Risk Markets And Politics

Monday, October 09, 2006

"All the iridescence of the beginning of the world"

The World Economic Forum dropped the United States from first to sixth place in the 2006-7 Global Competitiveness Report, released on September 26th. As Dave Altig points-out, America still holds the top position in microeconomic efficiency, and its downgrade results from its suggestively ominous yet difficult-to-interpret macroeconomic position. But microeconomic conditions include things like flexible regulation, and these factors are also beginning to show cracks in the United States.

More significant than the recent embarrassment of HR 4954, the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002, and specifically, section 404, has made it prohibitively expensive for companies to list their equities on US exchanges. The stringent auditing and corporate governance requirements imposed by Sarbanes Oxley helped to push 24 of the 25 largest initial public offerings to overseas exchanges in 2005 (though several were nationalized companies being locally privatized, and the list included Partygaming). Between 2003 and 2005, European exchanges went from listing 10% as many technology IPOs (greater than $15 million) as the US, to 93% as many. As of September 20th, this year has witnessed 17 IPOs totaling $6 billion on the New York and Nasdaq exchanges versus 59 totaling $16 billion on the London Stock Exchange. Optimists in the US seem to think that European and Asian exchanges will adapt similarly rigorous listing requirements. They are wrong. International and (hopefully) interstate competition will continue to punish bad laws.

And to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald again, "it had limits — from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless."

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