Restoring Confidence in our Financial Markets (Sen. Ted Kaufman)

Last night, I introduced my first bill, S.605, bipartisan legislation supported by Senators Isakson (R-Ga.) and Tester (D-Mont.). S. 605 directs the SEC to stop abusive short selling practices that artificially manipulate stock prices.

I am deeply troubled by the fact that so many Americans have lost so much of their life savings in the stock market during the past year. Literally trillions of dollars that was meant for retirement expenses, college tuition or starting a new business has simply evaporated. We have to convince investors that the system is not stacked against them.

In the Judiciary Committee, we moved on March 5 to restore investor confidence by reporting S. 386, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act (FERA). Our law enforcement agencies must have the resources they need to find, prosecute and jail those who have committed financial fraud, and FERA will provide those resources.

That is one step we must take.

S. 605 takes another step, directing the SEC to target abusive short selling. Abusive short selling happens when traders and hedge funds sell stock shares with the goal of artificially driving down prices so they can profit. In many cases they do this with stocks they don’t have and won’t be able to deliver. That creates “phantom shares” that dilute a company’s value and drive down its share price inappropriately. Abusive short selling amounts to gasoline on the fire for distressed stocks and distressed markets.

The problem isn’t short selling itself. The problem is that under current rules short sellers are allowed to sell stocks they haven’t actually borrowed in advance of their short sale -– and with no uptick rule in place as a circuit breaker. The uptick rule -– which served us well for 70 years -– simply requires short sellers to take a breath and wait for an increase in price before they continue to sell short in a declining view.

We have the opportunity to make the SEC a “can-do” agency once more. Our legislation directs the SEC, under the leadership of Chair Schapiro, to move now to protect investors and restore investor confidence.

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