Updated from 5:01 p.m. EDT
Being a Wall Street analyst used to be a glamorous job, but it can't be much fun these days. Not only does no one believe what analysts have to say, many are facing lawsuits from investors who lost a bundle following their picks.
And now analysts may have to start disclosing some details about how they're compensated. Or at least that's what the
Securities and Exchange Commission
The SEC is expected to vote next Wednesday on whether to propose a rule that would require analysts "to provide disclosures regarding their compensation" as it relates to the research reports they issue, according to a posting Friday afternoon on the SEC Web site. The agency also is considering requiring analysts to personally certify the information in their reports.
Last month the SEC announced that beginning Aug. 14, it would require executives at 945 large corporations to personally certify the accuracy of their companies' financial statements. The move is an attempt by the SEC to bolster investor confidence in the market. And it appears the agency is now trying to take similar steps to repair the tarnished image of Wall Street analysts, especially following the much-publicized investigation by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer into analyst conflicts of interest at
SEC officials says the proposed rule is still being drafted. But SEC spokeswoman Christi Harlan says analysts would be asked to certify that they "truly believe their recommendations' and that their compensation is not in any way tied to the recommendation they make on a stock."
A draft won't become public until it's approved by the agency's commissioner and then submitted for a period of public comment. The proposal would become a binding regulation only if the SEC again approves it at the end of the public comment process.
Salomon Smith Barney research reports already include the following disclosure about analyst compensation: "Like all Firm employees, analysts receive compensation that is impacted by overall firm profitability, which includes revenues from, among other business units, the Private Client Division, Institutional Equities and Investment Banking." Salomon is a division of
But Wall Street critics say that anything the SEC can do to shed more light on how analysts at big Wall Street firms earn their multimillion-dollar salaries is welcome.
"If you put some specific dollars with it, that would be a particularly good reform," says Mark Maddox, an Indiana attorney who frequently represents investors in disputes with brokerages. "More meaningful disclosure about financial conflicts is only going to help the system in the long run."
Wall Street analysts have been under fire for nearly two years now for maintaining bullish stances on sky-high stocks, even as the prices were crumbling. Critics charge that analysts have long had a vested -- and in some cases a pecuniary -- interest in touting stocks of companies that are investment banking clients of their firms.
The SEC already has approved new rules that require analysts to disclose whether they or anyone in their immediate family owns shares of the companies they cover. The rule, which had been proposed jointly by the
New York Stock Exchange
National Association of Securities Dealers
, also requires analysts to disclose whether their employers have done any investment banking work for a company.
But the furor over the role of Wall Street analysts didn't really explode until this spring, when Spitzer's investigation revealed that some Merrill analysts were privately bashing some of the stocks they were urging the public and Merrill's brokerage customers to buy. That revelation has launched a much broader government and regulatory investigation into Wall Street conflicts of interest.
Some on Wall Street, however, fear that the increasing level of disclosure will make it difficult for them to hire and retain good analysts.