January 4, 2012

Let’s Think of Something to Say

Happy New Year! If the holidays this year seemed sweeter, the air more welcome to the well-caroled note, it’s probably because I’ve been quiet for two straight weeks.

And with good reason. The lovely KQ and I winged southward with fellow wayfarers for time over the keel on the cayes and reefs of Belize. At Queens Cayes east off Placencia past the wildlife preserve at Laughing Bird Caye, we found what one friend called “your own Corona commercial.” As the sun faded toward dusk there, we caught this grand view of our boats on Dec 11. Our companions below the surface included this delightful fellow, a spotted eagle ray. The Eagle Ray Club is a good name for a rock band.

Inland on the far side of our trip we trekked the jungle and climbed this spectacular Mayan temple at Lamanai in the Orange Walk district. Lamanai, with some 32,000 structures hidden by the jungle, once was home to 60,000 Mayans. If the world ends next December (this comic strip offers an alternative view), we’ve redeemed the time between the best we could.

Speaking of speaking, the SEC in latter December told the Nasdaq no-way on its Market Quality Program proposal that would have authorized the exchange to charge small-cap stocks an additional $50,000-$100,000 annually to incentivize broker dealers to make markets. Read the proposal here (we say “read” loosely, as it’s composed in “marketstructureeze,” intelligible if you have a decryption tool akin to what the Allies in World War II used to debunk the German cipher machines called Enigmas).

The Nasdaq, NYSE, BATS and Direct Edge (as well as other exchange operators) file many rule-making proposals each year. These rules affect how your stock trades and often incentivize the very things making markets loathsome to real investors: statistical arbitrage and high-frequency trading. Why? These behaviors are essential to exchange profits. Thus, in 2011 alone, the Nasdaq, curator of the most codicil constipation, filed at least 171 rule proposals. The NYSE made 73 proposals, and BATS and Direct Edge 51 and 42, respectively.

SEC regulations require comment periods for each proposal. We weigh in when a rule strikes us as unhelpful to public companies. We cannot recall ever reading a single comment letter from a public company on any rule filing. Why? Good question. Public companies should be a key voice in the markets where their shares trade. Instead, listed companies have seemingly handed the hen house to the coyotes.

How about a New Year’s Resolution, IR pros? Resolve this year (this week?) to involve your General Counsel in watching the rule filings from your listing exchange.

Heck, do it yourself. Fast-trading is a by-product of exchange trading incentives. Nobody drives these more than statistical arbitragers and high-frequency traders from both sellside and buyside. As in any loyalty program, exchanges give their best customers the most attractive trading rates. But their best customers are often your worst enemies – in terms of setting real, natural prices.

It continues because thou protesteth too little. Read and comment on rule proposals from the NYSE, Nasdaq and BATS at the links below. You can view other comment letters to see the best way to opine, but it’s straightforward. Write a letter explaining your objection, emphasizing your standing as a publicly traded company listed by the exchange:

http://www.sec.gov/rules/sro/nasdaq.shtml

http://www.sec.gov/rules/sro/nyse.shtml

Exchanges’ sites:

http://www.nyse.com/nysenotices/nyse/rule-filings/list?year=2011

http://nasdaq.cchwallstreet.com/filings/

Let’s make 2012 The Year That Public Companies Spoke Up.

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