WASHINGTON: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Thursday that an increased prevalence of zero-commission trading has spurred retail investors to get more involved in stocks, and the Securities and Exchange Commission will prepare a report on trading practices amid recent volatility.
"Our broad conclusion was that markets worked reasonably well," with core infrastructure resilient despite heavy trading and high volatility, Yellen told CNBC in an interview, referring to a recent meeting of regulators on retail trading that led to heightened trading in GameStop and other stocks favored on social media.
"We really need to look at whether the trading practices are consistent with investor protection and fair and efficient markets," she added.
Regarding high stock valuations amid high unemployment, Yellen said this was partly due to a very low interest rate environment that has chased money into stocks.
"In a world of very low interest rates, price-earnings type multiples tend to be high," she said, adding: "there are maybe sectors where we should be very careful."
Yellen also said the market for U.S. Treasury debt remains "robust" and that she sees no issues with the Treasury's ability to finance the U.S. budget deficit. The Federal Reserve will buy whatever Treasury debt is appropriate for the central bank's monetary policy goals, she added.
Asked if she wanted to regulate cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, Yellen called it "a high-risk, speculative investment" that has seen a recent surge in value. The top priority was to ensure that bitcoin is not used as a vehicle for illicit transactions and that investor protections are maintained, she said.
Ensuring that firms dealing in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies "adhere to their regulatory responsibilities I think is certainly important," Yellen added.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler and Dan Grebler)