Transparency in the Financial Markets and the Materiality Standards

The disclosure requirements at the heart of the federal securities laws involve a delicate and complex balancing act. Too little information provides an inadequate basis for investment decisions; too much can muddle and diffuse disclosure and thereby lessen its usefulness. The legal concept of materiality provides the dividing line between what information companies must disclose, and must disclose correctly, and everything else. Materiality, however, is a highly judgmental standard, often colored by a variety of factual presumptions.

Transparency in Financial Markets

The guiding purpose of the many and complex disclosure provisions of the federal securities laws is to promote “transparency” in the financial markets. However, the task of winnowing out the irrelevant, redundant and trivial from the potentially meaningful material falls on corporate executives and their professional advisors in the creation of corporate disclosure, and on investment advisors, stock analysts and individual investors in its interpretation. The concept of materiality represents the dividing line between information reasonably likely to influence