SEC Chairman Christopher Cox acknowledged that the mortgage meltdown may have started in the United States, but he pointed the finger at other countries for helping create a global economic crisis.
"The meltdown in the markets is simply not an American contagion," he said, speaking at a Financial Executives International Conference in New York. "There are real estate bubbles all over the world. Last year Spain built more houses than Britain, France and Germany combined."
Cox, who is expected to step down at the end of the Bush administration, noted that while residential real estate values were inflated in the U.S. by 10 percent, they were inflated by 30 percent in Ireland, according to the International Monetary Fund. "U.S. banks looked downright conservative in comparison to Iceland banks," he added.
Cox called attention to the interconnectedness of the financial markets across the world. "Markets in Bangkok are affected by decisions made in Boise," he said, adding, "There are no more economic islands. No one is unaffected by the waves of global finance."
Cox also talked about what the SEC was doing to stabilize the economy. "It's vital that we get our economy on solid footing," he said. He called for greater transparency, describing how the transition to International Financial Reporting Standards and interactive data tagging would help investors analyze companies globally. "With transparency, investors can more easily compare and weigh investment opportunities," he said. "Two-thirds of American investors own foreign securities."
The SEC published its long-awaited roadmap for transitioning to IFRS late Friday (see SEC Publishes IFRS Roadmap). Cox emphasized that the standards should be crafted in the interests of investors. "International accounting standards must promote clarity and comparability," he said. He also discussed some of the ongoing changes as the standards become more internationalized. "Stakeholders must be allowed to participate in the standard-setting process," he said. "The standard-setter must be independent."
Cox also detailed the SEC's enforcement efforts, noting that last year the SEC submitted 556 requests to foreign regulators for SEC investigations, while the SEC received 454 requests from foreign regulators.
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