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Sayonara, SEC


Good riddance to the poster child for regulation gone wrong.

The horses, pigs, cows, goats, sheep, llamas, ostriches, dromedaries and rhinos have all left the barn, yet the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) still thinks it should be minding the door.

In light of its woeful inability to perform even the simplest of tasks -- like making sure the biggest hedge fund in the world, I don't know, makes a trade once every 13 years -- the Obama administration is looking to strip the SEC of certain regulatory responsibilities.

And rightly so.

According to Bloomberg, plans could be announced as early as next week outlining just how watered down the SEC's role in the new Obama regulatory regime could be. It's expected the Federal Reserve may take over the SEC's oversight of firms deemed "too big to fail." Keeping tabs on mutual-fund operations could become the domain of certain banking regulators.

The SEC, for its part, under the new leadership of 20-year veteran of the agency, Mary Schapiro, is fighting back. Shapiro says she's frustrated the SEC isn't more involved in high-level negotiations with financial firms like Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC) and Goldman Sachs (GS), and is making great strides in repairing the regulator's tattered image.

Commendable, but too little too late.

The SEC is widely viewed as having committed the biggest regulatory bonk in modern financial history, turning a blind eye to Bernie Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme, and failing to, even in the remotest way, protect investors from the implosion of the market for mortgage-backed securities and other structured financial products stemming from rampant fraud, scant disclosure and blatant conflicts of interest.

Oh, and just days before Bear Stearns collapsed into the waiting arms of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), then SEC Chairman Chris Cox went on national television, assuring the country Bear was in good shape. Oops.

The SEC is a case study in regulation gone bad. It's one thing to have openly unregulated markets, where participants understand there's no one guarding the hen house. But when markets are purportedly policed by a powerful government body, investors assume some level of basic integrity and honesty.

By violating this trust, the SEC proved that weak regulation -- and more specifically, weak regulators -- do more harm than any amount of deregulation could ever do.

The looming restructuring of the financial regulatory complex will be a messy, political, imperfect process. But if the first step is dismantling the SEC's web of incompetence, then we're off on the right foot.
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