New Rules for Soft Dollars - Pension Buyers Beware

In his July 12, 2006 speech, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox describes soft dollars as "inflated brokerage commissions" and urges reform to ensure their use for research only. "Commission Guidance Regarding Client Commission Practices Under Section 28(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934," issued a week later, sought to clarify the extent to which money managers could properly purchase research without breaching their fiduciary duties to "seek the best execution for client trades, and limit money managers from using client assets for their own benefit." (Click here to access the 63-page file.)

Attempting to promote better transparency in trading costs, the SEC emphasizes "the statutory requirement that money managers must make a good faith determination that commissions paid are reasonable in relation to the value of the products and services provided by broker-dealers in connection with the managers' responsibilities to the advisory accounts for which the managers exercise investment discretion." Another stated goal is to help money managers with pension fund clients avoid ERISA non-compliance as relates to soft dollars.

At a time when Congress is joining the fray about pension fees, little has been said about the SEC's dictate that "Market participants may continue to rely on the Commission's prior interpretations for six months following the publication of this Release in the Federal Register, that is, until January 24, 2007."

January 24, 2007 has come and gone. Where's the fanfare? A topic as important as this merits discussion.