SEC Commissioner Kara Stein shared her views on the current state of U.S. capital markets and addressed several key issues.
In remarks before the Healthy Market Structure Conference held in Boston, Commissioner Stein asserted that the relationship between issuers and investors should not be viewed as a “zero-sum game”; that both sides of the market spectrum benefit from strong market structures that address the needs of all participants.
Focusing on the issue of the decline of initial public offerings, Commissioner Stein explained that private equity capital and capital available through private debt allow companies to fund operations without turning to the public market. In an era of low interest rates, she said, companies often view debt financing as a tenable method of funding growth. Commissioner Stein admitted, however, that the regulatory environment has made “going public” less attractive. As a consequence of the decline, there has been a reduced volume of information available to the public, making price discovery more difficult for both public and private companies. She questioned whether a system that is affected by perpetual price discovery difficulties will eventually cause significantly adverse liquidity effects.
Commissioner Stein noted the effect of emerging technologies and their contribution to information disparities. In particular, she expressed concern about the effects of “dark pools” on price discovery. Commissioner Stein expressed hope that the SEC would move forward on initiatives to improve access to information as well as market transparency. She highlighted a 2016 SEC proposal regarding order routing disclosures and a 2015 SEC proposal regarding dark pool disclosure requirements as ripe for finalization.
Lofchie Comment: Commissioner Stein’s remarks point out a core conundrum. “More” regulation may have some benefits, but as the cost of those benefits increases, more issuers and investors determine that the costs of regulation outweigh those benefits. Regulators must confront honestly the trade-offs between the regulatory burdens that they impose and the number of issuers that will elect to operate under those burdens. Finding the right trade-off point is difficult, but before the search can begin, regulators must concede that there is a trade-off.