You didn't forget that highly publicized settlement between the government and many of Wall Street's top firms, did you? Remember the fine? A tidy $1.4 billion.
So, what’s happened since? Anybody see any of the green stuff? Besides which, how exactly is the government going to distribute those dollars?
According to Christine Bruenn, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, "Investors, not investment banking fees, will come first."
Bruenn testified before the Congressional committee that happened to be riding herd on the scope of the settlement agreement which was primarily based on certain evidence that analysts at these Wall Street firms had been touting stocks solely on their firm's banking relationship with the companies involved and not their investment worthiness.
The settlement provides programs that, it is hoped, will encourage people to bring their money out from underneath their mattresses to invest in the stock market. In fact, a portion of the funds are supposed to create a separate system for stock analysis while a larger sum will go toward paying investors who lost sums because of fraudulent recommendations. But, who gets the money and how it will be distributed is exceedingly complex. And, that's an understatement.
"One of the reasons we have struggled," says Bruenn "is because it is very difficult to identify the victims of any fraud on the market." She adds that in her view when there is a fraud on the market, all investors are harmed. "If restitution were available to all investors, it would be an insignificant amount of their losses. If restitution is available to only a subset of investors, it is arbitrary and unfair. In light of these problems, we believe decisions regarding the funds are best made at the state level so they can be tailored to the unique circumstances of each state."
The settlement earmarks $387 million for investors with half going to state securities regulators where each state can use the money in any way they want.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has certainly made a valiant effort to answer questions about how it will distribute funds to damaged investors but if you look at the SEC materials on the subject, you can be easily confused by the process alone.
"The Distribution Fund Administrator will devise Distribution Fund Plans and Distribution Fund Reports. These Plans and Reports will identify those who are to receive payments from the Distribution Funds, the amount that each person will receive, and the procedures for distributing funds to the recipients. The Distribution Fund Administrator will initially submit his or her Distribution Fund Plans and Reports to the SEC staff and then to the court. The court must approve all of the Distribution Fund Plans and Reports."
Bottom line? We may build the Pyramids again before any damaged investors see their share of the settlement. Why? To my knowledge, the SEC has yet to select a Distribution Fund Administrator. The commission timetable suggests that once an administrator is selected, it will still be a year and a half away from submitting the actual plan to the court for consideration.
Follow the money, eh? Sure, but where and when?
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