe a particular company is about to suffer a terrible reversal of fortune would purchase “puts” against that entity’s stock.)
But it was during the final few trading days (the market closes on weekends) that the most unusual variances in activity occurred. Bloomberg data showed that on
On 6 and 7 September 2001, the Chicago Board Options Exchange handled 4,744 put options for United Airlines’ stock, translating into 474,000 shares, compared with just 396 call options, or 39,600 shares. On a day that the put-to-call ratio would normally have been expected to be roughly 1:1 (no negative news stories about United had broken), it was instead 12:1.
On 10 September 2001, another uneventful news day, American Airlines’ option volume was 4,516 puts and 748 calls, a ratio of 6:1 on yet another day when by rights these options should have been trading even. No other airline stocks were affected; only United and American were shorted in this fashion.
Accelerated investments speculating a downturn in the value of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch (two New York investment firms severely damaged by the World Trade Center attack) were also observed.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the “9/11 Commission”) investigated these rumors and found that although some unusual (and initially seemingly suspicious) trading activity did occur in the days prior to
Highly publicized allegations of insider trading in advance of 9/11 generally rest on reports of unusual pre-9/11 trading activity in companies whose stock plummeted after the attacks. Some unusual trading did in fact occur, but each such trade proved to have an innocuous explanation. For example, the volume of put options — instruments that pay off only when a stock drops in price — surged in the parent companies of United Airlines on
Last updated: 11 December 2005
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