Thursday, February 22, 2007
Goldman Sachs led investment banks in 2006 in profits and bonuses. With $9.6 billion in profits, it could afford to pay a $53.4 million bonus to its CEO, bonuses of $52.3 million to each of its two Co-Presidents, and a $31.5 million bonus to its Vice Chair. See NYTimes, Even for Rungs Below the Top, Goldman Bonuses Were Hefty and WSJ, At Goldman, Two More Officials Revealed as $50 Million Men.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
The SEC website has just posted a December 2006 Speech by Leslie A. Overton, Associate Chief Accountant, Division of Corporation Finance, before the 2006 AICPA National Conference on Current SEC and PCAOB Developments, on Accounting and Reporting Issues for an IPO in Connection with a Merger of Entities under Common Control.
The SEC announced that a final judgment by consent was entered by the U.S. District Court of the District of Massachusetts against Thomas Moore, the former chief executive officer of Biopure Corporation, in a previously-filed action alleging misleading public statements about the company's efforts to obtain FDA approval for its primary product, Hemopure, a synthetic blood product. The final judgment permanently enjoins Moore from violating antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and orders him to pay a $120,000 civil penalty.
For further information, see Litigation Release No. 19825 (Sept. 12, 2006) (SEC Settles Civil Injunctive Action Against Biopure Corporation and Its General Counsel), Litigation Release No. 19651 (April 11, 2006) (SEC Settles with Former Biopure Executive) and Litigation Release No. 19376 (Sept. 14, 2005) (Biopure and others charged by the Commission). [SEC v. Biopure Corporation, et al., Civil Action No. 05-11853-PBS (D. Mass.)] (LR-20010)
The SEC settled fraud charges against Richard L. Stern, the former CFO of Bennett Environmental, Inc. (BEI), and two others for their roles in the repeated dissemination of false and misleading information concerning a Superfund soil remediation contract awarded to the company in 2003. The Commission alleged that between June 2003 and April 2004, Stern and others caused BEI to issue press releases and make public filings misrepresenting and exaggerating a contract that it extolled as "the largest in the Company's history" with a value of "$200 million [Canadian]." In reality, the contract had a guaranteed value of less than $250,000, later was cancelled by the Army Corps of Engineers, reinstated on a limited basis, and then re-solicited under materially different terms. The complaint alleges that during the relevant time period, Stern and the other defendants failed to inform the public about material changes to the contract, failed to correct prior false statements, and continued to misrepresent the contract by asserting that it was in full force and effect and worth C$200 million. Only after a new CEO took over at BEI did the true facts come to light, which were disclosed in a July 2004 press release.
Without admitting or denying the Commission's allegations , Stern consented to the entry of a final judgment permanently enjoining him from violating Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act) and Rules 10b-5 and 13a-14 thereunder, and aiding and abetting violations of Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act and Rules 12b-20, 13a-1, and 13a-16 thereunder. Stern also agreed to pay a $75,000 civil penalty and to be barred from acting as an officer or director of a public company for five years. [SEC v. Bennett Environmental, Inc., John A. Bennett, Robert P.G. Griffiths, and Richard L. Stern, Case No. 06-Civ-14294] (LR-20009)
The SEC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia yesterday charging Veritas Software Corporation with securities fraud for engaging in an earnings management scheme and filing false and misleading financial statements from 2000 through 2003. Veritas was also charged with fraud in connection with improper round-trip transactions, including a round-trip transaction with America Online, Inc. (AOL), as well as aiding and abetting AOL's fraud. Veritas was acquired by Symantec Corporation on July 2, 2005.
Without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, Veritas consented to the entry of a judgment that enjoins the company from violating the antifraud, reporting, books and records, and internal control provisions of the federal securities laws, and from aiding and abetting securities fraud violations by other parties. Veritas was also ordered to pay a $30 million civil penalty, which the Commission will seek to distribute to harmed investors pursuant to the Fair Funds provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. [SEC v. Veritas Software
Corp., Civil Action No. 07-364 (D.D.C.)] (LR-20008; AAE Rel. 2562)
The 2006 NASD TRACE Fact Book is now available on its website. It is intended to give retail investors, market professionals, media and educational institutions a historical perspective of the over-the-counter (OTC) U.S. corporate bond market. The Fact Book is released annually and is based on aggregated data as entered into the Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (TRACE).
NASD fined Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. (RJFS) of St. Petersburg, FL, $2.75 million for failing to maintain an adequate supervisory system to oversee the sales activities of over 1,000 producing branch managers working in offices throughout the United States.
"RJFS's supervisory system was inadequate because it allowed producing branch managers to supervise themselves, said James S. Shorris, NASD's Executive Vice President and Head of Enforcement. "This flawed supervisory system created a situation where the unsuitable sales of variable annuities and risky mutual funds to elderly and risk-averse customers went undetected."
