Investment for own account affects applicability of section 32.
(a) The Board of Governors has been presented with the question whether a certain firm is primarily engaged in the activities described in section 32 of the Banking Act of 1933. If the firm is so engaged, then the prohibitions of section 32 forbids a limited partner to serve as employee of a member bank.
(b) The firm describes the bulk of its business, producing roughly 60 percent of its income, as “investing for its own account.” However, it has a seat on the local stock exchange, and acts as specialist and odd-lot dealer on the floor of the exchange, an activity responsible for some 30 percent of its volume and profits. The firm's “off-post trading,” apart from the investment account, gives rise to about 5 percent of its total volume and 10 percent of its profits. Gross volume has risen from $4 to $10 million over the past 3 years, but underwriting has accounted for no more than one-half of 1 percent of that amount.
(c) Section 32 provides that
No officer, director, or employee of any corporation or unincorporated association, no partner, or employee of any partnership, and no individual, primarily engaged in the issue, flotation, underwriting, public sale, or distribution, at wholesale, or retail, or through syndicate participation, of stocks, bonds, or other similar securities, shall serve the same time (sic) as an officer, director, or employee of any member bank * * *
(d) In interpreting this language, the Board has consistently held that underwriting, acting as a dealer, or generally speaking, selling, or distributing securities as a principal, is covered by the section, while acting as broker or agent is not.
(e) In one type of situation, however, although a firm was engaged in selling securities as principal, on its own behalf, the Board held that section 32 did not apply. In these cases, the firm alleged that it bought and sold securities purely for investment purposes. Typically, those cases involved personal holding companies or small family investment companies. Securities had been purchased only for members of a restricted family group, and had been held for relatively long periods of time.
(f) The question now before the Board is whether a similar exception can apply in the case of the investment account of a professional dealer. In order to answer this question, it is necessary to analyze, in the light of applicable principles under the statute, the three main types of activity in which the firm has been engaged, (1) acting as specialist and odd-lot dealer, (2) off-post trading as an ordinary dealer, and (3) investing for its own account.
(g) On several occasions, the Board has held that, to the extent the trading of a specialist or odd-lot dealer is limited to that required for him to perform his function on the floor of the exchange, he is acting essentially in an agency capacity. In a letter of September 13, 1934, the Board held that the business of a specialist was not of the kind described in the (unamended) section on the understanding that
* * * in acting as specialists on the New York Curb Exchange, it is necessary for the firm to buy and sell odd lots and * * * in order to protect its position after such transactions have been made, the firm sells or buys shares in lots of 100 or multiples thereof in order to reduce its position in the stock in question to the smallest amount possible by this method. It appears therefore that, in connection with these transactions, the firm is neither trading in the stock in question or taking a position in it except to the extent made necessary by the fact that it deals in odd lots and cannot complete the transactions by purchases and sales on the floor of the exchange except to the nearest 100 share amount.
(h) While subsequent amendments to section 32 to some extent changed the definition of the kinds of securities business that would be covered by the section, the amendments were designed so far as is relevant to the present question, to embody existing interpretations of the Board. Accordingly, to the extent that the firm's business is described by the above letter of the Board, it should not be considered to be of a kind described in section 32.
(i) Turning to the firm's off-post trading, the Board is inclined to agree with the view that this is sufficient to make the case a borderline one under the statute. In the circumstances, the Board might prefer to postpone making a determination until figures for 1965 could be reviewed, particularly in the light of the recent increase in total volume, if it were not for the third category, the firm's own investment account.
(j) While this question has not been squarely presented to it in the past, the Board is of the opinion that when a firm is doing any significant amount of business as a dealer or underwriter, then investments for the firm's own account should be taken into consideration in determining whether the firm is “primarily engaged” in the activities described in section 32. The division into dealing for one's own account, and dealing with customers, is a highly subjective one, and although a particular firm or individual may be quite scrupulous in separating the two, the opportunity necessarily exists for the kind of abuse at which the statute is directed. The Act is designed to prevent situations from arising in which a bank director, officer, or employee could influence the bank or its customers to invest in securities in which his firm has an interest, regardless of whether he, as an individual, is likely to do so. In the present case, when these activities are added to the firm's “off-post trading”, the firm clearly falls within the statutory definition.
(k) For the reasons just discussed, the Board concludes that the firm must be considered to be primarily engaged in activities described in section 32, and that the prohibitions of the section forbid a limited partner in that firm to serve as employee of a member bank.
(12 U.S.C. 248(i))
[30 FR 7743, June 16, 1965. Redesignated at 61 FR 57289, Nov. 6, 1996]
Title 12 published on 2012-01-01
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