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When Richard Grasso quit seven weeks ago as chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, there was criticism not only of his $188 million pay package, but also of the exchange board that approved it. Board members, largely handpicked by Grasso, came under fire for being too cozy with the Wall Street firms they regulate.
First of all, you have a totally independent board. On the board are four people who have had extensive experience running boards, so the whole issue of compensation and how it was handled for Mr. Grasso and so forth and so on, the conflicts that existed on the old board that certainly contributed to some of its dysfunction don't exist here. So that I think that the likelihood of this board getting carried away with what I would call irrational exuberance is very low.
There's certainly a good step. The notion of having eight individuals who are neither working for the exchange or subject to its regulation is a good move in the right direction. The transparency of reporting means there will never be salary arrangements like those for Mr. Grasso that go unnoticed for so long a period of time.
There's a major change in what was discussed over the last few weeks in the sense that the board will choose the chair rather than report to the chair. That's a very significant move. Whether it goes far enough though deals with a number of unresolved issues. We don't know who the new chair will be. We don't know how this board will perform. We have seen very disturbing news stories in the last few weeks or in the last few days especially with respect to oversight of specialists. And the concern you have is whether or not it would be wiser to have a fuller separation of the regulatory functions of the New York Stock Exchange from the floor so to greatly increase the likelihood that investors will have confidence that there will be a vigorous discipline, vigorous enforcement and vigorous oversight of the floor community.
I think I agree with my colleague, Joel Seligman. This does adequately respond to the executive compensation excesses that prompted the current scandal. But it doesn't respond to the SEC's new concern about the regulatory independence and integrity of the enforcement system at the New York Stock Exchange. Here you've got a problem in that the new regulatory chief, that this new board will choose, will still be subject to influence, pressure, control, from the exchange's chief executive officer. There are two different conflicts of interest here.
Professor Coffee, John Reed very carefully said today that if his suggestions are put into place, the New York Stock Exchange can remain self-regulating, that there would be no need for further oversight, further establishment of boards looking over its shoulder. And then the SEC was very grudging in its praise. Good first step but it held out the possibility of more reforms. Is that a signal from Chairman William Donaldson?
I think it's a very clear signal that they think Mr. Reed is doing a good job, but he hasn't fully defined the problem in terms of the need for greater regulatory independence and assurance of the integrity of the process. Even though Mr. Reed thinks the system will work very well, we don't know five years from now whether another chief executive will want his regulatory staff to try to deter broker/dealers from moving order flow to competitor or whether he will want to have less scandals on his watch and thus will signal to the regulatory staff that he wants a little less activism. I think that's where you've got to have a greater separation. The SEC did this seven years ago when it reorganized NASDAQ and the NASD. I think they had a very good model there. I expect they'll want to apply some of it here again.
There's certainly something to that but there's also real force in the point jack made with respect to the reorganization of the NASDAQ and the NASD during the 1990s. There you had a crisis by which overall oversight of the equivalent to their floor community was not as vigilant as it should have been. It was a price fixing scandal.
Reed, I think, has done a very good start at starting a process, but the underlying whether with oversight of the specialists or even the full report on what went on with respect to Mr. Grasso's compensation has not become public yet. The sense of what the policy choices are will be developed much more when the New York Stock Exchange makes its proposals to the SEC and the SEC reviews it. There are a number of questions which aren't yet on the table.
During the 1990s, there was considerable thought as to whether or not the world would be better off if there was one self-regulatory organization for all market centers rather than each self-regulatory or each exchange having their own SRO functions in house. That's a very complex proposal. There are a lot of bells and whistles in it. But it deserves thoughtful consideration by the SEC, and I think that's the reason why the end of the SEC'S release today they explained that additional possible reforms will be considered.
The specialists at the New York and other exchanges are the market makers. They're the people to whom all order flow potentially is funneled. They set the opening price. They're the buyers and sellers of last resort. They're the ones who maintain what's called the limit order book, that is, buy-and-sell orders that are not at the immediate market price. They're the most important actors on the exchange floor. They deserve a good deal of credit in the history of the New York Stock Exchange for keeping quotes very tight, which is a way of protecting investors for a good record with the execution. But they're quite strikingly different than the system in the NASDAQ market where you have competitive dealers. And the way of keeping prices appropriate for investors is through competition rather than funneling all orders to a single specialist post.
Well, the world has changed dramatically in the last year or two. Congressman dated something called decibelization that securities would trade in terms of pennies rather than eighths of point. When we had the significant reduction in the width of the spread, it reduced a lot of the profits to the specialist. They are now are in a world where securities trade on a two or three cent spread or less, and in that world they are making less of a profit.
They are therefore often willing to provide less liquidity. They're often jumping in front of the customer taking transactions for themselves where two public trades could instead cross. That's a world that doesn't look like the old world. And I think the relevance of the specialists and their ability to survive in a rapidly evolving marketplace is one of the serious questions that the SEC and the exchange will have to move to next after they solve their current governance problems.
I certainly think that you could have electronic auction market. There is a difference between an auction market and a dealer market. And there's a lot to be said for the New York Stock Exchange system that doesn't put a financial intermediary in the center of every transaction, the so-called dealer or market maker, but allows public orders to meet public orders.
The Titan-Metropolis line was one of the most heavily traveled train routes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It ran from the East to West coast and was valued for its speed, making relatively few stops. It offered the height of modern amenities and luxury to the captains of industry that had willed it into being. In 1902, during a routine crossing of the Rockies, a switchman absented himself from his post for reasons lost to history and the Titan-Metropolis collided with a circus train carrying performers and animals speeding to their next engagement. There were no survivors.
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Even though they had all boarded the train together, Isolda did not know how much time her fellow dinner guests had already spent together. Her own insurance company had a strict policy on destination deaths and did not cover any non-mandatory classes. But there were many groups and programs that offered extensive training to those fortunate enough to have more comprehensive coverage. The other guests could have known each other for some time already. Regardless, the other five at the table all seemed weary of Dr. Larkspur. 041b061a72