From early 2000 through September 2004, RJFS employed over 1,100 producing registered principals, or branch managers, most of whom worked in small, geographically dispersed offices. These branch managers were allowed to act as the primary supervisors of their own business activities. They approved their own transactions, opened and accepted new accounts, and reviewed their own correspondence. The firm relied on an electronic transaction surveillance system maintained by RJFS's Compliance Department, and a series of exception reports, to flag transactions that required further review. It also assigned supervisory responsibility for these 1,100 branch managers to three sales managers. The activities commonly associated with daily supervision, however, were conducted by the branch managers, who in many cases, in effect, supervised themselves. By permitting these principals to engage in self-supervision, RJFS's supervisory system was not reasonably designed to achieve compliance with securities rules and regulations.
One such producing manager was Donna Vogt, whose sales practice violations went undetected for approximately four years. Vogt was the branch manager and the only registered person working in her office in Wisconsin. She maintained hundreds of customer accounts and sold mainly mutual funds and variable annuities. Many of her customers were of retirement age or older. NASD found that, in determining which products to recommend, Vogt treated her customers as a homogeneous group, regardless of age, financial status, investment experience and objectives. Of her approximately 700 accounts, more than 90 percent listed their primary investment objective as "growth" and risk tolerance as "medium." RJFS never questioned the fact that Vogt listed these objectives and strategies for almost all of her customers. In fact, the person who reviewed and accepted the customer account documents was Vogt herself.
A federal district court judge in New York threw out the conviction of Dennis Finnerty, a trader at the NYSE specialist firm, Fleet Specialists, for improper trading for his firm's accounts. The prosecution was one of a number against specialist firms for allegedly interpositioning themselves between customers' orders to make a profit. The judge said that the government did not meet its burden of showing fraud or deceptive conduct or establishing that the customers were misled or defrauded. See WSJ, Judge Throws Out Conviction Of Ex-Specialist Finnerty.
Fannie Mae, whose profits were overstated by $6.3 billion, announced it would not pay bonuses totalling $44.4 million to 46 current and former employees for the period 2001-04. See WPost, Fannie Cancels Executive Bonuses and WSJ, Fannie Won't Pay $44.4 Million in Bonuses.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The SEC sustained NASD's findings of violation against Donner Corporation International, a former NASD member firm, Jeffrey L. Baclet, its former president and sole owner, and Vincent M. Uberti and Paul A. Runyon, former registered representatives of Donner. NASD found that Donner, Baclet, Uberti, and Runyon violated Section 10(b)and Rule 10b-5, and NASD Rules 2120, 2210, and 2110 by preparing and disseminating research reports which contained material misstatements and omissions. NASD found further that Donner, Baclet, and Uberti violated NASD Rule 2110 by failing to disclose in certain Donner research reports the compensation Donner received for writing the reports. NASD also determined that Donner and Baclet violated NASD Rules 3010, 2210, and 2110 by failing to establish and maintain adequate written supervisory procedures and by failing to ensure written approval of Donner's research reports by a firm principal.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, imposed further restrictions on punitive damages awards, holding that the award cannot penalize the defendant for harm done to non-parties. While punitive damages are not allowed in federal securities claims, they may be awarded in some state securities claims and in arbitration cases against brokerage firms. Recently, there have been some judicial opinions holding that due process limits on punitive damages awards are applicable in arbitration, even though there is no state action. For discussion of the Phillips Morris v. Williams decision, see WSJ, High Court Throws Out Verdict Against Philip Morris.
The New York Times highlights the study of "Hedge Fund Activism, Corporate Governance and Firm Performance" by law professors Frank Partney (San Diego) and Randall Thomas (Vanderbilt) and two finance professors. The study contradicts the generally held view that hedge funds are not "real" shareholders and only in it for short term gains. In fact, they find that most hedge funds take long-term positions in the companies they invest in and improve the bottom line for all shareholders. (Frank and Randall presented the paper at the January AALS meeting.) See NY Times, A Good Word for Hedge Fund Activism (It appeared in the Sunday paper, but you may have missed it because of the holiday.)
It has practically become common wisdom -- that since the enactment of Sarbanes Oxley, foreign companies have avoided the U.S. markets. But a new study by Thomson Financial examines IPOs for the past 20 years and finds little evidence that it's true. See WSJ, Do Tough Rules Deter Foreign IPOL istings in U.S.?
Morgan Stanley is unveiling its new ad campaign since changing CEOs in 2005. It has dumped the "your stockbroker is your family friend" theme and is going for a "chillier, less emotional image" with the tagline "World Wise." Courting retail investors is a big business for the large brokerage firms. See WSJ, Morgan Stanley Alters Its Pitch.
Timothy Geithner's ( President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) mission: prevent financial system meltdown. He is focusing his attention on the risks presented by hedge funds, as he works with other regulators to minimize systemic risk. See WSJ, Geithner's Balancing Act.
More details about those incriminating emails released in court documents (previously sealed) in the Mercury backdating options lawsuit -- The WSJ provides excerpts that demonstrate the blatant nature of the backdating, with talk of using the "magic backdating ink." See WSJ, Emails Reveal Backdating Scheme.
Reports that DaimlerChrysler will shed Chrysler gain traction. Investment bankers are reportedly working to put a value on Chrysler, and an auction or spin-off may take place in the coming months. See WSJ, Future of Chrysler Rests With Zetsche.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Citigroup is considering listing its shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, to facilitate its expansion efforts in Japan. See WSJ, Citigroup Studies Possibility Of Tokyo Share Listing.