Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

Lawmakers seek tighter rules for mutual fund industry

March 13, 2003


— Lawmakers and some officials inside the mutual fund industry on Wednesday criticized rising fees and fund practices, and a House panel wants federal regulators to consider new restrictions.

The $6 trillion mutual fund industry is clearly in the hot seat in Washington. With investor confidence shaken by last year's wave of corporate accounting scandals, lawmakers and the Securities and Exchange Commission are focusing on mutual funds -- with 93 million Americans invested in U.S. stock funds -- for possible tighter regulation.

"There's much work to be done," Rep. Richard Baker, R--La., told reporters after a hearing by the House Financial Services subcommittee aired problems with fees and expenses, the quality of information disclosed to investors, independent directors of funds and other issues.

Many Americans are having to "blindly invest" because fund companies don't give them sufficient information, Baker said.

He said the panel plans to send a letter to the SEC next week asking the agency to develop recommendations for possible new rules for the industry.

Fees paid by investors in mutual funds are rising despite intense competition in the industry, and some fees are hidden so that it's difficult to compare funds, lawmakers and industry officials said at the hearing.

The latest evidence: a new report by the General Accounting Office that showed that average fees for large stock funds have increased recently, while fees charged by major bond funds have declined.

A recent inspection by the SEC, the New York Stock Exchange and the National Association of Securities Dealers, meanwhile, found that brokers -- apparently inadvertently -- did not give large-scale investors in mutual funds the discounts they were owed in nearly a third of transactions. The SEC said Tuesday that as a result of the "sweep" inspection, about 2,000 brokerage firms are being required to review their transactions.

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