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美国证交会遭遇金融巨头监管难题

Eleanor Bloxham 2012年03月16日

鉴于一些大型金融机构屡次违规,美国证券交易委员会的策略亟待调整。

    涉及提供抵押贷款相关的披露不当问题再次引发美国证券交易委员会(SEC)的关注,涉案单位包括高盛集团(Goldman Sachs)和富国银行(Wells Fargo)。近期的一份法庭命令显示,就天然气管道公司Kinder Morgan和艾尔巴索公司(El Paso)并购一案,摩根斯坦利(Morgan Stanley)和高盛集提供的相关建议存在潜在的客户利益冲突。高盛集团首席执行官罗伊德•布兰克帆显然知情并亲自参与其中。难道这些大型金融机构真的因为规模过大,不可能完全接受法规的约束?

    二月底的一次媒体早餐会上,美国证券交易委员会主席玛丽•夏皮罗解释说:“这些机构非常庞大……我们关注这些公司的不同业务领域和内容时,就会一再发现问题。人们总是健忘,所以我们不得不反复提起这些案例,提醒人们不要忘记。”这次早餐会由FOR A电视台录制。

    周二,夏皮罗赴国会为美国证券交易委员会2013年预算案辩护。但愿证交会这次申请的预算资金充足,而国会也能批准这份预算,,并且如预算案所陈述的,由证券交易委员会负责“扩大并重点发展调研职能”,同时“强化诉讼职能”。

    然而目前,证券交易委员会对大型银行的监管似乎像是在打地鼠游戏,一次只能打击一个目标。这种方式治标不治本,治理了这边的违规,那边又出现了新的违规。有没有办法对这些问题公司进行全面的整顿呢?

证券交易委员会和花旗集团和解

    证券交易委员会和花旗集团(Citigroup)计划和解,而就此召开全面聆讯则提供了解决这个问题的可能性。但聆讯最终是否会进行目前尚不清楚。联邦法官杰德•拉科夫判决该案应该进行法庭审理,去年年末,证券交易委员会随即对该判决提起了上诉。

    法庭记录显示,在上诉案件中现已形成两派。本来不太可能成为同盟的商业圆桌会议协会(Business Roundtable)、证券交易委员会和花旗集团站在同一边。他们都支持和解。

    另一派包括创意投资研究公司(Creative Investment Research)老总威廉•迈克尔•坎宁安。他声称,“为了支持公共利益”,应该对和解协议进行审查而不是批准;另外,旨在“促进金融市场公共利益”的非营利性机构“市场优化”(Better Markets)也要求考虑反对拟议的和解协议。

    商业圆桌会议协会在法庭文件中表示,如果对和解协议进行法庭审理,可能会使“法庭陷入微观管理的境地,需要事无巨细地监控各机构的执行决策”。但坎宁安质问证券交易委员会“关注私利甚于公平正义……特别是,如果采纳更加公平的和解协议,将有助于避免累犯现象,同时保护投资者利益。”

    证券交易委员会反驳拉科夫法官和其他批评者时运用了两大主要论据,也就是周二夏皮罗反复强调的内容。夏皮罗称,和解比诉讼成本更低。如果证券交易委员会能够通过和解得到的成果与通过诉讼得到的成果大致相当,而且不存在诉讼的不确定性和调查导致的延误,那么和解对所有人来说都是一桩好事。但她同时也表示,如果金融机构别无选择,必须承认违规,它们就不会跟证券交易委员会谈和解。

    但证券交易委员会尚未给出其他从长远来看成本更低廉的解决方案。

    Disclosure failures related to mortgage offerings are again in the sights of the SEC, this time related to Goldman Sachs (GS) and Wells Fargo (WFC). And a recent court order describes potential client conflicts of interest involving advice provided by Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (with the apparent knowledge and participation of CEO Lloyd Blankfein) related to the Kinder Morgan-El Paso acquisition. Are these and other large financial firms just too big to behave?

    "These firms are enormous … [and] as we look at different areas of their business and we focus on different topics, we find problems over and over again," SEC Chair Mary Schapiro explained in late February at a media breakfast (which was filmed by FORA.tv). "People have short memories [and] we have to bring cases continuously … so people don't forget."

    Schapiro appeared before Congress on Tuesday to defend the SEC's proposed 2013 budget. Hopefully, the proposed budget is sufficient, and Congress will meet the request and then hold the SEC accountable for "expanding and focusing the investigative function" and "strengthening the litigation function," as its budget proposal states.

    Right now, however, whack-a-mole seems to be the name of the SEC's game as it attempts to police the large banks, one incident at a time. But this approach doesn't address the root causes of these incidents, so repeat offenses spring up in new locations. Are there ways to whip these problem companies into shape?

SEC-Citi Settlement

    A full hearing into a proposed settlement between the SEC and Citigroup (C) offers an opportunity to explore possibilities. But it's unclear if that hearing will even take place. After federal judge Jed Rakoff ruled that the case should go to trial, the SEC promptly appealed the decision late last year.

    Court records show that sides are now forming in the appeals case. The unlikely bedfellows of the Business Roundtable, the SEC, and Citigroup (all of whom support the negotiated settlement) are on one side.

    The other side includes William Michael Cunningham, owner of investment firm Creative Investment Research, who has argued "in support of the public interest" that the proposed settlement should be examined, rather than approved, and Better Markets, an organization "that promotes the public interest in the financial markets," which has also requested to weigh in against proposed settlement.

    In court documents, the Business Roundtable says that if the settlement were to go to trial, it could put "courts in the position of micromanaging agencies' enforcement decisions." But Cunningham questions the SEC's "concern for expedience over justice … especially if a fairer settlement would help prevent recidivism, and … protect investors."

    In addressing Rakoff and its critics, the SEC has used two major talking points, which Schapiro repeated on Tuesday. Settlements are less costly than litigation. If the SEC can secure a settlement similar to what they would get through a trial, without the uncertainty of litigation and the delay of investigation, it's a good deal for everyone, Schapiro said. Yet financial institutions won't settle with the SEC if they have to admit wrongdoing, she argued.

    But the SEC has not addressed other solutions that might cost the agency even less in the long term.

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