Analyst-Banker Firewall Weakened in Bill on Obama’s Desk

From Bloomberg:

After the dot-com bust a decade ago, regulators forced Wall Street to adopt rules aimed at keeping stock analysts from over-praising companies doing deals with their banks. President Barack Obama is set to sign a law that would undo at least some of the changes.

One measure in the bill, passed by Congress March 22 to ease securities rules for closely held firms, would restore communication between bank research and underwriting arms. Those links were restricted in 2003 by regulators and by a separate settlement between then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and 10 firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Spitzer forced the banks to restructure their practices after his office obtained internal e-mails from Merrill Lynch & Co. analysts who privately called dot-com stocks they had recommended “dogs” and “crap.”

“It undoes part of the regime set in place through the analyst settlement,” said Stephen Crimmins, a former Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyer who is now a partner at K&L Gates LLP in Washington. “It’s possible we’ll see some of those parties involved in the settlement ask the court to be relieved of their undertakings.”

Obama is scheduled to sign the bipartisan agreement tomorrow. When it becomes law, regulators will no longer be able to write or maintain rules that restrict investment bankers from arranging communications between analysts and investors when dealing with firms with less than $1 billion in gross annual revenue.

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