A Credit Suisse First Boston analyst who was bullish on Enron and its spinoff The New Power Company is the focus of one the allegations in this week's $1.4 billion Wall Street settlement. Securities regulators, in settling claims against CSFB, a division of Credit Suisse Group ( CSR), charged that the investment bank failed to disclose in research reports on New Power that Curt Launer, the firm's lead energy analyst, owned shares in the Enron spinoff. Launer, who isn't mentioned by name in the settlement documents but is described by his title, issued 18 bullish research reports on New Power from October 2000 to November 2001. CSFB and Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, which CSFB acquired in November 2000, were the lead underwriters on New Power's $579 million initial public offering. The allegations involving the New Power research reports come at a critical time for CSFB, which is being sued by shareholders of New Power and Enron. New Power played a big part in the shady accounting deals at Enron. Enron used the IPO to recognize a profit on its remaining 43% equity stake in New Power, so it could report an additional $370 million in income in the fourth quarter of 2000. New Power, which soared 30% on its first day of trading in October 2000 to close at $27 a share, soon became a market flop. The deregulated power company filed for bankruptcy in early 2002, just a few weeks after Enron. The settlement documents allege that Launer invested $21,000 of his own money in New Power, a company that Enron spun off even though it was a fledging entity at the time with no earnings and a small customer base. Regulators allege that CSFB's failure to disclose Launer's financial interest in New Power created a conflict of interest. Last year the Securities & Exchange Commission enacted a regulation requiring analysts to disclose on research reports whether they own shares in a company they follow.
Launer was one of four Enron analysts called before a Congressional panel last year to explain why he was so bullish on the energy trader and appeared caught off guard by Enron's collapse in one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history. Launer had maintained a strong buy recommendation on Enron shares up until Nov. 28, 2001, just days before the Houston company filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2. A CSFB spokeswoman declined to comment. Launer couldn't be reached for comment. Two weeks ago, a federal judge in New York refused to dismiss a shareholder class-action suit brought by New Power investors against CSFB and the other underwriters on the IPO, Citigroup ( C) and CIBC World Markets, a division of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce ( BCM). U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant, in a 14-page decision, said the underwriters may have misled investors when they described New Power in the IPO prospectus as "uniquely positioned to succeed."