For the business community, going public has always been where the real money is.
That’s speaking in very broad strokes of course, and that’s what opponents of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act often do when making the case that the accounting law is hurting the U.S. economy.
With a Washington judge promising to rule quickly on a suit brought by the Free Enterprise Fund and the Competitive Enterprise Institute that questions the constitutionality of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (the case was heard just before Christmas), it’s surely just a matter of time before someone introduces the side issue of New York dropping another spot in the rankings of the locales where companies go to issue new stock listings.
Hong Kong passed over the former No. 1 this year, handling a number of initial public offerings for several of China's biggest banks this year, and raising approximately $39.57 billion in U.S. dollars in the process. The city joined London, the No.1 locale at the top of the list, which raised some $48.92 billion in IPO equity. Meanwhile, the New York Stock Exchange reported a total of $33.61 billion through November, which is no small shakes.
Looked at in terms of market share, the two primary U.S. exchanges held on to 17.6 percent of the market -- an undeniable drop from 23.9 percent in 2005, and 48.5 percent in 2000. The brighter news was that the deal value of non-U.S. companies debuting on U.S. markets did actually rise over the past year, to more than $8.5 billion, the highest figure since 1997.
When the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation released its recent report urging legislators to consider overhauling the country’s enforcement policies and litigation system, committee director Hal Scott, a Harvard Law School professor, took great pains to say that nothing in economics should be looked at within a vacuum.
“There’s no doubt there are many factors. But when you’re looking at significant and controllable factors, it’s easy to see there are changes that could be made to legal and regulatory issues,” Scott said at the time. “We are way over on the side of micro-rules about everything.”
The report called for Congress to consider liability caps for auditors, as well as the introduction of safe harbors, though stopping well short of advocating for either option. And the report stopped far short of calling for any roll-back of SOX, instead pointing to many of the internal control provision reforms already suggested by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.
And that’s what makes sense. There’s no question that there’s a number of factors colliding at this time in history that have led to New York’s fall to -- gasp! -- No.3 on the list. But before pointing the finger at SOX, it has to be noted that sharing a bigger piece of the pie is part of the reality of the global market. Right now, the big money being generated by Chinese companies in Hong Hong has at least as many reasons to do with the rising prominence of the financial systems in Shanghai and Hong Kong as it does with U.S. accounting rules. For the longer term, that’s supposed to be a good thing.
Scrapping meaningful reform in a bid to keep up with the Joneses of the world is short-sighted folly at best. And that hardly seems like a sound business strategy for any company worth investing in.
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