On his first day as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox vowed to dedicate the agency anew to "the mission of protecting the average investor."
The former Republican lawmaker from California told an auditorium packed with hundreds of SEC employees yesterday that the enforcement unit would have his "unstinting support."
Cox, 52, acknowledged "thorny" issues on the agency's agenda, including implementation of best-price trading rules, hedge fund registration and increased oversight of mutual funds.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is suing the SEC over a rule forbidding mutual fund board chairmen from having management ties. A divided agency led by former chairman William H. Donaldson passed that rule 3 to 2, on the day before he left the job in June.
Cox gently chided analysts and media reports that predicted he would take a less investor-friendly approach than Donaldson, who frequently cast his vote with the agency's two Democrats to impose new regulations on industry.
"Such predictions, while part of the territory, often have as much factual basis as a WorldCom prospectus," Cox said, referring to the telecommunications company that collapsed after an $11 billion accounting fraud.
The new chairman will have several key decisions to make in the weeks ahead. He must choose officials to fill top jobs in the SEC's investment management and market regulation units. The agency also faces an October deadline for naming a candidate to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. Kayla J. Gillan, a former lawyer at the California Public Employees' Retirement System and a favorite of investor advocates, has expressed interest in being reappointed to her slot on the accounting board.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Cox said he would be "careful and deliberate" about the appointment process.
"It's going to take a few weeks to determine an approach to those issues," he said.
Cox has no shortage of other items competing for his attention. Yesterday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an ally of Cox's when they worked together in Congress, sent the new SEC chairman a letter urging him to craft rules barring companies from retaliating against stock analysts who issue negative ratings. Recent news reports have cited incidents in which corporate executives cut off contact with analysts they viewed as overly critical.