Painting the Tape: Understanding Market Manipulation Techniques

Painting the Tape – In the complex world of financial markets, where billions of dollars are traded daily, the concept of market manipulation has always been a concern. One such illicit practice that has gained notoriety is “painting the tape.” This deceptive technique involves manipulating the price or volume of security to create a false impression of market activity.

In this article, we will dig into the world of tape painting, exploring its meaning, methods, consequences, and regulatory measures in place to combat this unethical practice.



What is Painting the Tape?

Painting the tape refers to the illegal act of distorting the true supply and demand dynamics of security by executing a series of trades to create a false impression of increased trading activity. This can involve colluding with others or utilizing multiple accounts to trade with oneself, ultimately deceiving other market participants and distorting the fairness and integrity of the market.


In tape painting, individuals or entities engage in a series of trades with the intention of deceiving other market participants and distorting the true supply and demand dynamics of security. The goal is to create an artificial impression of increased trading activity, leading others to believe there is higher demand or supply than there actually is.

Techniques Used in Painting the Tape

Painting the tape involves various techniques aimed at manipulating the price or volume of security to create a false impression of market activity. These techniques are designed to deceive other traders and investors and distort the true supply and demand dynamics. Here are some common techniques used in painting the tape:

Wash Trading

Wash trading occurs when a trader simultaneously buys and sells the same security, creating the illusion of increased trading activity. The trades have no genuine economic purpose but are solely intended to create the appearance of demand or supply. This can be done by using multiple accounts controlled by the same trader or colluding with others to execute the wash trades.


Spoofing involves placing large orders to buy or sell a security with the intention of canceling them before they are executed. These orders are meant to create an artificial impression of demand or supply in the market. Traders use spoofing to influence other market participants into following the perceived market trend based on the large order book.


Marking the Close

Marking the close refers to executing a series of trades at or near the market’s closing price to manipulate the closing price itself. Traders may buy or sell a large number of shares just before the market closes to create an artificial increase or decrease in the security’s price. This can impact the daily valuation of investment portfolios and mislead investors about the security’s true value.

Painting the Bid/Ask Spread

Traders may manipulate the bid/ask spread, which is the difference between the highest price a buyer is willing to pay (bid) and the lowest price a seller is willing to accept (ask). By placing small orders near the bid or ask price, traders can create the impression of increased buying or selling interest, influencing others to adjust their trading decisions.


Churning involves excessively trading security to create the illusion of high market activity. Traders execute frequent buy and sell orders for the same security, often at or near the market price, without any genuine investment objective. Churning can distort trading volume and mislead others into thinking there is increased interest in the security.

Cross Trades

Cross trades occur when a trader simultaneously buys and sells a security at the same price without the involvement of other market participants. This technique can be used to manipulate the trading volume and price of the security, giving a false impression of market activity.

Consequences of Painting the Tape

Painting the tape, an illicit practice in financial markets, carries significant consequences that impact market integrity, investor trust, and overall market stability. Here are some of the key consequences associated with tape painting:

Distorted Market Perception

By manipulating the price or volume of a security, tape painting creates a distorted market perception. False impressions of increased demand or supply mislead other market participants into making decisions based on inaccurate information. This distorts the true market sentiment and can lead to misaligned investment strategies.

Misinformed Investment Decisions

Tape painting can mislead investors into making misinformed investment decisions. Traders who are deceived by the manipulated market activity may enter trades at unfavorable prices, based on the illusion created by tape painters. When the true market dynamics emerge, investors may realize the disparity and suffer financial losses.

Market Volatility and Instability

The artificial manipulation of prices and volumes through tape painting can contribute to increased market volatility. When prices are artificially inflated or deflated, it can disrupt the natural equilibrium between supply and demand, leading to sudden price swings and heightened volatility. This volatility can undermine market stability and increase the level of risk for participants.

Erosion of Trust and Confidence

Painting the tape erodes trust and confidence in financial markets. Investors rely on transparent and fair market conditions to make informed decisions. When manipulation occurs, it undermines the belief in market integrity, making investors hesitant to participate or invest. This erosion of trust can have long-term implications for the overall health and functioning of financial markets.

Regulatory and Legal Consequences

Tape painting is considered illegal market manipulation in most jurisdictions. Regulatory bodies and exchanges actively monitor trading activities to detect and deter such practices. Those found guilty of engaging in tape painting may face severe penalties, including fines, trading restrictions, suspension, or legal actions. These regulatory consequences aim to safeguard market fairness and punish those who undermine market integrity.

