The Future of Securities Regulation

Brian Cartwright, General Counsel of the SEC and a 1980 graduate of Harvard Law School, recently delivered an address entitled The Future of Securities Litigation. The talk offers a fascinating perspective on how we can expect securities markets–and the SEC’s regulatory approach–to change in the coming years.

The speech emphasizes what Brian calls “deretailization,” or the dwindling presence of retail investors in securities markets. Retail investors, who once owned more than 90% of publicly traded equity, now own less than 30%. Moreover, retail investors do not trade some assets at all, including the billions of dollars annually raised in 144A debt offerings. (Some institutions have recently moved to raise equity in 144A offerings as well.) And private equity and hedge funds, which frequently take publicly traded firms private, generally exclude retail investors altogether.

Over the last twenty years, Brian explains, these asset classes have come to dominate capital markets, and retail investing–once the focus of much regulatory behavior–is no longer central to modern securities markets. Instead, individual investors now choose among intermediaries competing for their funds–with the intermediaries, rather than the individual, directly participating in the capital markets.

In light of these trends, the speech argues, regulators should focus their efforts on ensuring that individuals have the necessary tools to choose among intermediaries. That kind of regulation, Brian explains, might ensure that individuals understand that a mutual fund’s past performance may not repeat itself; that additional disclosure allows investors to calculate an actively managed fund’s alpha, or market-adjusted performance; and that investors are able to evaluate a fund’s market-adjusted performance against the fund’s expenses.

The full text of the speech is available here.

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