Tag: SEC Chair Gary Gensler

Will the SEC beat the clock on the Gensler agenda?

In an article in 2022, Politico  reported that SEC Chair Gary “Gensler has come under fire for the pace of rulemaking coming out of the agency, with critics claiming that dissecting the flood of new proposals in such short periods of time is impractical. Gensler has pointed out that the number of proposals [is] largely on par with what former SEC chairs like Clayton have done. The latest proposals have just been more clustered than in the past, Gensler said.”  That’s a response that I’m sure I’ve heard any number of times during Congressional hearings. Is that still the case? To find out, Bloomberg performed a count of SEC records from 2001 to 2023 to assess the extent of rulemaking in the first two years, four months and one week into the tenures of several of the SEC Chairs over that period who were confirmed to lead the SEC at the start of a new administration. The answer? Yes and no. According to Bloomberg, the “SEC under Chair Gary Gensler is issuing regulations at its slowest pace in decades for a new presidential administration,” having adopted just 22 final rules since his tenure began in 2021. By comparison, over the same periods, the SEC under Jay Clayton had adopted 25 final rules, under Mary Schapiro, 28 rules, and under Harvey Pitt, a whopping 34 rules (many implementing the SOX mandate).  So were all the complaints about the tsunami of rulemaking just misguided?  Not exactly. As Bloomberg notes, “[d]espite trailing his recent predecessors on final rules, Gensler’s proposal tally of 49 exceeds Clayton’s 28 and Pitt’s 48, but is less than Schapiro’s 65.” [Emphasis added.]  For the agenda of the Gensler administration, that leaves quite a chasm at this point between rules that are final and rules that are just proposed. What might that mean for SEC priorities?  Bloomberg takes a deep dive.

House Republicans want to restructure the SEC…and sack the Chair

Some Republican House members are proposing a bill to “stabilize” the SEC, the SEC Stabilization Act (H.R. 4019). What do they mean by that?  First and foremost would be removal of the current “tyrannical”—their word, not mine—SEC Chair, Gary Gensler, “following his long series of abuses that have been permitted under the current SEC structure,” according to the bill sponsor’s press release.  (Hmmm, was that just performative?) The actual bill would establish the office of Executive Director and implement a structure similar to that of the bipartisan Federal Election Commission, increasing the size of the SEC to six, with an even party split, thus “protecting U.S. capital markets from any future destabilizing political agenda”—or ensuring permanent gridlock, depending on your point of view. 

“We’ve got some work still to do,” said SEC Chair

That’s what SEC Chair Gary Gensler said about the timeline for the final climate disclosure rules when asked on Monday (probably at the National Press Club), as reported by Reuters. (See this PubCo post, this PubCo post and this PubCo post.)  According to the SEC’s most recent rulemaking agenda, the final climate disclosure rules have a target date for adoption of October 2023. (See this PubCo post.) Gensler, however, Reuters reported, “said this was not hard and fast. ‘We’ve got some work still to do,’ Gensler said. ‘I don’t have a time. It’s really when the staff is ready and when the Commission is ready.’” October? IMHO, nah….

Could AI trigger a financial crisis?

In remarks on Monday to the National Press Club, SEC Chair Gary Gensler, after first displaying his math chops—can you decipher “the math is nonlinear and hyper-dimensional, from thousands to potentially billions of parameters”?—discussed the potential benefits and challenges of AI, which he characterized as “the most transformative technology of our time,” in the context of the securities markets. When Gensler taught at MIT, he and a co-author wrote a paper on some of these very issues, “Deep Learning and Financial Stability,” so it’s a topic on which he has his own deep learning. The potential for benefits is tremendous, he observed, with greater opportunities for efficiencies across the economy,  greater financial inclusion and enhanced user experience. The challenges introduced are also numerous— and quite serious—with greater opportunity for bias, conflicts of interest, fraud and platform dominance undermining competition. Then there’s the prospective risk to financial stability altogether—another 2008 financial crisis perhaps? But not to worry—Gensler assured us, the SEC is on the case.

Weaponization of the SEC? The House questions the SEC Chair

Will “weaponization” be Merriam-Webster’s word of the year? On Wednesday, SEC Chair Gary Gensler testified to the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on the topic of SEC appropriations.   The SEC is asking for a 12% increase.  Why? Gensler cited tremendous growth in the markets and the “wild west of crypto,” which, he said, without prejudging any one token or exchange, was “rife with non-compliance”; the SEC was stretched thin in its efforts to investigate, but “must be able to meet the match of bad actors.”  In response, Gensler heard from some subcommittee members about heavy-handed enforcement, the “blistering pace” of rulemaking (which distracts the SEC from the work some members perceived as its real mission), and capital formation treated as just an afterthought. There was certainly some time spent questioning the vast number of proposals the SEC was making (which Gensler reminded the member was fewer than proposed during Jay Clayton’s tenure) and some attention to staffing issues highlighted in the Inspector General’s report.  By far, however, the spotlight was on climate, with much of the subcommittee going on a tear—well, as much of a tear as possible in a five-minute allocation of time—about the SEC’s climate proposal. One member even went so far as to suggest that the climate proposal represented a “weaponization” of the SEC. What impact will these criticisms have on the proposal? (See this PubCo post.)

