Almost 100 investors were poised to participate in an 11 a.m. conference call Wednesday with U.S. Bancorp chairman and chief executive officer John F. Grundhofer to talk about strategy. But at the last minute they got disappointing news: The Minneapolis banking company canceled the call, citing new disclosure rule mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The next day, five investors, accompanied by Prudential Securities analyst Nancy Bush, were scheduled to pay a visit to Bank One Corp. to meet with chairman and chief executive James Dimon and other senior managers. They also had their trip canceled. Bank One cited Regulation FD, the SEC rule passed this month that demands a company release market-moving information to all investors simultaneously.
The rule, which is meant to level the playing field between large institutional investors, securities analysts, and individuals, goes into effect in late October but is already creating confusion.
One-on-one meetings between bank securities analysts or large shareholders and top-ranking bank executives are a time-honored tradition that seems to be in jeopardy. That's because many investor relations departments at banks believe the rules are restrictive.
SunTrust Banks Inc. in Atlanta, for example, is not accepting any new invitations to present at investor conferences or meet with individual analysts or investors because it is still trying to figure out the new rule, said Eugene Putnam, the head of investor relations. The company is honoring five commitments it has already made for the next two months, including an appearance at Merrill Lynch & Co.'s annual banking conference in the coming weeks.
"Our goal is to continue to give as much information as possible," Mr. Putnam said. "But there are obviously different ways to do that."
Analysts are grousing. "It has been counterproductive so far," said Michael Mayo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston who was to be the host of the session with Mr. Grundhofer from U.S. Bank. "Banks are scratching their heads on how they are going to comply, and a lot will probably hide and not communicate at all. It's a retreat to the old way of communicating with Wall Street."
Of course, both U.S. Bancorp and Bank One have had big news come out this week.
The conference call with Credit Suisse clients - which was scheduled a couple of months ago - would have come just one day after Philip G. Heasley, U.S. Bank's president and chief operating officer and a well-regarded manager, resigned.
Wendy Raway, a spokeswoman for U.S. Bank, said the call was canceled because of Regulation FD but also because it would have been so close to the resignation announcement.
Bank One canceled its meeting with the investors on Monday, Ms. Bush said. On Tuesday the company announced that Verne G. Istock would retire as president in September, all but ending a spate of management changes that began when Mr. Dimon was hired in late March.
"Based on the advice of counsel, we have substantially pared back our activities as we look at what's appropriate in the post-FD world," said Tom Kelly, a spokesman for Bank One.
Both U.S. Bank and Bank One have been struggling to regain the confidence of Wall Street after several tumultuous months and a string of earnings disappointments.
"The timing couldn't be worse," said Ms. Bush, referring to the general confusion over what needs to be done to be in compliance with the rules. "In this credit cycle, we want to know more, not less."
"If taken to its inevitable conclusion, analysts are really only going to follow and recommend the companies that we feel most comfortable with," Ms. Bush said.