SEC Chairman Asks Staff to Provide Recommendations After Studying CIFiR Report;Senate Banking Hearing on Economy Begins

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By Edith Orenstein, FEI Financial Reporting Blog - Earlier today (Feb. 14), SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, upon receiving the Progress Report of the SEC Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting (CIFiR), issued a statement saying he has asked the SEC staff to review the report and it’s proposals, and to provide recommendations to the Commission for possible consideration later this year. He also noted his thanks CIFiR members for their diligent work, and looks forward to additional proposals and recommendations as it continues its work over the next few months. (CIFiR is scheduled to disband, according to its charter, on Aug. 2, 2008.) For additional background, see our earlier post summarizing CIFiR's Feb. 11 meeting.

Separately, as we told you earlier this week, the Senate Banking hearing on "The State of the U.S. Economy and Financial Markets" (video via C-SPAN) just began (shortly after 10am EST Feb. 14), featuring testimony from SEC Chairman Chrisopher Cox, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. Perhaps some of the following topics will come up, noted in today's papers:

"A Labyrinthine Path to Justice: FBI, SEC Join Complex Probe of Housing Crisis," by Carrie Johnson in today's (Feb. 14) Washington Post. Johnson reports, "FBI officials said yesterday that they are conducting criminal investigations of 16 companies, while their partners at the [SEC] are probing nearly two dozen more. Those federal investigations follow subpoenas from attorneys general in at least four states and class-action lawsuits that target home builders, lenders, credit-rating agencies and the banks that packaged groups of mortgages into securities." Johnson also quotes FBI section chief Sharon E. Ormsby saying: "These are going to be complex investigations," and that 'policing mortgage and credit-related fraud is the "number one priority" of the FBI's financial crimes unit."

"Worried Bankers Seek to Shift Risk To Uncle Sam," by Damien Paletta in today's (Feb. 14) Wall Street Journal. Paletta reports: "One proposal, advanced by officials at Credit Suisse Group, would expand the scope of loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration. The proposal would let the FHA guarantee mortgage refinancings by some delinquent borrowers....Another plan gathering support seeks to make it easier for banks to write off part of the unpaid balance on loans that exceed a property's value, people familiar with the matter said. If that happens, homeowners would owe less, and they might be able to refinance their loans and avoid foreclosure." Paletta says the government is open to considering proposals which it may not have in the past. He quotes FDIC Chair Sheila Bair saying, "Everybody is looking at everything... The door is not closed on anything."

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