Gensler remarks on market stability

In remarks at an open meeting of the SEC this week (focused on proposals related to cybersecurity and data protection in the markets), SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s opening remarks addressed the bank failures of last week in the context of enforcement and market stability.

After bank failures, SEC Chair reassures that the SEC is on the job

So far, the SEC has been rather quiet about the impact of last week’s bank failures. Here is a brief statement from SEC Chair Gary Gensler.

PCAOB gains “unprecedented access” to inspect audit firms in China

You might recall that, for well over a decade, the PCAOB has been unable to fulfill its SOX mandate to inspect audit firms in “Non-Cooperating Jurisdictions,” including China. Years of negotiation failed to resolve the deadlock over audit inspections and, in 2020, the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act amended SOX to prohibit trading on U.S. exchanges of public reporting companies audited by audit firms located in foreign jurisdictions that the PCAOB has been unable to inspect for three sequential years. (See this PubCo post.)  According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, as of March 31, 2022, Chinese companies listed on the three largest U.S. exchanges had a total market capitalization of $1.4 trillion. (See this PubCo post.) As a result, the trading prohibitions of the HFCAA were poised to have a substantial impact. After passage of the HFCAA, more negotiations ensued, and, in August, the PCAOB took an initial step by signing a Statement of Protocol with the China Securities Regulatory Commission and the Ministry of Finance of the People’s Republic of China governing inspections and investigations of audit firms based in China and Hong Kong. (See this PubCo post.)  But that was viewed as just an opening; as SEC Chair Gary Gensler phrased it, the “proof will be in the pudding. While important, this framework is merely a step in the process. This agreement will be meaningful only if the PCAOB actually can inspect and investigate completely audit firms in China. If it cannot, roughly 200 China-based issuers will face prohibitions on trading of their securities in the U.S. if they continue to use those audit firms.” To the surprise of many, last week, the PCAOB announced that it had secured unprecedented access to conduct these inspections. According to PCAOB Chair Erica Williams, for “the first time in history, the PCAOB has secured complete access to inspect and investigate registered public accounting firms headquartered in mainland China and Hong Kong. And this morning the Board voted to vacate the previous determinations to the contrary. This historic and unprecedented access was only possible because of the leverage Congress created by passing the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act. Congress sent a clear message with that legislation that access to U.S. capital markets is a privilege and not a right, and China received that message loud and clear. Investors are more protected today because of Congress’ leadership….” However, she added, she wanted “to be clear: this is the beginning of our work to inspect and investigate firms in China, not the end. The PCAOB is continuing to demand complete access in mainland China and Hong Kong moving forward. Our teams are already making plans to resume regular inspections in early 2023 and beyond, as well as continuing to pursue investigations.” What is the impact? To  remove, at least for now, the immediate peril of delisting from U.S. exchanges that was threatening many U.S.-listed China-based companies.  

Happy Holidays!

More heat about comment periods—is it a portent of something more?

SEC Chair Gary Gensler has certainly heard from Republicans with some frequency about proposal comment periods that they consider too abbreviated. The charge is that, under Gensler’s tenure, the time periods allowed for public responses to voluminous and complex proposals—which were initially set at 30 days, and then, in response to complaints, extended for a longer period under a slightly more complex formulation—just don’t leave enough time for public review and comment. (Of course, the not-very-secret secret is that the SEC typically accepts comments submitted well after the deadlines.) SEC Commissioners Hester Peirce and Mark Uyeda, as well as former Commissioner Elad Roisman, have all taken on the issue (see the SideBar below). And it’s not just commissioners that have tackled the comment period issue— Republicans in Congress have also voiced disapproval. Now, as reported by Politico, in a September 13 letter that has recently surfaced, a group of 12 Senate Democrats have joined the chorus.  Although the letter is focused on the duration of comment periods, according to Politico, “Senate Democrats are privately urging SEC Chair Gary Gensler to slow work and take more time for feedback on a slew of regulations rattling Wall Street, as tensions surrounding the agency’s Biden-era agenda reach a boiling point.” Are problems with the comment period signaling a larger issue?

Jon Stewart interviews SEC Chair Gary Gensler—an acronym bonanza?

Here’s an unexpected pair: Jon Stewart interviewing SEC Chair Gary Gensler on his podcast, The Problem with Jon Stewart. In many ways, the interview was remarkably financially sophisticated, with acronyms like “PFOF” tossed around pretty casually, not to mention “naked shorts,” “best execution,” “dark pools” and “lit markets.”  Somebody definitely did his homework.