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The Good News About Bad Corporate Behavior

Stocks in this article: WMT UBS NWS MRK BAC

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I confess I'm a glass-half-full businessman and adviser.

I have found optimism to be one of the leading factors for surviving, let alone thriving, in uncertain and down times like these. Another success factor is being surrounded by and doing business with good, decent people and reliable companies.

Every day that gets a little tougher to do when you see the headlines about major business leaders doing something stupid, illegal or unethical.

As an investor, employee or customer, you have come to trust brands and companies and their leaders for things like quality, safety, dependability and certainly honoring laws and abiding by codes of decency and conduct.

News like this breaks our confidence and security:

  • WalMart's (WMT) Mexico FCPA is facing a bribery investigation
  • UBS (UBS) will pay $26.6 million to resolve charges that its Puerto Rico-based brokerage unit propped up the price of the funds in the secondary market
  • Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (NWS) empire faces troubles over phone tapping and bribery of law-enforcement and political officials
  • Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam has been jailed for insider trading
  • Merck (MRK) agreed to pay almost $1 billion in 2011 for deceptive marketing of Vioxx
  • Venerable commercial and investment banks like Citi (C), JPMorgan (JPM), Bank of America (BAC) and Goldman Sachs (GS) have all settled claims with the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding subprime mortgage investments and are in seemingly never-ending SEC investigations over suspected violations

But is there good news about bad corporate behavior? Yes.

Exposure means:

  • Audits are working
  • Everyday people have had enough and are becoming whistleblowers
  • Even the rich and powerful can't hide forever if they're corrupt
  • The judicial and regulatory systems are working bit by bit
  • Internal checks and balances are working
  • Penalties are becoming more severe
  • Company boards are stepping up oversight of CEO conduct
  • C-suites are stepping up their own self-awareness and across-the-company awareness of behavior
  • Companies are revisiting their values statements, policies, procedures, training and processes to pursue with governance, risk, compliance and ethics excellence
  • And investors continue to have access to reliable sources when conducting due diligence in researching companies

So the bad news is bad, but the good news is that we're becoming more aware, more intolerant and more determined than ever to restore trust in business. We are becoming more vigilant in weighing quarterly gains over long-term corporate sustainability and integrity.

So the next time you see an expose headline, say to yourself: "Good, that bad apple's out of the barrel."

Let's hope we can step up our efforts before the barrel is too far gone.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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