SEC woos Germans over listings

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THE CHAIRMAN of the US Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday urged German companies to overcome their cultural fear of disclosure so that they can tap the rich resources of US capital markets.

Arthur Levitt was beginning his first trip to Germany, during which he will visit initially 20 leading banks and industrial companies to talk about a New York listing.

The US regulatory authorities are prepared to compromise to make it administratively simpler and less expensive for German firms to achieve a listing, but there will be no relaxation of the stringent disclosure requirements.

'The provision of information to investors is the sole condition - the real requirement - for access to our market,' Mr Levitt said. 'All companies are welcome, with information as their passport.'

Of the 122 European companies listed on US public markets, just one is German - Daimler-Benz, which went to New York last October. Daimler's perceived breaking of ranks provoked consternation in Germany's conservative corporate establishment, which has been seeking to defend its more closed accounting practices against the dominance of US principles.

Mr Levitt said he would be trying to break down an attitude problem among German companies, which see the SEC as an impediment rather than a help to listing in the US. He said talks were going on between the US authorities and a number of German firms, but would not say how close any of these were to a full listing.

Mr Levitt said the tradition of German companies building up large hidden reserves to smooth out their earnings performance could not be translated to the US.

'We have to have the same information available to American investors, regardless of whether a company comes from Germany or Battle Creek, Michigan,' he said.