New York AG Investigates Wall Street Analysts

New York's attorney general is investigating the accuracy and honesty of Wall Street analysts who can make or break individuals' savings and companies' futures, an aide said Monday.

But Scott Brown, a spokesman for state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, wouldn't confirm a report in Monday's Wall Street Journal that high-profile analyst Henry Blodget of Merrill Lynch & Co. is a subject of the investigation.

Blodget, known for his recommendation of once lucrative Internet stocks, was a target of critics who say Wall Street analysts have a conflict of interest. Critics of the current system say analysts can provide misleading information or advice on stocks that can hurt investors but help large investment houses that handle stock sales.

"We do not comment on the existence of possible probes other than to say that we fully cooperate with all appropriate authorities," said Joe Cohen, a spokesman for Merrill Lynch and Blodget.

Blodget announced last month that he will leave Merrill Lynch with a severance package estimated at $5 million.

"The decision to leave the firm was entirely his own and was made at a time when thousands of employees are choosing to leave for a variety of personal and professional reasons," Cohen said Monday. "Henry Blodget is held in high regard both by our firm and by the Wall Street community which has given his performance as a tech stock analyst extremely high marks over much of his career during very difficult markets."

Brown would not confirm any individual who might be a subject of the investigation. In June, Spitzer's spokesman called the investigation an "inquiry" into whether Wall Street analysts were providing tips without bias or conflicts of interest.

"We've had an ongoing investigation into whether there are inherent conflicts in the work that analysts do for investment houses that are also seeking underwriting business," the Spitzer aide said. "Our concern is that the public receives accurate information when making its investment decisions."

"There is supposed to be a firewall between analysts on the one side and investment bankers seeking business from companies," Brown said Monday. "With an ever larger percentage of the public having investments in the stock market, it's more critical than ever that the advice they are receiving when it comes to investing their savings be as accurate and transparent as possible."

"Different investment firms have different means of managing the relationships," Merrill Lynch's Cohen said. "At our firm, there's a very clear wall between investment bankers and the research analysts. Our research analysts are not compensated based on investment banking business and they do not solicit investment banking business. From a compliance standpoint, our firm is very vigilant."