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US: AIMR recommends 10 'New Year's resolutions for investment community

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If there ever was a time for the entire investment community - including investors and corporate issuers - to reassess their actions and attitudes, it is now. The Association for Investment Management and Research? (AIMR?) suggests 10 New Year's resolutions that all market participants can make to help rebuild the integrity of the financial markets. These resolutions are built on the proven principles of the 40-year-old Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct of AIMR and its rigorous Chartered Financial Analyst? program. These actions can help make 2003 a year when investors' interests come first.

1) Tell the truth - the whole truth. Adopt full-disclosure policies. Write non-fiction. Distinguish facts from opinions - in research reports and financial statements. Investors don't want to read fairy tales or novels about investment opportunities. Corporate executives: When issuing financial reports, make your uncertainties about future events clear.

2) Disclose more and better information, plainly and prominently. Regulation FD (fair disclosure) emphasized fair - broad and simultaneous - disclosure. Now investors need full - complete and comprehensive - disclosure. Rather than hiding important information in the footnotes, put it on the balance sheet and income statement where everyone can see it. Improve explanations of unusual items and events. Provide all the relevant information that a reasonable investor needs to know. Increase the use of meaningful charts, tables and graphs.

3) Disclose all conflicts of interest. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. When you disclose your conflicts, you give others the opportunity to decide to what degree your conflicts might affect your judgment and actions. The news media especially should disclose to their audience the conflicts and interests of those they interview.

4) Demand independent, competent and rigorous analysis to support recommendations. 2002 has seen an unprecedented and much-needed emphasis on research objectivity. As vital as objectivity is, however, that alone is not enough to constitute "research." Independence and objectivity are nothing but unbiased guesswork unless they are accompanied by competent, rigorous analysis backing up conclusions and recommendations. We all must work together demanding and rewarding high quality research, free of bias - research that has a reasonable and adequate basis for its conclusions, supported by appropriate analysis and investigation.

5) Adopt and enforce prohibitions on retaliating against analysts for "negative" opinions. The recent historic settlement between regulators and Wall Street firms, significant as it is, still does not address one of the root causes of pressure on analysts: corporate issuers. Threats, lawsuits, terminating corporate business relationships, barring analysts' access to management, and other retaliatory actions by corporate issuers must end. Fund managers, too, can pressure analysts not to downgrade a stock in which they have a significant position, and sometimes threaten to pull their brokerage business. These kinds of pressures on analysts are difficult, if not impossible, to regulate but will continue to damage the integrity of research until such actions cease.

6) Reject soundbite investment recommendations. As investment advisors, don't make "off-the-shelf," "one-size-fits-all" investment recommendations. Make reasonable inquiry into your client's financial situation, investment experience and investment objectives before making a recommendation. TV commentators and their guests: when you speak to mass audiences, do more educating and less stock picking. Viewers: listen only for investment ideas to research; don't rush to act on "recommendations" that are not tailored to your personal circumstances.

7) Improve the accessibility of research to individual investors. Most securities research is priced for institutional and wealthy investors. It is unfair to investors for analysts to appear on TV touting a new research report or a "hot" stock, without making the full research report available to any viewer who wants one. The regulatory settlement with Wall Street firms may make more research accessible to individual investors, but will it be quality research they can rely on?

8) Invest for the long term, don't bet on the short term. The short-term direction of the market or of a particular stock is anyone's guess. Trying to time the market, or rushing in a vain attempt to catch an anticipated short-term rise, is more akin to racetrack betting than sound investing. On the other hand, long-term investing in a diversified portfolio of securities, built on a due regard for one's investment objectives, risk tolerance and time horizon, has consistently shown to provide a solid return.

9) Do your homework. It is incumbent on professional investment managers to make sure they take investment action only after appropriate inquiry into a client's financial situation, investment experience and objectives, and after diligent assessment of the research on which their recommendations are based to ensure it is independent, objective, and has a reasonable and adequate basis, supported by investigation. Individual investors should do nothing less if they are acting as their own advisers.

10) Place investors' interests first. The financial scandals of the past year could have been avoided if we had all - corporate managements, boards of directors, auditors, analysts and investment firms - held to one guiding ethical principle: Investor interests must come first. Before our own. Before our employers. Before the interests of public companies and their managers. Investment professionals must rebuild trust by acting in the interests of investors every day, in every decision we make.

Headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Association for Investment Management and Research? has members - most of them CFA charterholders - in 110 countries. AIMR's mission is to advance the interests of the global investment community by establishing and maintaining the highest standards of professional excellence and integrity.

--www.theasianbanker.com (January 6, 2003)--

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