Day traders were confused. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, they couldn't figure out why there was so much action in USG Corp. (), a Chicago building-materials company whose subsidiary is mired in asbestos lawsuits. The stock was trading at double the normal daily volume and would gain $2.12 to close at $61.55. But there wasn't any major news to power the run-up.
Public news, that is. Behind the scenes, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had decided to override the qualms of Budget Committee leaders and press ahead with a bill to create a $140 billion fund to relieve companies such as USG of their asbestos liabilities. Frist wouldn't announce his move until Nov. 16. But the news got to key Wall Street players a day early via a little-known pipeline: a small group of firms specializing in "political intelligence" that mine the capital for information and translate Washington wonkspeak into trading tips.