SEC halts trade of obscure firm with market cap bigger than Tesla

© Jonathan Ernst
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suspended trading of Neuromama stock, citing concerns over “potentially manipulative" transactions.

The trading was stopped after company stock nearly quadrupled in the last four months to over US$56 per share. The market capitalization of the firm rocketed to $35 billion, making it bigger than Tesla Motors, Twitter and Delta Air Lines.

The SEC also mentioned the vague data on the identity of the company’s owners as reasons for the suspension. The halt will last until August 26, according to the commission.

“The Commission temporarily suspended trading in the securities of NERO because of concerns regarding the accuracy and adequacy of information in the marketplace about, among other things, the identity of the persons in control of the company’s operations and management, false statements to company shareholders and/or potential investors that the company has an application pending for listing on the Nasdaq Stock Market, and potentially manipulative transactions in the company’s stock,” said the SEC in the order.

Red flags were raised as early as 2014, when the SEC sent letters to Neuromama, questioning what the regulator called the company's "vague" claims that it had developed a platform "containing all of the popular components used by a majority of the population of the internet."

Mexico-based Neuromama was valued at $4.73 billion in early 2014, when the company had 630.1 million shares outstanding, according to the regulator. Since then, the start-up has not reported quarterly or annual financial results.

According to Neuromama’s management, the high price of the stock and the relative lack of trading made the firm an easy target for regulators.

“We went public, as virtually all small public companies do, on the over-the-counter market. And everything was fine while the stock sold for $5 or $7.50 a share,” Reuters quotes company chief marketer Steven Zubkis as saying.

Zubkis added that the halt in trading had come as a response to pressure from short-sellers.

 “We’re suffering from a negative side effect caused by our success,” Zubkis wrote in an email to Bloomberg, stressing that the project is in a sector with typically high valuations.

Zubkis, who also goes by the name Steven Schwartzbard, had already been sued by the SEC for orchestrating a securities fraud scheme involving boiler-room stock sale techniques. In 2007, the businessman was sentenced to five years after admitting guilt to charges that he defrauded investors out of $1.8 million in connection with the construction of a storage facility and renovation of a Las Vegas Casino, Reuters reports.

Neuromama operates a search engine based on what it calls neural technology and is reportedly in talks to license “heavy ion fusion.” Selling computing devices, the company is also reportedly involved in a wide range of businesses and investments, including oceanfront property, social networks, as well as plans to license Cirque-du-Soleil-style performances in Tijuana.