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September 30, 2004

The Regulators Approve Soft Dollars?

By Gregory Bresiger

Soft-dollars supporters, watching the regulators closely, now believe that they will not abolish the controversial payment practice. That was their reaction to the statement of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson.

Donaldson recently told the Senate Banking Committee that "it would be a mistake to inhibit the access of investors to third-party research."

Although Donaldson said that the SEC has an active task force studying soft dollars, he also told the committee that, "independent research can be a valuable resource for investors..."

For those who believe that soft-dollar practices should be reformed, but not abolished, Donaldson's comments were welcomed.

"We are delighted with the chairman's statement," says Scott Cleland, a director and co-founder of Investorside Research Association (IRA), a group representing independent research firms. He also speculated about the recommendations of the SEC task force.

"We do not think that the SEC is going to abolish soft dollars. I think that they will probably require greater accountability and transparency," according to Cleland.

"The statement," adds John Meserve, president of Bank of New York research, commission and payment services, "reinforces our confidence that regulators will continue to support the use of third-party soft-dollar commissions for independent research."

The SEC task force on soft dollars is expected to report before the end of the year.