Other Unpublished Work | 2009

The Pecora Hearings

by David Moss, Cole Bolton and Eugene Kintgen

Abstract

In 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, the Senate Banking Committee began a much-publicized investigation of the nation's financial sector. The hearings, which came to be known as the Pecora hearings after the Banking Committee's lead counsel Ferdinand Pecora, revealed how the country's most respected financial institutions knowingly misled investors as to the desirability of certain securities, engaged in irresponsible investment behavior, and offered privileges to insiders not afforded to ordinary investors.  During the famous "Hundred Day" congressional session that began his presidency, Roosevelt signed two bills meant to prevent some of these abuses. The first law required companies to register new securities with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and to publish prospectuses with detailed information on their business ventures before they could offer new securities to the public. The second law established insurance for bank deposits and forced financial institutions to choose between investment and commercial banking.

Roosevelt also believed that the government should play a more active role in the financial system by regulating national securities exchanges. In February 1934, the president urged Congress to enact such legislation, prompting the introduction of a bill entitled the Securities Exchange Act. If enacted, this bill would force all securities exchanges to register with the Federal Trade Commission, would curtail the size of loans that could be advanced to securities investors, and would ban a number of practices (such as short-selling) that were thought to facilitate stock manipulation. Additionally, the legislation would require that all companies with exchange-listed securities publish detailed business reports as frequently as the FTC desired and would subject any company or exchange deemed to be in violation of the act's provisions to increased legal liability.

Wall Street, represented in particular by New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) President Richard Whitney, took a strong position against the Securities Exchange Act. Whitney was ultimately summoned to testify during the congressional hearings on the Securities Exchange Act in late February 1934. Would he be able to convince lawmakers that the Securities Exchange Act would impose overly burdensome regulations on exchanges and stifle American securities markets, or would his arguments fail to win over those who believed that strict regulations were exactly what financial markets required following the Great Crash?

Keywords: Financial history; Financial Crisis; Financial Markets; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms; Government Legislation; Laws and Statutes; Business and Government Relations; Financial Services Industry;

Citation:

Moss, David, Cole Bolton, and Eugene Kintgen. "The Pecora Hearings." 2009. (Draft case.)