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Economic Review

Economic Review
C O N T E N T S
Fourth Quarter 2004/Volume 89, Number 4

Economic Review articles are posted on the Web as they become available. Page numbers in the PDF file posted here may not reflect the page numbers of the printed version.

These files are in PDF format, which requires Adobe Acrobat Software (links off-site)

PRESIDENT
JACK GUYNN

EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND
DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH

ROBERT A. EISENBEIS

RESEARCH DEPARTMENT
THOMAS J. CUNNINGHAM
Vice President and
Associate Director of Research

GERALD P. DWYER JR.
Vice President, Financial

ELLIS W. TALLMAN
Vice President, Macropolicy

JOHN C. ROBERTSON
Assistant Vice President, Regional

PUBLIC AFFAIRS
BOBBIE H. MCCRACKIN
Vice President

LYNN H. FOLEY
Editor

TOM HEINTJES
Managing Editor

CAROLE L. STARKEY,
PETER HAMILTON, AND JILL DIBLE
Designers

ALISON BOUNDS
Marketing and Circulation

CHARLOTTE WESSELS
Administrative Assistance

The Economic Review of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, published quarterly, presents analysis of economic and financial topics relevant to Federal Reserve policy. In a format accessible to the nonspecialist, the publication reflects the work of the Research Department. It is edited, designed, produced, and distributed through the Public Affairs Department.

Views expressed in the Economic Review are not necessarily those of this Bank or of the Federal Reserve System.

Material may be reprinted or abstracted if the Review and author are credited. Please provide the Bank’s Public Affairs Department with a copy of any publication containing reprinted material.

Free subscriptions and limited additional copies are available from the Public Affairs Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1000 Peachtree Street, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30309-4470 (404/498-8020). Change-of-address notices and subscription cancellations should be sent directly to the Public Affairs Department. Please include the current mailing label as well as any new information.

ISSN 0732-1813

Mutual Funds: Temporary Problem or Permanent Morass?
Paula A. Tkac

The improprieties in the mutual fund industry that surfaced in the fall of 2003 prompted the passage and drafting of legislation and regulations that cover nearly every facet of mutual fund pricing and operations. While this regulatory flurry is clearly intended to protect shareholders’ interests, the question remains: How will these scandals and regulatory changes ultimately affect mutual fund investors?

When considering the problems inherent in mutual fund management and the best ways to address them, it is important, the author stresses, to understand current business practices in the industry, who these benefit, and why they exist.

Mutual fund investors, the author explains, are legally considered owners of a company that pools the investment capital of many investors. In practice, however, investors are often viewed (and often view themselves) as customers of a management firm that acts as an investment adviser.

Regardless of which view is taken, inherent conflicts exist between investors and advisers because the two parties have differing objectives: Investors want to receive higher returns on their investment while minimizing risk, and advisers want to maximize their own profits without exerting undue efforts (costs).

The author reviews a number of possible solutions to these conflicts of interest, including compensation-based fee structures, a separation of functions, proposed regulatory and legislative changes, and monitoring and information disclosure.

By far the strongest weapon investors have in resolving these conflicts is their own demand, the author concludes. “When unfettered and free of frictions, a competitive marketplace will supply the products and services investors demand at the lowest possible price,” she notes.


Investment Banks, Scope, and Unavoidable Conflicts of Interest
Erik Sirri

In recent years investment banks have drawn particular criticism for the lack of objectivity and independence in their research reports and analyst recommendations. This article argues that this conflict of interest is but one of many potential conflicts that arise as banks take advantage of the scope economies inherent in providing the customary business lines of investment banking under one roof.

The author considers academic evidence on investment bank analysts’ jobs, which entail both an acknowledged sales function and an unacknowledged information brokerage function. In these two roles, analysts are often serving two or more parties whose interests are not aligned. Though some research shows that analyst buy-sell recommendations are biased, the market appears to understand and correct for this bias, the author finds. Evidence on research quality also indicates that analysts at large banks make less biased and more precise earnings forecasts than do analysts at independent research firms.

The author also examines conflicts of interest between banks’ research and corporate finance functions and between internal proprietary trading and the customer-driven sales-and-trading function. These conflicts center around how and when research and proprietary trading information are disseminated to investors. Even more subtle conflicts may arise between investment banks and their customers when either party tries to further its own ends at the expense of a third party.

Ultimately, the author believes there is little evidence that the mandated regulatory changes that physically and economically separate banking from research or that require banks to make independent research available to retail clients will improve investor welfare.


Searching for a New Center: U.S. Securities Markets in Transition
Maureen O’Hara

Technological challenges, governance issues, competitive pressures, and questions about the oversight of trading practices are but a few of the many forces besetting U.S. equity markets. This article outlines some important issues surrounding the evolving structure of the U.S. equity markets and offers some alternative regulatory approaches that might be more consistent with this new competitive environment.

Crafted more than a quarter-century ago in a time of dominant markets interacting with smaller competitors, the National Market System (NMS) was based on a one-size-fits-all approach in which all trade orders were to be treated equally. Over time, technology has enabled the development of new trading systems and dramatically expanded the number of potential competitors. In addition, the traditional market structure of member-owned cooperatives has given way to corporate ownership, which poses challenges for the self-regulatory structure underlying equity market supervision.

Within this new environment, how should markets compete, how should they be linked, and how should they be regulated? To address these questions, the author discusses several pressing issues such as price-time priority, liquidity rebates, tape revenue, pricing increments, and access fees as well as more general issues such as the viability of self-regulation.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed Regulation NMS is a promising start toward addressing the current market structure’s needs. But the author feels that its changes are piecemeal and do not go deep enough to develop a new vision consistent with the current economic realities of equity markets. Where direction is most needed, she concludes, is at the firm level, where regulation must provide oversight to ensure fair and appropriate behavior.