In the United States, people who put their money in banks are usually protected if the bank ever fails. They are guaranteed to get their money back, up to one-hundred-thousand dollars. Financial markets offer no guarantees. That is why the Securities and Exchange Commission exists. The S-E-C is an independent government agency formed to protect investors.
The need grew out of the stock market crash of nineteen-twenty-nine. Many Americans lost trust in financial markets. The Great Depression soon followed.
In nineteen-thirty four, Congress established the Securities and Exchange Commission. President Bush chose William Donaldson, an investment banker, as the current chairman last December.
The commission has five members, including the chairman. At most, three of the five may be of the same political party. The president appoints the commissioners, with Senate approval. Their job is to establish and enforce rules for financial markets.
The S-E-C has four divisions. One is the Division of Corporation Finance. It requires public companies to report on their financial condition and any issues that could affect investors.
The Division of Market Regulation oversees the private groups that supervise financial markets. Stock exchanges and groups like the National Association of Securities Dealers are self-governing. But, because their work involves public trust, the S-E-C plays a part.
The Division of Investment Management oversees investment companies and dealers. Its areas include the mutual fund industry. Chairman Donaldson recently called for changes to prevent some kinds of trading in mutual funds. Officials say some traders use these methods to help only big investors.
And, the Division of Enforcement investigates violations of laws. The commission can bring charges, but often reaches agreements to avoid a trial. On October first, for example, the S-E-C reached a deal with J.P. Morgan Securities. The company agreed to pay a fine of twenty-five million dollars in a case, but did not have to admit or deny guilt.
The S-E-C can only enforce civil laws. But it works with agencies that enforce criminal laws. In some cases, the S-E-C may work with the attorney general of a state to bring charges.
This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Doug Johnson.