During the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission's testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday, at least one U.S. senator is expecting to hear definitive plans on when the so-called uptick rule will be reinstated. SEC Chair Mary Schapiro will appear before the Senate Banking Committee for a hearing on enhancing investor protection and the regulation of securities markets. Sen. Ted Kaufman (D., Del.), a vocal proponent for the reinstatement of the uptick rule, said Wednesday that it is time for the SEC to "signal clearly" it is committed to clamping down on abusive short-selling. "We hope and expect that Chair Schapiro will declare the SEC's resolve to end abusive short-selling, through a combination of reinstating some form of the uptick rule and strong regulations and enforcement of a pre-borrow requirement," Kaufman said in an emailed statement. The SEC's next open meeting is scheduled for April 8 in Washington and the commission said it will consider whether to propose short-sale price-test rules during the meeting. Earlier this month, Kaufman and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) introduced a bill that seeks to reinstate the uptick rule and prohibit short sales that are not made on an increase in the price of the stock. The senators asked the SEC to write regulations within 60 days. The uptick rule, instituted by the SEC following the Great Depression, mandated that short-selling of stocks could be done only after the share price ticked higher above the prior sale. The rule was designed as a guardrail to slow down the short-selling process and prevent short-sellers from driving the price of a stock at a faster clip.
In a short sale, an investor can borrow a stock from a broker, sell it to other investors and buy it back at a lower price before returning it to the original lender. The difference in the transactions is kept as a profit. The Securities and Exchange Commission made the controversial decision to eliminate the uptick rule in June 2007 after analysis showed it did little to prevent the manipulation of shares prices given the proliferation of electronic trading. Many market participants point to the SEC's decision as the catalyst that helped short-sellers thrive in 2008. The argument is that the lack of a rule requiring share prices to tick higher before short-sellers could pile on created an environment where shorts could accelerate the failures of a number of companies, especially financial names like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual. Many attribute the steep price slides at other financial names -- such as Citigroup ( C), Bank of America ( BAC), AIG ( AIG), Goldman Sachs ( GS) and Morgan Stanley ( MS) -- to short-sellers benefiting from the suspension of the uptick rule. Earlier this week, the BATS Exchange, along with the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq, said in a comment letter that a modified uptick rule and circuit-breaker would help deal with the critical issues facing the U.S. equity markets.