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How Courageous Is Mary Schapiro?

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 4th, 2009 11:57 AM |

mary-schapiroDoes SEC chair Mary Schapiro have the personal courage to lead a new and emboldened financial regulatory regime?

Ms. Schapiro has always been viewed as being far too cozy with the financial industry. Sense on Cents first crossed paths with current SEC chair Mary Schapiro this past January at the time of her exceptionally easy confirmation hearing.  At that point and since, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and others have weighed in that Ms. Schapiro is “no regulatory heavyweight.”

Let’s check back and see if Ms. Schapiro is breaking off the Wall Street shackles. The Washington Post does us the favor of reporting this morning, SEC Chief Strives to Rebuild Regulator:

Schapiro is working to step up enforcement efforts, pushing cases linked to the financial crisis and freeing investigators to more vigorously pursue financial wrongdoing. She is also pursuing regulations to govern hedge funds, derivatives, short-selling, money managers, corporate disclosures and governance.

I am heartened by Ms. Schapiro’s aggressive posture. That said, I am not about to accept purely on face value that Ms. Schapiro is “changing her game.”

On the heels of the financial fiasco on Wall Street, there is doubtless lots to clean up. However, Ms. Schapiro has to appreciate that many question her courage in taking on this task. Why? Very simply, her track record as head of Finra saw an unprecedented drop in sanctions and fines. As the WSJ highlighted this past January:

Fines collected and sanctions assessed by Finra under Ms. Schapiro’s leadership dropped by 73% (in 2005, prior to Ms. Schapiro assuming leadership, Finra collected $150 million in fines. In 2006, Schapiro assumed the leadership reins and that number moved to $75mm. It dropped further to $50mm in 2007, and $35-40mm in 2008).

Against that backdrop, Ms. Schapiro has a lot of work to do to change her own image along with that of the SEC. The WaPo reports that Schapiro is aware of this fact. Schapiro states as much:

“I wanted to be very clear almost from my first day — not just with words, which are pretty easy to string together, but with actions — that this is a new SEC that is moving in a decidedly different direction and at a decidedly different pace,”

Additionally, Schapiro comments,

“Our markets are vulnerable if we’re not able to restore confidence,” Schapiro said. What investors “need to see is that the rules that are in place and will be in the future are enforced and aggressively enforced. If they don’t see that, their reluctance to engage the capital markets will be pretty significant.”

The media continues to rail on Schapiro, the SEC, and Finra for having missed the Madoff scam. Those protests are totally justified. It has been almost 7 months since Bernie turned himself in to authorities and little progress is provided to the public on the investigation.

In my opinion, though, Ms. Schapiro has other dirty laundry that needs a full and public airing.

The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn along with the SEC are currently investigating former executives from Lehman for potentially front running the Auction Rate Securities market in 2007. I call upon Ms. Schapiro to release information regarding Finra’s liquidation of its own Auction Rate Securities holdings in the same time period. Full details on this story are included in U.S. Attorney and SEC Investigate Lehman’s Auction Rate Securities Sales; They Should Also Investigate FINRA’s.

Ms. Schapiro may have to recuse herself in the process of a full and thorough investigation of Finra and its ARS sale. As with any real leader, if she has absolutely nothing to hide, then she should have no problem recusing herself. As she herself said, “our markets are vulnerable if we’re not able to restore confidence.”

Does Ms. Schapiro have the courage to investigate Finra and her own tenure in an attempt to restore that confidence?

LD






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