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U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (commonly known as the SEC) is an independent agency of the United States government which holds primary responsibility for enforcing the federal securities laws and regulating the securities industry, the nation's stock and options exchanges, and other electronic securities markets. The SEC was created by section 4 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (now codified as and commonly referred to as the 1934 Act). In addition to the 1934 Act that created it, the SEC enforces the Securities Act of 1933, the Trust Indenture Act of 1939, the Investment Company Act of 1940, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and other statutes.

The SEC is composed of five commissioners, of which no more than three can be from a single political party. Currently the SEC commissioners are chairman Christopher Cox (R), Kathleen L. Casey (R), Troy A. Paredes (R), Luis A. Aguilar (D) and Elisse B. Walter (D).

Overview

The SEC was established by the United States Congress in 1934 as an independent, non-partisan, quasi-judicial regulatory agency following years of depression caused by over production of goods, the introduction of consumer credit, and the Great Crash of 1929. The main reason for the creation of the SEC was to regulate the stock market and prevent corporate abuses relating to the offering and sale of securities and corporate reporting. The SEC was given the power to license and regulate stock exchanges. Currently, the SEC is responsible for administering seven major laws that govern the securities industry. They are: the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Trust Indenture Act of 1939, the Investment Company Act of 1940, the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and most recently, the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act of 2006.

The enforcement authority given by Congress allows the SEC to bring civil enforcement actions against individuals or companies found to have committed accounting fraud, provided false information, or engaged in insider trading or other violations of the securities law. The SEC also works with criminal law enforcement agencies to prosecute individuals and companies alike for offenses which include a criminal violation.

To achieve its mandate, the SEC enforces the statutory requirement that public companies submit quarterly and annual reports, as well as other periodic reports. In addition to annual financial reports, company executives must provide a narrative account, called the "management discussion and analysis" (MD&A), that outlines the previous year of operations and explains how the company fared in that time period. Management will usually also touch on the upcoming year, outlining future goals and approaches to new projects. In an attempt to level the playing field for all investors, the SEC maintains an online database called EDGAR (the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system) online from which investors can access this and other information filed with the agency.

Quarterly and annual reports from public companies are crucial for investors to make sound decisions when investing in the capital markets. Unlike banking, investment in the capital markets is not guaranteed by the federal government. The potential for big gains needs to be weighed against equally likely losses. Mandatory disclosure of financial and other information about the issuer and the security itself gives private individuals as well as large institutions the same basic facts about the public companies they invest in, thereby increasing public scrutiny while reducing insider trading and fraud.

The SEC makes reports available to the public via the EDGAR system. SEC also offers publications on investment-related topics for public education. The same online system also takes tips and complaints from investors to help the SEC track down violators of the securities laws.

History

Prior to the enactment of the federal securities laws and the creation of the SEC, there existed so-called Blue Sky Laws, which were enacted and enforced at the state level. However, these laws were generally found lacking; the Investment Bankers Association told its members as early as 1915 that they could "ignore" Blue Sky Laws by making securities offerings across state lines through the mail. After holding hearings on abuses on interstate frauds (commonly known as the Pecora Commission), Congress passed the Securities Act of 1933 which regulates interstate sales of securities (original issues) at the federal level. The subsequent Securities Exchange Act of 1934 regulates sales of securities in the secondary market. Section 4 of the 1934 Act created the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to enforce the federal securities laws. Both laws are considered part of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" raft of legislation.

The Securities Act of 1933 is also known as the "Truth in Securities Act" or the "Federal Securities Act” and is often shorted to the "1933 Act." Its goal is to increase public trust in the capital markets by requiring uniform disclosure of information about public securities offerings. The primary drafters of 1933 Act were Huston Thompson, a former Federal Trade Commission chairman, and Walter Miller and Ollie Butler, two attorneys in the Commerce Department's Foreign Service Division, with input from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. For the first year of the law's enactment, the enforcement of the statute rested with the Federal Trade Commission, but this power was transferred to the SEC following its creation in 1934. (Interestingly, the first, rejected draft of the Securities Act written by Samuel Untermyer vested these powers in the U.S. Post Office, because Untermyer believed that only by vesting enforcement powers with the postal service could the constitutionality of the act be assured.) The law requires that issuing companies register distributions of securities with the SEC prior to interstate sales of these securities, so that investors may have access to basic financial information about issuing companies and risks involved in investing in the securities in question. Since 1996, most registration statements (and associated materials) filed with the SEC can be accessed via the SEC’s online system, EDGAR.

