Public and Private Enforcement of the Securities Laws: Have Things Changed Since Enron?
Thomas, Randall S., 1955-
Cox, James D., 1943-
In this paper, we examine how those corporations that have been the targets of SEC enforcement efforts compare in terms of their size and financial health vis-a-vis firms that are targeted only by the private securities class action. We also ask whether the SEC or the private bar systematically proceeds against violators that cause the greatest loss to investors. In this regard, we are intrigued by the most basic question posed by private suits, whether settlements bear any relationship to the losses suffered by the class and whether those losses bear any relationship to the size of either the firm itself or the duration of the class action. Our data set consists of 389 securities class action settlements that occurred between 1990 and 2003. Using multivariate regression analysis to examine the determinants of government litigation, we find a sharp change in the pattern of SEC enforcement actions after the end of 2001. We find that the SEC seems to have shifted its enforcement focus away from targeting frauds at firms in financial distress to seeking out frauds at companies where investors may have suffered larger losses, especially if they are smaller firms. Again applying multivariate regression analysis, we look at settlement sizes in private class actions. We find that provable losses, total assets, class period and the presence of an SEC enforcement action, are all positively and significantly related to the dollar amount of the settlement obtained in a private action. These effects do not change over the time period of our sample. The fact that provable losses are such an important determinant of the size of actual recoveries supports the view that the "merits do matter."