Reputation Damage

Engaging in tape painting can result in severe reputational damage for individuals, institutions, or entities involved. Market participants who are discovered to have manipulated the market may face significant damage to their reputation, affecting their relationships with clients, business partners, and other market participants. Rebuilding trust and credibility can be a challenging and time-consuming process.

Increased Regulatory Scrutiny

Instances of tape painting and market manipulation prompt regulatory bodies to enhance their surveillance and oversight measures. This increased scrutiny can lead to more stringent regulations, stricter reporting requirements, and greater compliance obligations for market participants. The regulatory response aims to detect and deter future instances of tape painting, safeguarding the integrity of financial markets.

These consequences highlight the importance of maintaining fair and transparent market environments, deterring market manipulation, and fostering investor confidence.

Regulatory Measures Against Market Manipulation

Regulatory measures are crucial in combating market manipulation and maintaining fair and transparent financial markets. Regulatory bodies worldwide implement various measures to detect, prevent, and penalize market manipulation. Here are some common regulatory measures used to address market manipulation:

Market Abuse Regulation (MAR)

This is a retained EU law that prohibits actual and attempted market manipulation and imposes reporting obligations on market participants. It also gives the FCA the power to impose sanctions and remedies for market abuse, such as fines, suspensions, bans, and restitution orders.

Financial Services Act 2012

This act creates criminal offenses for insider dealing and market manipulation, which can result in imprisonment and/or unlimited fines. It also gives the FCA the power to prosecute these offenses and to apply for confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 20021.

Securities Exchange Act of 1934

This is a US law that regulates the securities markets and prohibits manipulative and deceptive practices, such as wash trading, spoofing, layering, and marking the close. It also gives the SEC the authority to investigate and enforce these rules, as well as to impose civil and criminal penalties

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010

This is a US law that aims to prevent another financial crisis by enhancing oversight and regulation of the financial system. It also expands the scope of anti-manipulation rules to cover swaps and other derivatives markets and gives the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the SEC more enforcement powers.

Distinguishing Market Making from Tape Painting

Market making and tape painting are two different types of trading activities that may have opposite effects on the market.

Market making

This is a legitimate practice whereby a trader or a firm provides liquidity to the market by quoting both bid and ask prices for a security, and stands ready to buy or sell at those prices. Market makers facilitate trading and price discovery, and earn profits from the bid-ask spread or commissions.

Tape painting

This is an illegal practice whereby a trader or a group of traders manipulate the market by buying and selling a security among themselves to create the appearance of substantial trading activity and to attract other traders who may push the price higher or lower. Tape painters aim to deceive investors and profit from artificial price movements.

Ways to distinguish market making from tape painting


Market makers usually trade in large volumes to provide liquidity, while tape painters may trade in small volumes to avoid detection.


Market makers usually quote prices that are close to the prevailing market price, while tape painters may quote prices that are significantly higher or lower than the market price to create a false impression of demand or supply


Market makers usually trade continuously and consistently, while tape painters may trade sporadically and irregularly, especially near the market’s close or during periods of low liquidity.


Market makers usually trade with the intention of providing liquidity and earning profits from the spread or commissions, while tape painters usually trade with the intention of influencing the price and deceiving other investors.

Historical Examples of Painting the Tape

Tape painting, or the manipulation of the tape, has been observed in financial markets throughout history. While it is difficult to provide an exhaustive list of specific instances, here are a few historical examples of tape painting:

The Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814

This incident took place on London’s stock exchange when several brokers colluded to inflate the prices of government bonds. They executed fictitious trades to create the illusion of increased demand and artificially drive up prices. The fraudulent activity was eventually uncovered, leading to a significant market crash.

The Pools and Bucket Shops of the 1920s

During the 1920s, the era of the stock market boom and subsequent crash, “pools” and “bucket shops” were prevalent. Pools were groups of traders who manipulated stock prices by coordinating buying and selling actions to drive prices in their favor. Bucket shops, on the other hand, were unregulated brokerage firms that allowed customers to speculate on stock prices without actually owning the shares. These shops engaged in various manipulative practices, including painting the tape to create false market activity.