The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is also known as "the Exchange Act" or "the 34 Act". This act regulates secondary trading between individuals and companies which are often unrelated to the original issuers of securities. Entities under the SEC’s authority include securities exchanges with physical trading floors such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), self-regulatory organizations such as the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB), online trading platforms such as NASDAQ and ATS, and any other persons (e.g., securities brokers) engaged in transactions for the accounts of others.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., father of President John F. Kennedy, to serve as the first Chairman of the SEC, along with James M. Landis (one of the architects of the 1934 Act and other New Deal legislation) and Ferdinand Pecora (Chief Counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Banking and Currency during its investigation of Wall Street banking and stock brokerage practices). Other prominent SEC commissioners and chairmen include William O. Douglas (who went on to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice), Jerome Frank (one of the leaders of the legal realism movement) and William J. Casey (who would later head the Central Intelligence Agency under President Ronald Reagan).

Chairs and commissioners

Structure

The SEC consists of five Commissioners appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. Their terms last five years and are staggered so that one Commissioner's term ends on June 5 of each year. To ensure that the SEC remains non-partisan, no more than three Commissioners may belong to the same political party. The President also designates one of the Commissioners as Chairman, the SEC's top executive.

Within the SEC, there are four divisions, 18 offices and approximately 3,800 staff. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the SEC has 11 regional offices throughout the United States.

The SEC's four main divisions are: Corporation Finance, Trading and Markets, Investment Management, and Enforcement.

Corporation Finance is the division that oversees the disclosure made by public companies as well as the registration of transactions, such as mergers, made by companies. The division is also responsible for operating EDGAR.

The Trading and Markets division oversees self-regulatory organizations (SROs) such as FINRA and MSRB, and all broker-dealer firms and investment houses. This division also interprets proposed changes to regulations and monitors operations of the industry. In practice, the SEC delegates most of its enforcement and rulemaking authority to FINRA. In fact, all trading firms not regulated by other SROs must register as a member of FINRA. Individuals trading securities must pass exams administered by FINRA to become registered representatives.

The Investment Management Division oversees investment companies including mutual funds and investment advisers. This division administers federal securities laws, in particular the Investment Company Act of 1940 and Investment Advisers Act of 1940. This Division's responsibilities include:

* assisting the Commission in interpreting laws and regulations for the public and SEC inspection and enforcement staff;


* responding to no-action requests and requests for exemptive relief;


* reviewing investment company and investment adviser filings;


* assisting the Commission in enforcement matters involving investment companies and advisers; and


* advising the Commission on adapting SEC rules to new circumstances.

The Enforcement Division works with the other three divisions, and other Commission offices, to investigate violations of the securities laws and regulations and to bring actions against alleged violators. The SEC generally conducts investigations in private. The SEC's staff may seek voluntary production of documents and testimony, or may seek a formal order of investigation from the SEC, which allows the staff to compel the production of documents and witness testimony. The SEC can bring a civil action in a U.S. District Court or an administrative proceeding which is heard by an independent administrative law judge (ALJ). The SEC does not have criminal authority, but may refer matters to state and federal prosecutors. The current Director of Enforcement is Linda Chatman Thomsen

Among the SEC's offices are:

The Office of General Counsel, which acts as the agency's "lawyer" before federal appellate courts and provides legal advice to the Commission and other SEC divisions and offices;

The Office of the Chief Accountant, which establishes and enforces accounting and auditing policies set by the SEC. This office has played an important role in such areas as working with the Financial Accounting Standards Board to develop Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board in developing audit requirements, and the International Accounting Standards Board in advancing the development of International Financial Reporting Standards;

The Office of Compliance, Inspections and Examinations, which inspects broker-dealers, stock exchanges, credit rating agencies, mutual funds and other financial firms that are regulated by the SEC;

The Office of International Affairs, which represents the SEC abroad and which negotiates international enforcement information-sharing agreements, develops the SEC's international regulatory policies in areas such as mutual recognition, and helps develop international regulatory standards through organizations such as the International Organization of Securities Commissions and the Financial Stability Forum;

The Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, which helps educate the public about securities markets and warns investors of fraud and stock market scams; and

The Office of Economic Analysis, which helps the SEC estimate the economic costs and benefits of its various rules and regulations.

