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SEC may join analyst investigation
Federal regulators may take part in the investigation of alleged analyst conflicts of interest.
April 17, 2002: 8:16 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The Securities and Exchange Commission may be joining New York's investigation into brokerage analysts allegedly giving misleading stock ratings because of investment banking relationships with the companies they analyze.

A spokeswoman for New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said the attorney general has been in discussions with the SEC.

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The SEC declined to comment.

Spitzer, who last week obtained a court order forcing Merrill Lynch to disclose its investment banking relationship with companies its analysts research, has said he is anxious for the SEC to join the investigation, which could mean a higher level probe into the entire brokerage industry.

Spitzer has already served subpoenas to other major brokerages, including Morgan Stanley, Salomon Smith Barney and Credit Suisse First Boston, according to a source familiar with the situation.

"We absolutely look forward to working with the SEC as a partner in this," Spitzer told Lou Dobbs Moneyline on April 10. "We need them to come in strongly, aggressively. They understand the problem. They've been our partners. I look forward to working with them."

He also said he would welcome the Justice Dept. into the investigation, but the DOJ has yet to "make their presence felt."

"I think the SEC had to get aboard this ship. Otherwise, they would look like they are lagging behind the parade," Columbia Law School professor John Coffee told the Associated Press. "They have been somewhat embarrassed by being behind everyone on the issue of accounting reform."

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If the SEC does not join the investigation, "it would look like the business of securities enforcement had passed out of the SEC's hands and into the hands of other enforcers," Coffee said.

In a conference call discussing his company's first quarter earnings, Merrill Lynch CFO Thomas Patrick said the company is continuing to work toward a settlement with Spitzer and any changes the company made regarding its research department "should be made with the understanding that the SEC and other securities regulators have a direct interest in the outcome of this dialog and should be involved."

"We have demonstrated our willingness and strong desire to work with the New York Attorney General and with the SEC, other federal securities regulators and industry participants to put into place additional policies and procedures, which we believe will better inform the investing public of possible perceived conflicts of interest," Patrick said.

But he said while discussion have been productive, the company could not speculate on possible outcomes.  Top of page

-- Associated Press contributed to this story.