SEC eyes six candidates for top economics job
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Securities and Exchange Commission is eyeing six candidates to fill its chief economist job, ranging from a Goldman Sachs employee and academics to economists already working at the agency, according to people familiar with the line-up.
The chief economist post is crucial to validating the costs and benefits of nearly 100 new rules the SEC is writing to carry out the Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul law.
Inadequate analysis of the rules could give opponents of the measures an easy way to have them overturned in court.
The successful candidate, in a new amalgamation of roles, would also serve as the director of the agency's division of Risk, Strategy and Financial Innovation, a "think tank" unit created in 2009 to spot new trends in risky financial products.
The division was first led by University of Texas law professor Henry Hu, who returned to academia in January. The division, known as "Risk Fin," has struggled to find its footing in the lawyer-dominated agency.
A final decision by SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro on the six candidates is expected soon.
The two internal candidates for the job are Craig Lewis, a visiting academic at the SEC from Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management and Fred Dunbar, an SEC economics fellow who worked for NERA Economic Consulting, according to current and former SEC employees who spoke anonymously because the list of candidates is not public.
Others who were interviewed include New York University Stern School of Business professor Stephen Figlewski, Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business professor Jeffrey Coles, NERA Senior Vice President Elaine Buckberg, and a Goldman Sachs employee whom people declined to name out of concerns for his privacy.
Michael Goldstein, a PhD economist from Babson College, said he is acquainted with Lewis and Coles and also familiar with Figlewski's research. "They are very strong academics and they are very personable" he said. "It's not hard to picture them managing a group."
In an interview, Figlewski said he was surprised at first when his name came up because he is not a creature of Washington. But then he came down to the SEC for an interview in March. "I have been studying these markets for my entire career," he said. "The rules are being completely rewritten. This is an opportunity to really potentially have an impact."
"How could I not have an interest?"
The remaining candidates either did not return requests for comment or declined to be interviewed for the article.
A LOOK AT THE CANDIDATES
The candidates being considered all have a background in finance or economics, although their areas of expertise vary extensively.
Dunbar has been with the agency since 2009 as an economics fellow. He joined the agency following a long career at NERA where he helped found the firm's securities and finance and mass torts and product liability practices.
Lewis is visiting the SEC from Vanderbilt University where his research has focused on equity analyst behavior and debt-related matters.
Coles of Arizona State has focused his research and teaching on corporate control and governance, law and economics, asset pricing, organization structure, and the utility industry.
Figlewski, meanwhile, is known for his writings and studies on derivatives and options. He also has Wall Street experience, having worked on margin setting for credit-sensitive securities at Citigroup and also having once traded options.
Buckberg provides expert testimony and litigation support in areas that have included hedge funds, subprime and structured finance securities, mutual fund market timing and fees, IPO allocation, broker-dealer disputes, insider trading, and disgorgement.
The SEC has been without a chief economist since March 2010. Jonathan Sokobin, an economist and SEC veteran, has been acting as head of the Risk Fin division since Hu's departure.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
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