Relationship to other agencies

In addition to working with various SROs such as NYSE and NASD, the Securities and Exchange Commission also works with other federal agencies, state securities regulators and law enforcement agencies.

In 1988 Executive Order 12631 established the President's Working Group on Financial Markets. The Working Group is chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury and includes the Chairman of the SEC, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The goal of the Working Group is to enhance the integrity, efficiency, orderliness and competitiveness of the financial markets while maintaining investor confidence.

The Securities Act of 1933 was originally administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 transferred this responsibility from FTC to the SEC. The main mission of the FTC is to promote consumer protection and to eradicate anticompetitive business practices. The FTC regulates general business practices, while the SEC focuses on the securities markets.

The Temporary National Economic Committee was established by joint resolution of Congress 52 Stat. 705 on June 16, 1938. It was tasked with reporting to the Congress on abuses of monopoly power. The committee was defunded in 1941, but its records are still under seal by order of the SEC.

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) was established in 1975 by Congress to develop rules for companies involved in underwriting and trading municipal securities. The MSRB is monitored by the SEC, but the MSRB does not have the authority to enforce its rules.

While most violations of securities laws are enforced by the SEC and the various SROs it monitors, state securities regulators can also enforce state-wide securities laws known colloquially as Blue sky laws. States may require securities to be registered in the state before they can be sold there. The National Securities Markets Improvement Act of 1996 (NSMIA) addresses this dual system of federal-state regulation by amending Section 18 of the 1933 Act to exempt nationally traded securities from state registration, thereby pre-empting state law in this area. However, NSMIA preserves the states' anti-fraud authority over all securities traded in the state.

The SEC also works with federal and state law enforcement agencies to carry out actions against actors alleged to be in violation of the securities laws.

Related legislation

SEC communications

Comment letters

Comment letters are letters by the SEC to a public company raising issues and requested comments. For example, in October 2001, the SEC wrote to Computer Associates (CA), covering fifteen items, mostly about CA's accounting, including five about revenue recognition. The chief financial officer of CA, to whom the letter was addressed, pleaded guilty to fraud at CA in 2004.

In June 2004, the SEC announced that it would publicly post all comment letters, to give investors access to the information in them. In mid-2005, Allan Beller, former head of the SEC's Division of Corporation Finance, said that the SEC believed that "it is appropriate to expand the transparency of our comment process by making this information available to an unlimited audience."

An analysis in May 2006 of regulatory filings over the prior 12 months indicates, however, that the SEC has not accomplished what it said it would do. The analysis found 212 companies that had reported receiving comment letters from the SEC, but only 21 letters (for these companies) were posted on the SEC's website. John W. White, the current head of the Division of Corporation Finance, told the New York Times: "We have now resolved the hurdles of posting the information.... We expect a significant number of new postings in the coming months.

No-action letters

No-action letters are letters by the SEC staff indicating that the staff will not recommend to the Commission that the SEC undertake enforcement action against a person or company if that entity engages in a particular action. These letters are sent in response to requests made when the legal status of an activity is not clear. These letters are publicly released and increase the body of knowledge on what exactly is and is not allowed. They represent the staff's intrepretations of the securities laws and, while persuasive, are not binding on the courts.

Regulatory action in the credit crunch

The S.E.C. announced on 17 September 2008 strict new rules to prohibit all forms of "naked short selling" as a measure to reduce volatility in turbulent markets.

Forms

SEC Forms List by category

SecuritiesLinks Links to commonly used SEC forms

See also

References

External links

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