Maybe it's just coincidence, but on a day when the stock market stages a powerful rally after weeks of selling and gloom, there was progress on several efforts at reforming Corporate America and Wall Street.
The main achievement came on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers reached a tentative agreement on a major corporate reform package that created a new independent board to oversee the accounting profession and enact stiffer penalties for corporate crimes. Congressional leaders say they hope to adopt a final measure by week's end and then send to President Bush for his signature.
The measure reportedly includes many of the tough accounting guidelines that were included in the Senate's version of the corporate-reform bill. Many House Republicans had opposed the establishment of an independent board to regulate accounting firms, but they apparently relented in the wake of the massive selloff on Wall Street the past month and the near-complete evaporation of investor confidence.
The corporate reform bill also includes stronger protections for corporate whistleblowers, a provision making it easier to prosecute corporate executives for securities fraud, and an increase in the minimum sentences for a number of white-collar crimes. The measure also includes a provision that requires corporate executives to personally certify that their company's financial statements are accurate, something the
Securities and Exchange Commission
is already planning to do on Aug. 14.
But the reform agenda in Washington on Wednesday extended beyond the corporate boardroom and green eyeshade crowd, it also touched Wall Street.
The SEC, at an afternoon meeting, took up consideration of a proposal that would require Wall Street analysts to include a statement with every research report in which the analyst must certify that a stock recommendation "accurately reflects his or her personal views."
An analyst also would have to state whether there is any relationship between the stock recommendation and his or her compensation. And if so, the analyst must include "the amount of the compensation received, its source, and its purpose."
More to Come
"This rule is the latest -- but not the last -- in a series of initiatives we have taken over more than the last 12 months involving potential conflicts of interest of research analysts," said SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt, at the opening of the commission meeting.
If the SEC approves the proposal, the public will have an opportunity to comment on it before the commission takes any final action on the measure.
Meanwhile, a group of independent stock research firms that don't do any investment banking work held a press conference in Washington to announce they are forming an association to better promote their services to individual investors. The Investorside Research Association on its
Web site says it will work to increase investor awareness of the "financial interest" in stock research produced by the big Wall Street brokerage houses.
For advocates of corporate and Wall Street reform, it was an active day.