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CEO mocks Steve Cohen in bizarre full-page Wall Street Journal ad

  • Zachary M. Seward
By Zachary M. Seward

Editor-in-chief of Quartz

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This ad ran on page A8 of the Wall Street Journal today:

The background is that Patrick Byrne, chief executive of, is among the most vocal critics of naked short selling, which some investors, including SAC Capital founder Steve Cohen, use to drive down the stock price of companies that they’ve bet against. Byrne once famously called Cohen a “Sith Lord,” referencing a Star Wars villain, for engaging in naked short sales of Deep Capture, the website referenced in today’s ad, is funded by Byrne.

Cohen is facing civil charges related to insider trading at his firm. SAC itself was indicted on Thursday. Now comes the schadenfreude from Cohen’s enemies.

In a typical short sale, the investor borrows stock and then sells it to someone else at, say, $100 a share. When the lender wants the stock back, the investor buys it from yet another person, and if the price has gone down to $80 a share, pockets the difference of $20. In naked short selling, the investor never borrows the stock in the first place, but hopes that its short position will cause the price of the stock to fall, essentially ganging up on the company. The US Securities and Exchange Commission banned “abusive” forms of naked short selling in 2008, but the practice hasn’t really gone away.

Byrne’s ad in the Journal is bizarre, not least because it doesn’t explain any of that and would be inscrutable to anyone unfamiliar with the backstory. It also seems to be more about Byrne than Cohen.

The posted rate (pdf) for a full-page, color ad in the national edition of the Wall Street Journal for people who don’t have a regular contract with the newspaper is $327,897. But discounts are common, especially in the middle of summer and amid a decline in newspaper advertising, so Byrne likely paid much less than that.

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