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Congress to scrutinize analysts again

Congress will hear more testimony about the conflicts of interest that allegedly pervade the financial analyst world Tuesday in the second hearing on "analyzing the analysts."

Congress will hear more testimony about the conflicts of interest that allegedly pervade the financial analyst world Tuesday when the House Financial Services Committee holds it second hearing to "analyze the analysts."

And based on earlier testimony, it looks like the government may get involved to ensure that "the growing number of $2,000 investors receives the same care as the $200,000 investor," Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., said in a release.

This hearing will go beyond an earlier one to investigate not just the financial analysts who follow companies but also the reporters who interview them.

Other topics under consideration include possible improper influence on analysts from institutional investors who hold high stakes in particular stocks and pressure from companies doing business with investment banks that employ the analysts.

Speakers at Tuesday's hearings will include Laura Unger, acting SEC chairman; Chuck Hill, director of research at First Call; Ron Glantz, former director of research at PaineWebber and former managing director of Tiger Management; and Matt Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News.

The relative fairness of Wall Street analysts has been a hot topic in Congress this year. Analysts have come under attack for allegedly over-inflating their ratings of stocks and not disclosing potential conflicts of interest.

Prior to earlier hearings on the matter, the Securities Industry Association issued a set of "best practices" designed to combat some of the potential problems.

Change in the air
In accordance with those guidelines, two major firms, Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse First Boston, have revised their rules to restrict stock ownership for their analysts.

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently issued a set of guidelines for investors, warning them not to rely solely on analysts in making investment choices, but to do their own homework as well.

And earlier this month, the National Association of Securities Dealers put forth a proposal that would require analysts to disclose their portfolio holdings when they appear on television to discuss stocks.

But those industry moves may not be enough to satisfy Congress.

"The existing industry association best-practices proposal doesn't go far enough to address the problems, nor, might I add, do subsequent actions taken by individual firms," Baker said in a release. "While self-regulatory reform is preferred, future legislative or regulatory solutions may be required."

The subcommittee has established a review board that is examining current industry proposals. That board is expected to release its report, along with recommendations for remedies, to Congress on Aug. 21.