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Will It Be A Bull Or A Bear?

The year 2002 was a year full of corporate accounting scandals. The turmoil within companies like Enron, Worldcom and Tyco had a devastating impact on the stock market and left millions of Americans worrying about their financial future.

The reason behind these corporate scandals is greed, says Muriel Siebert, founder of Siebert & Co., Inc. She calls it "operation by legal loophole."

"Money was fast and was vast. Some portions of transactions were legal, but in reality, some of it skirted around the laws. Some of it was just plain greed by corporate executives. There was inadequate work by audit committee, accountants - lawyers, banks and investment banks," she explains.

And because of it, the lives of many people were shattered.

The penalty for those found guilty is disgorge the money earned or go to jail, she says, highlighting the need for accountability.

Recently, Harvey Pitts was replaced by Bill Donaldson to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, which should be comforting to investors, Siebert says, since he comes from the era on the street when your word was your bond. Having been the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Donaldson knows how the industry works and the seriousness of a lack of ethics in transactions, she notes.

As for the companies, she says, most are honest and now new regulations will force them to take steps not previously required. Many of the loopholes have been eliminated, she adds.

This does not mean that people's faith in the stock market will improve, she says; it depends on Iraq and the economy. But she notes it may help some investors if they see a few people go to jail.

Get the full interview on Wednesday, The Early Show.

About Muriel Siebert:

Siebert started her career as an analyst in 1954. A few years later, after Siebert had proved her mettle, a prospective employer told her that if she wanted a job, she would have to wear white gloves and a hat in the elevator just as all the secretaries did. That gave her plenty of incentive to become the first woman to buy her own seat on the New York Stock Exchange -- in 1967, when she also began her firm, Muriel Siebert & Co.. Since then, it has grown into a formidable discount brokerage.

Siebert has always been involved in educating investors. And in a recent renewal of that commitment, Siebert & Co. purchased Women's Financial Network, a Web site dedicated to educating women about investing

She took a leave from her firm in 1977 to serve five years as the first woman Superintendent of Banking for the State of New York. She is known as an outspoken speaker who pulls no punches in lectures, panels and talk shows. And never once has she remarked, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

She often exhorts industry to utilize women more aggressively: "American business will find that women executives can be a strong competitive weapon against Japan and Germany and other countries that still limit their executive talent pool to the male 50 percent of their population." What better proof of Muriel Siebert's premise than the story of her own career? The American business world would have been less productive -- and far less interesting -- if it had succeeded in keeping her out.

In 1982 ,she resigned from her government post to run for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate. This was her first campaign for political office; in the primary, she polled second among three candidates.

Upon becoming Superintendent of Banking, she had placed Muriel Siebert & Co. in a blind trust to be run by her employees. She admits that this was a costly mistake. When she returned to her firm after five years in government, it was in shambles. Three of her employees had walked out with tapes of her customer lists, and she had to rebuild the company in every department.

Muriel Siebert & Co. is finally flourishing again. She rejected several offers to buy her company in 1987 because, "As the only woman owner of a Stock Exchange firm I feel an obligation to finish the job I started."

For Muriel Siebert, the secret of making a difference is to "take stands, take risks, take responsibility -- and care deeply about how America's big institutions affect the lives of individual people."