The Manipulation of Volkswagen Shares in 2008

In 2008, Volkswagen witnessed an extraordinary price surge that briefly made it the most valuable company in the world. The rapid increase in share price was attributed to a short squeeze resulting from the manipulation of Volkswagen shares. A small group of investors accumulated shares and executed trades to create the illusion of high demand, leading to a massive price spike. The manipulation was eventually exposed, causing significant losses for some investors.

The Flash Crash of 2010

While not specifically tape painting, the Flash Crash of 2010 serves as an example of market manipulation and volatility. On May 6, 2010, the U.S. stock market experienced a sudden and severe crash, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting nearly 1,000 points within minutes. The crash was caused, in part, by high-frequency traders engaging in manipulative trading strategies, such as spoofing and layering, to create artificial market imbalances.

Cubed Inc 2014

The SEC charged a group of traders for painting the tape of a penny stock called Cubed Inc. The traders bought and sold shares among themselves to create a false impression of market interest and then sold their shares to unsuspecting investors at inflated prices.

National Waste Management Holdings Inc 2017

The SEC charged a stock promoter and four others for painting the tape of a microcap company called National Waste Management Holdings Inc. The promoter paid undisclosed bribes to a broker to buy shares in the company and then issued false press releases and newsletters to hype the stock.

Green Cures & Botanical Distribution Inc

The SEC charged two individuals for painting the tape of a cannabis company called Green Cures & Botanical Distribution Inc. The individuals coordinated trades among themselves and other associates to manipulate the stock price and volume and then sold their shares for illicit profits.

Detecting and Preventing Tape Painting

Detecting and preventing tape painting is a challenge for both regulators and investors. Tape painting is a form of market manipulation that involves creating a false impression of trading activity or demand for security by buying and selling it among oneself or a group of colluding traders. Tape painting can inflate or deflate the price of a security, deceive other investors, and distort market efficiency.

Regulators use various tools and techniques to detect and prevent tape painting, including surveillance systems, data analysis, and investigation. Regulators also work with market participants to develop best practices and guidelines for preventing market manipulation. For example, the SEC has adopted rules that prohibit fraudulent or manipulative acts or practices in connection with securities trading. The SEC also enforces civil and criminal penalties for those who engage in tape painting or other forms of market abuse.

Investors can also take steps to protect themselves from tape painting and other market manipulation schemes. Some of these steps are:

  • Conducting due diligence before investing in any security, especially those that are thinly traded, volatile, or subject to promotional campaigns.
  • Being skeptical of unsolicited tips, rumors, or hype about a security.
  • Avoiding chasing hot stocks or following the crowd without doing your own research.
  • Diversifying your portfolio and using stop-loss orders to limit your losses.
  • Reporting any suspicious trading activity or market manipulation to the SEC or other relevant authorities.

In conclusion, tape painting, as a deceptive practice in financial markets, carries significant consequences that can undermine market integrity, mislead investors, and erode trust. The act of manipulating the tape by artificially inflating or deflating prices and volumes distorts market sentiment, leading to misinformed investment decisions and potential financial losses for unsuspecting traders. Moreover, tape painting erodes market integrity, disrupts fair price discovery, and can contribute to increased market volatility.

Frequently Asked Questions (F&Qs)

What is the difference between wash trading and Painting the tape?

The main difference between wash trading and painting the tape is that wash trading involves actual trades while painting the tape does not. In wash trading, the trader actually buys and sells the security, even though they are doing so with themselves or an associate. In painting the tape, the trader does not actually buy or sell the security. They simply place large orders that are not intended to be executed.

What are the 4 forms of market manipulation?

  1. Wash trading: Wash trading is a type of fraud in which a trader buys and sells the same security with themselves or with an associate. This is done to create the illusion of trading activity and to artificially inflate the price of the security. Wash trading is illegal in most jurisdictions.
  2. Spoofing: Spoofing is a type of market manipulation in which a trader places a large order with the intention of canceling it before it is executed. This is done to create the illusion of demand for security and to drive up the price. Spoofing is illegal in most jurisdictions.
  3. Front running: Front running is a type of insider trading in which a trader buys or sells a security based on non-public information that they have obtained from another trader. This is done to gain an unfair advantage over other investors. Front running is illegal in most jurisdictions.
  4. Pump and dump: Pump and dump is a type of fraud in which a group of promoters artificially inflate the price of a security by spreading false or misleading information about the security. Once the price of the security has been inflated, the promoters sell their shares, and the price of the security crashes. Pump and dump schemes are illegal in most jurisdictions.