Crisis Yields Turnabout by SEC Chair
at the Practising Law Institute’s program on securities regulation, the historically arch-conservative, deregulatory Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox, offered very surprising recommendations for financial regulation reform based on lessons taught by the current economic meltdown. Highlights include:
1. Establishing a Congressional Select Committee on Financial Services Regulatory Reform.
2. Merging the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission “with a clear mandate to protect investors by regulating the markets in all financial investments, including securities, futures, and derivatives.” Many such calls have been made, dating to the 1987 market crash to the Treasury Department’s March 2008 blueprint for financial regulation reform. Most propose diluting the resulting agency by having the merged agency adopt the lax approach to regulation used by the CFTC rather than the relatively tight approach of the SEC. Mr. Cox’s statement emphatically prescribes sticking with traditional SEC approaches in the resulting merged agency. He says the crises “highlight the need for a strong SEC.”
3. Merging all existing bank regulators, of which there are six at the federal level and scores at state levels. Again, this proposal has been often made, including by Treasury, although Mr. Cox again signals an urgency and muscularity that differs from the looser supervisory approach Treasury contemplated. Mr. Cox says: “the lessons of the credit crisis all point to the need for strong and effective regulation.” He contrasts the traditionally “strong SEC” with the comparatively lax banking regulatory structure: the SEC is independent of those it regulates. In contrast: “banks regulated by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York elect six of the nine seats on the board of the New York Fed. Both the CEOs of J.P. Morgan Chase and Lehman Brothers served on the New York Fed board at the beginning of the credit crisis.”
4. Mr. Cox also takes the lessons from the crisis to reject proposals, made as recently as a year ago, to weaken US regulations on the grounds such regulation results in the US losing financial business to less-regulated markets. The “mortgage meltdown” and “credit crisis” show that what is needed is strong regulation backed by statute, not mere supervision, voluntary compliance, weaker regulation or limited enforcement, Mr. Cox said.
The speech overall is an impassioned defense of a strong SEC, and strong regulation. Numerous SEC observers over Mr. Cox’s tenure may recognize this as a bit of a turnabout for him.