Regulators today asked Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to pay approximately $75 million to settle conflict-of-interest allegations, sources said. The request came as meetings between regulators and a dozen of Wall Street's largest firms regarding a "global settlement" of multiple investigations continued.
Merrill Lynch & Co., which earlier this year agreed to pay $100 million to settle charges that its analysts issued intentionally misleading stock research, was told it would not have to pay another fine as part of any global settlement with state, federal and industry regulators, two sources said.
Meanwhile, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. may join a handful of other firms in arguing against paying a large fine, sources said. Lawyers for the bank, who are to meet with regulators on Tuesday, may argue that because the firm does not serve many individual investors and did not have a high-profile analyst during the stock boom of the late 1990s, it should not have to pay a sizeable fine as part of the settlement. All three firms declined comment on the settlement talks. Officials in Texas and Alabama, states that have been investigating J.P. Morgan Chase, did not return calls.
New York State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer; the Securities and Exchange Commission; NASD, the securities industry's principal self-regulatory body; and regulators in numerous other states are probing allegations that Wall Street misled investors during the recent stock boom with inflated research reports intended to generate lucrative banking fees and allocated hard-to-get and often highly valuable initial-public-offering shares to executives at firms that were also investment banking clients.
These investigations have been deeply embarrassing to Wall Street, which is trying to negotiate a global settlement that would bring all the probes to an end.
But if J.P. Morgan does put up significant resistance to paying a large fine, the firm would join a number of other firms that have indicated in recent days that they are not yet ready to sign off on the settlement under terms being suggested by regulators.
Executives at Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. on Friday said they were "stunned" when regulators suggested the firm pay a $250 million fine, in addition to the $100 million the firm already paid to settle an earlier probe. In addition to Credit Suisse, executives at Thomas Weisel Partners and U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray Inc. have said they do not believe their firms committed sufficient wrongdoing to merit large fines.
Regulators, for their part, say they always viewed the current round of meetings as the start of negotiations on fines and other parts of the settlement. Officials at some of the firms also concede they are striking an initial bargaining position. The same executive at J.P. Morgan who said the firm might fight a large fine said the firm could also still decide to pay as much as $50 million or $60 million to put the current probes to rest.
Officials at Citigroup Inc., meanwhile, are said by regulators to be willing to pay as much as $500 million to settle charges that the firm's Salomon Smith Barney unit misled investors. Spitzer, who has been aggressively probing Citigroup, has indicated he will proceed with civil or even criminal charges against the firm and individual executives if his demands are not met.
Regulators are to meet Tuesday with lawyers from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., UBS AG, Lehman Brothers and J.P. Morgan Chase and are expected to ask the firms to pay fines of around $50 million to $75 million each.
CSFB Files Response
Meanwhile today, Credit Suisse submitted its response to a civil lawsuit filed against the firm last month by Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin. Galvin, the state's top securities regulator, claims the firm used fraudulently inflated stock recommendations to generate banking business and rewarded executives who steered business its way with valuable IPO shares.
The 34-page response, filed this evening, calls the complaint a "fundamentally flawed attempt to condemn the structure and business operation's of CSFB's technology research during the so-called technology boom." The response also calls the complaint "riddled with factual mistakes and flatly incorrect descriptions of documentary evidence." It says the firm's research structure was "entirely lawful" and that Massachusetts did not interview a single current employee at the firm but rather relied on a "small number of disgruntled former employees."
In response, Galvin said Credit Suisse had declined to make current employees available for interviews. "They are being very argumentative in the interests of protecting their outrageous behavior," Galvin said, adding that he would seek a hearing on the matter early next year. He also said the firm's "belligerence was inconsistent" with its publicly stated desire for a global settlement. And he accused Credit Suisse lawyers of arguing during global settlement talks that the firm could not fundamentally change the way its analysts operate. "They are not interested in addressing" serious past mistakes "or changing their behavior," Galvin said.