Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wall Street Justice II: More Insanity on the Way

As if the government's hands-off approach to prosecuting Wall Street firms wasn't enough, Congress is in process of passing laws to lessen regulation for firms trying to go public so they can raise money without the usual disclosures. Guess what industry is licking their lips right now hoping this bill passes--the investment banking industry. The following is from yesterday's Washington Post:
A bill the House passed last week to make it easier for companies to raise money could also make it easier for companies to cheat investors, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission says.
It’s called the Jobs Act — an acronym for “Jumpstart Our Business Startups” — and lawmakers of both parties have promoted it as a way to boost a weak economy. But regulators and investor advocates have argued that it could expose investors to fraud... 
Currently, companies seeking to go public must make elaborate disclosures about their finances and operations. The SEC vets those filings before authorizing an initial public offering. Major technology companies have chafed at the requirements and have sought to postpone the day when they must file regulated disclosures.
Under the bill, investment banks that underwrite stock offerings could publish research reports before the IPOs, offering investors information that would compete with the regulated disclosures required by the SEC, Schapiro said...
The Jobs Act would lower regulatory hurdles for “emerging growth companies” trying to raise money through public stock offerings. But Schapiro said that the definition of emerging growth companies — those with up to $1 billion in annual revenue — “is so broad that it would eliminate important protections for investors in even very large companies.”
In the aftermath of accounting scandals at firms such as Enron and WorldCom, public companies have been generally required to allow audits of their internal controls. Businesses have protested that the audits are burdensome, and the Jobs Act would carve out new exemptions for emerging growth companies. Schapiro said the exemption was unwarranted.
The bill would also allow companies to raise up to $2 million through “crowd funding” — using social media to raise small amounts of money from a large number of investors without filing the standard disclosures. Schapiro said in her letter that the crowd-funding provision “needs additional safeguards.”...
The Jobs Act passed the House with wide bipartisan support — 390 to 23 — and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has said the Senate will try to pass similar legislation quickly.
Last week, the White House encouraged Congress to send a bill to the president’s desk without delay.On Wednesday, the White House said it supported efforts “to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse.” Proponents say the bill would help companies hire workers and expand. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said the changes “will unleash the entrepreneurial spirit.”
In a statement Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) all but dared Democrats to stand in the way of the bill. Doing so, he said, would send a message “that they’re just not serious when they say they’re focused on jobs.”
But critics, such as state securities regulators, say any benefits from the legislation would come at a steep price. “While well intentioned, the JOBS Act . . . sacrifices essential investor protections without offering any prospects for meaningful, sustainable job growth,” Jack E. Herstein, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, said in a statement last week.

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