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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

White Out

News summary by MFWire's editors

Mary Jo White is heading for the door two years before her term is up, and there is no word yet on who will take her place, at least not officially.

Anthony Scaramucci
SkyBridge Capital
Founder & Co-Managing Partner
White took over the SEC in April 2013 as the commission's 31st chair, and she confirms that she plans to leave when President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017. Obama will hand the reins to President-Elect Donald Trump on January 20, and word is that Trump has turned to a Republican ex-SEC commissioner, Paul Atkins (CEO and founder of Patomak Global Partners), for, in the WSJ's words, "recommending policies on financial regulation." Perhaps Atkins will return to the SEC to fill White's shoes ...

Multiple publications predict that Michael Piwowar, the current Republican commissioner alongside White and Kara Stein (a Democrat), will serve as acting chair once White leaves. (Though the SEC normally has five commissioners, two spots, one Republican and one Democrat, are currently empty.) In addition to Atkins himself, Reuters points to former Republican commissioner Dan Gallagher, Proskauer attorney Ralpha Ferrara, and hedge fundster Anthony Scaramucci (a Trump advisor and outspoken critic of the DoL's fiduciary reg) as other rumored contenders for succeeding White. Bloomberg adds that Representative Scott Garrett (R-New Jersey) "is being pushed as a possibility by Tea Party Republicans." (Whoever Trump picks would have to be confirmed by the Senate, though pushback seems unlikely given that the Senate will remain controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans.)

Reuters also predicts that Trump will renominate Republican Hester Peirce, currently awaiting Senate confirmation, to fill one of the two vacant SEC commissioner spots. Democrat Lisa Fairfax is awaiting confirmation for the other vacant spot.

White's SEC tenure saw the regulatory agency push "more than 50 significant initiatives," per a statement from the SEC. And at the very top of that list: "fundamental reforms to the money market fund industry and unprecedented new disclosures and protections for mutual fund investors in a major initiative to strengthen regulation of the $67 trillion asset management industry." Indeed, the money market fund regs took effect last month and have contributed to major shifts around prime money funds in particular. And White lists "asset management regulation" as one of three "critical areas" where she has strived "to establish an enduring foundation for future progress."

White is a veteran federal prosecutor and securities lawyer (in private practice she chaired the litigation department at Debevoise & Plimpton and defended Tim O'Brien from none other than a libel lawsuit from Trump himself), and she brought a prosecutorial tone to the job of being Wall Street's top cop. The SEC statement on her departure brags that she pushed through the SEC's "first-ever policy to require admissions of wrongdoing in certain cases," and that during her tenure so far the agency has brought a record 2,850-plus enforcement actions (for combined judgments and orders of more than $13.4 billion).

"You don't want to mess with Mary Jo," President Obama said when appointing White in 2013.

Yet White was not a harsh enough top cop for some on the left, including high profile Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), who last month publicly called for Obama to fire White.

As SEC chair White also serves on the Financial Stability Oversight Council that was created after the financial crisis, and she has pushed back against those who would see large asset managers be regulated like money center banks under "too-big-to-fail" logic. And though the DoL has moved forward with its fiduciary reg (which now seems to be in jeopardy under Trump), the SEC under White has failed to push through its own uniform fiduciary standard.

Paul Schott Stevens, president and CEO of mutual fund industry trade group ICI, praises White "for her exceptional leadership of the Securities and Exchange Commission through one of the most challenging and significant periods of its history."

Her commitment to investor protection and robust capital markets has made America’s financial system significantly stronger and more robust. The expertise, experience, and open process that the Commission has brought to asset management issues under her leadership will strengthen mutual funds, to the benefit of their 90 million investors. We thank her for her long service to the nation, and wish her the very best in her future endeavors.

Jack Lew, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, calls White "a tireless leader" and specifically mentions the SEC's money market fund regs and "FSOC's important review of asset management products and activities."

"Under Mary Jo's stewardship, the SEC has reduced risks to our financial stability and recognized that it must adapt to new trends in markets to provide effective oversight," Lew states. "I am thankful for her leadership and I wish her the best in future endeavors."

"I am very proud of our three consecutive years of record enforcement actions, dozens of fundamental reforms through our rulemakings that have strengthened investor protections and market stability, and that the job satisfaction of our phenomenal staff has climbed in each of the last three years," White states.

In addition to other thank you's for her fellow commissioners and regulators, White also offers a call for SEC independence:

It has been and will always be critical for this agency and the public that the SEC remain truly independent. That independence is crucial to our ability to protect investors, safeguard our markets and facilitate the capital formation that fosters innovation and the growth that is essential to our national economy.

White, a 68-year-old political independent and Yankees fan, tells Reuters that whatever she does next, retirement is not yet in the cards for her. The NYTimes says White kept "a workaholic's schedule" at the SEC, while also plying her staff with food and drink, with "coffee and doughnut sessions" and an annual holiday party at the restaurant Rosa Mexicano.

So what will White do next? The Times writes that White's "dream job would be the first female baseball commissioner."

"I really don't think about what I'm doing next until I'm done," she tells the paper. "If you have baseball commissioner to offer me, then I can tell you what my plans are."

Here's a roundup of some of the headlines on White's impending departure:

  • "SEC's White Says She Will Step Aside When Obama Leaves Office," Bloomberg;

  • "The head of the SEC will step down at the end of the Obama administration," Business Insider;

  • "Mary Jo White To Resign From SEC, Dramatically Cast Dodd-Frank Rulebook Into The Sea," Dealbreaker;

  • "SEC chair Mary Jo White to step down," the Financial Times;

  • "Head of Trump's SEC transition may not have to look far for new chairperson," InvestmentNews;

  • "Rep. Waters says SEC's White quit because she saw the real Trump emerge during reporter lawsuit," MarketWatch;

  • "SEC chief Mary Jo White announces plans to leave," MarketWatch;

  • "Mary Jo White to Step Down as S.E.C. Chief," the New York Times;

  • "SEC Chair Mary Jo White stepping down," Politico;

  • "SEC Chair White to time her exit from agency with Obama's," Reuters;

  • "SEC Chief White to Step Down in January," ThinkAdvisor;

  • "SEC Chair Mary Jo White to step down," USA Today;

  • "SEC Chairman White to Leave Agency, Opening Door to Conservative Shift," the Wall Street Journal;

  • "White's SEC Tenure Hamstrung by Political Divisions," the WSJ;

  • "SEC chair to step down, clearing path for Trump to eliminate tough Wall Street regulations," the Washington Post; and

  • "With SEC head's resignation, field clears for Trump to cut back regulations," WaPo;

    Edited by: Neil Anderson, Managing Editor

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