The Supreme Court bestowed on Goldman Sachs and other large investment banks a new shield from antitrust claims, throwing out lawsuits that accused the securities industry of rigging more then 900 initial public offerings.

The justices, voting 7-1, overturned a federal appeals court ruling that had permitted suits against 16 investment banks and institutional investors, The group also included Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch. The investors sought billions of dollars in damages.

The suits had threatened to bring about an end to what many view as corporate greed in the IPO business. Wall Street’s revenue from stock underwriting has climbed a steady 12-16 percent each year since 1995, reaching $19 billion in 2006, and should surpass that figure this year, based on estimates Goldman Sachs had the lions share of revenue from the business, $1.47 billion, followed by Citigroup, UBS AG, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch.

The court said an antitrust shield was warranted because the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates IPOs and lays out detailed rules governing what steps underwriters can and can’t take. Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer said antitrust suits created “a substantial risk of injury to the securities markets.” “Had the court taken the opposite view, the industry would have faced massive legal exposure and a major engine of American growth would have been unnecessarily damaged,” Marc Lackritz, chief executive officer of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said in an A.P. statement.

The decision by the Neoconservative Court is a continuance of recent rulings that shield corporate America from consumer class-action lawsuits. Only last month an antitrust suit over the practice of collusion by the nation’s largest phone companies was rejected.

Christopher Lovell, the lead lawyer for the investors at the high court, said the ruling underscores the importance of separate cases that investors are seeking to press against the banks under federal securities laws. “The court decision is saying that the premise is that the securities laws will redress this,” Lovell said. “This puts the focus on the securities cases.” Last year the appeals courts ruled a securities suit against the industry was too wide-ranging to move forward as a single class action case.

The appeals court later said lawyers suing the industry can ask a trial judge for permission to pursue a suit on behalf of a smaller group of investors. Lovell previously stated the antitrust dispute had the potential to be a multi billion-dollar case. Under federal antitrust law, awards triple by statute. The antitrust lawsuits said the securities firms profited at the investing public’s expense by ensuring that the prices of Inc., EBay Inc. and hundreds of other Internet stocks would soar soon after they began trading publicly. The companies were demanding cash kickbacks from clients and engaged in “laddering” a practice which requires clients to buy more stock, at higher prices, after the securities are sold to the public. Hundreds of Internet start-ups rushed to profit from the IPO frenzy of the late 1990s and early 2000’s. With average I.P.O.’s pulling in a whopping 70 to 85 percent on the first day of trading according to IPO researcher CommScan LLC, And the underwriters skimmed billions in fees and commissions.

The principle defendants Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Bank of America Corp, Fidelity Investments, Janus Capital and Comerica all reported record profits during the period. We are very pleased with the decision,” said Stephen M. Shapiro, a lawyer representing the investment banks in the case. “It appears to be a complete termination of this lawsuit.” The Bush administration had predictably backed the industry in the case.

The Washington post and Phoenix Sentinel both offer indepth coverage of the story

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