Revisiting April Fool’s Day…

April 1, 2009

We had been planning to do an April Fool’s joke post today — something clever about the SEC coming out with a new 10-K EZ form (like the 1040 EZ) or a new mandate that requires all filings to be made in 12 point type, instead of the Enron Beelzebub typeface that we normally see. But then late last night, we got a press release from the Economist group announcing its new Econoland theme park and we quickly realized that we couldn’t keep up. Here’s a snippet:

AS PART of a strategy designed to broaden the revenue base, leverage content over new platforms and promote The Economist brand to a young and dynamic audience, The Economist Group is delighted to announce the development of a public-entertainment facility that combines the magic of a theme park with the excitement of macroeconomics.

So instead, we’ve decided to revisit a press release that the SEC sent out two years ago on April Fool’s Day. Though the release never appeared on the SEC’s site, it was sent out to reporters (thankfully the FT archived a copy here) and talked about the SEC revising the so-called Katie Couric rule which would have required companies to disclose their top earners regardless of their role in the organization (which is how Katie Couric’s name got attached to it since she no doubt earned more than most of CBS’s named executives). Here’s a snippet from the SEC’s release on April 1, 2007:

Real-time data input, in turn, would open up the possibility of instant comparisons among companies, across industries, and between people within a given company. We could immediately see which is the most popular car to drive among the nation’s highest-paid people, or what the best restaurants are, said Rita Tennkae, Associate Deputy Director of the Division of Corporation Finance. This is information that people can really use.

Of course, April 2007 was a very different time for this country and for the SEC. Bear Stearns, Lehman and Merrill Lynch not only still existed, they were venerable names on Wall Street. Citigroup’s stock was trading over $50 a share and Bernie Madoff was a name really only known by the people who counted on his investing prowess to deliver seemingly steady returns. Oh — and the Dow was around 12,300 and on its way to 14,000.

So yesterday, I asked SEC spokesman John Heine whether the SEC would be coming out with a fake release today and I wasn’t all that surprised when he sent back a one-word response: no. Now, it would be easy enough to say that an SEC that was willing to put out a joke release on executive compensation was an agency that didn’t take the excesses that were building up to a dangerous level seriously enough. But that might be a bit too harsh. Especially on April Fool’s Day.

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