The Securities and Exchange Commission plans to release hundreds of pages of internal e-mails and other documents from Wall Street firms this morning, detailing what securities regulators claim were industrywide efforts to dupe small investors at the height of the dot-com boom.
The massive public disclosure, intended to demonstrate how research analysts hyped high-tech stocks to win investment banking business, comes as part of a long-awaited $1.4 billion global research reform settlement.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and other key regulators say the flood of evidence against 10 top brokerages will help bolster class-action lawsuits and arbitration cases brought by shareholders angry at heavy stock market losses. Some estimates put additional Wall Street liabilities at more than $3.5 billion.
But little new ”smoking gun” evidence is expected against prominent Internet analysts such as Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker. People close to the situation say former Citigroup telecommunications analyst Jack Grubman, former Merrill Lynch dot-com analyst Henry Blodget and former Credit Suisse First Boston high-tech dealmaker Frank Quattrone are likely to remain the lone poster boys of Wall Street excess. Citigroup, Merrill and CSFB are also expected to be the only banks accused of outright securities fraud in the settlement. None of the banks will admit or deny wrongdoing.
Wall Street executives fought mightily over the past several months to prevent another round of damaging disclosures at a time when the industry is beset by collapsing revenue and massive layoffs. But firms hope that the settlement will restore investor confidence in the nation’s capital markets and bring an end to the worst industry downturn since the Depression.
Whether the gamble pays off will remain uncertain for years. Two firms involved in the talks from the beginning are not included in the final pact. Deutsche Bank is still being investigated after new e-mail discoveries. San Francisco brokerage Thomas Weisel Partners was kicked out of final talks after refusing to agree to terms. Weisel could face SEC civil charges.
Under the settlement, the firms will:
Sever the links between research and investment banking and outlaw deal-related compensation for stock analysts.
Pay for ”independent” stock research for investors, to complement their own analysts’ reports, for five years.
Make ratings and price-target forecasts for stocks available to the general public.
Ban ”spinning” of hot initial public offering shares. The term refers to allocating IPO shares to executives and directors of corporate clients.
Ban analysts from IPO ”road shows” and pitches to lure corporate clients.
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