February 13, 2012
The SEC Investigates Private Equity
Posted by David Zaring

The SEC is a resource constrained agency that clearly misses much wrongdoing.  But by going after hedge funds with its insider trading powers, and now by investigating private equity, I think you can also tell a story of an agency that is increasingly unwilling to let some areas of the capital markets go as "buyer beware, big boys play here" alternatives to the heavily regulated public listings.  Dodd-Frank made the SEC more of a player in derivatives regulation, and with money market funds too.  

To be sure, there are still some dark pool markets out there.  But instead of picking its battles, it looks to me like the agency is trying to be comprehensive in its oversight.  As for the latest development, the SEC's investigation concerns the way that private equity firms value their hard-to-value assets, which may be being oversold to investors.  It sounds like a Rule 10b-5 matter:

One focus of the inquiry is how private equity firms value their investments and report performance. Unlike the valuing of publicly traded stocks, valuing private equity investments — largely in private companies that are not listed on an exchange — can be a thorny and subjective process.

The S.E.C.’s concern, say people familiar with the government inquiry, is that some private equity funds might overstate the value of their portfolios to attract investors for future funds.

Administrative Law, Securities | Bookmark

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