Abstract

The social benefits of more accurate stock prices—that is, stock-market prices that more accurately reflect the future cash flows that companies are likely to produce—are well established. But it is also thought that market forces alone will lead to only a sub-optimal level of stock-price accuracy—a level that fails to obtain the maximum net social benefits, or wealth, that would result from a higher level. One of the principal aims of federal securities law has therefore been to increase the extent to which the stock prices of the most important companies in our economy (public companies) contain information about firms’ prospects so that society generates more wealth. Indeed, enhancing the accuracy of these prices in this way is perhaps the primary justification for the corporate disclosure, fraud, and insider-trading rules that make up the traditional core of federal securities law. Yet, important price-accuracy effects of a distinct area of the field (the law governing the market in which stocks are traded) have been overlooked.

This Article theorizes that a set of central, yet little-noticed, stock-market rules is resulting in society producing a lower level of stock-price accuracy than it otherwise might. The Article therefore provides examples of ways in which the laws governing stock trading can be altered to increase stock-price accuracy. And it urges regulators to consider whether such alternations might be socially desirable in one of two ways: by enhancing the current level of stock-price accuracy in a manner that results in net social benefits, or by providing society with a lower-cost means than those associated with existing disclosure, fraud, and insider-trading laws for obtaining that current level. Accordingly, the Article theorizes that regulators have a fourth main securities-law tool (stock-market law) for increasing the accuracy of public companies’ stock prices, and sets forth a cost-benefit framework to help them determine whether it can be used to achieve one of the chief goals of securities law: obtaining a socially optimal level of stock-price accuracy.

Document Type

Article

Publication Information

2015 Columbia Business Law Review 121-185

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