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Goldman agrees USD22m settlement with SEC

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The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Goldman, Sachs & Co over a lack of adequate policies and procedures to address the risk that during weekly “huddles,” the firm’s analysts could share material, nonpublic information about upcoming research changes.

Huddles were a practice where Goldman’s stock research analysts met to provide their best trading ideas to firm traders and later passed them on to a select group of top clients.

Goldman has agreed to settle the charges and will pay a USD22 million penalty.

Goldman also agreed to be censured, to be subject to a cease-and-desist order, and to review and revise its written policies and procedures to correct the deficiencies identified by the SEC. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) also announced today a settlement with Goldman for supervisory and other failures related to the huddles.

“Higher-risk trading and business strategies require higher-order controls,” says Robert S Khuzami (pictured), Director of the Commission’s Division of Enforcement. “Despite being on notice from the SEC about the importance of such controls, Goldman failed to implement policies and procedures that adequately controlled the risk that research analysts could preview upcoming ratings changes with select traders and clients.”

The SEC in an administrative proceeding found that from 2006 to 2011, Goldman held weekly huddles sometimes attended by sales personnel in which analysts discussed their top short-term trading ideas and traders discussed their views on the markets. In 2007, Goldman began a program known as the Asymmetric Service Initiative (ASI) in which analysts shared information and trading ideas from the huddles with select clients.

According to the SEC’s order, the programs created a serious risk that Goldman’s analysts could share material, nonpublic information about upcoming changes to their published research with ASI clients and the firm’s traders. The SEC found these risks were increased by the fact that many of the clients and traders engaged in frequent, high-volume trading. Despite those risks, Goldman failed to establish adequate policies or adequately enforce and maintain its existing policies to prevent the misuse of material, nonpublic information about upcoming changes to its research. Goldman’s surveillance of trading ahead of research changes — both in connection with huddles and otherwise — was deficient.

“Firms must understand that they cannot develop new programs and services without evaluating their policies and procedures,” says Antonia Chion, Associate Director in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

In 2003, Goldman paid a USD5 million penalty and more than USD4.3 million in disgorgement and interest to settle SEC charges that, among other violations, it violated Section 15(f) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by failing to establish, maintain, and enforce written policies and procedures reasonably designed to prevent the misuse of material, nonpublic information obtained from outside consultants about US Treasury 30-year bonds.  The 2003 order found that although Goldman had policies and procedures regarding the use of confidential information, its policies and procedures should have identified specifically the potential for receiving material, nonpublic information from outside consultants. Goldman settled the SEC’s 2003 proceeding without admitting or denying the findings.

The order issued today finds that Goldman wilfully violated Section 15(g) of the Exchange Act (formerly Section 15(f)). The SEC censured the firm and ordered it to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations and any future violations of Section 15(g) of the Exchange Act. Under the terms of the settlement, Goldman will pay a USD22 million penalty, USD11 million of which shall be deemed satisfied upon payment by Goldman of an USD11 million penalty to FINRA in a related proceeding. The SEC considers a variety of factors, including prior enforcement actions, when determining sanctions.

In addition, Goldman agreed to complete a comprehensive review of the policies, procedures, and practices relating to the SEC’s findings in the order, and to adopt, implement, and maintain practices and written policies and procedures consistent with the findings of the order and the recommendations in the comprehensive review. In June 2011, Goldman entered into a consent order relating to the huddles and ASI with the Massachusetts Securities Division (Docket No. 2009-079). In the SEC’s action, Goldman admits to the factual findings to the extent those findings are also contained in Section V of the Massachusetts Consent Order, but otherwise neither admits nor denies the SEC’s findings.

Stacy Bogert, Drew Dorman, Dmitry Lukovsky, Alexander Koch, and Yuri Zelinsky in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement conducted the investigation.

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