2016 Proxy Season Update

Laura D. Richman is counsel and Michael L. Hermsen is partner at Mayer Brown LLP. This post is based on a Mayer Brown Legal update, available here, authored by Laura D. Richman, Robert F. Gray, Michael L. Hermsen, Elizabeth A. Raymond, and David A. Schuette.

It is time for public companies to think about the upcoming 2016 proxy and annual reporting season. Preparation of proxy statements and annual reports requires a major commitment of corporate resources. Companies have to gather a great deal of information to produce the necessary disclosures. In addition, with increasing frequency, companies are choosing to implement the required elements of their proxy statements with a focus on shareholder engagement, seeking to clearly present, and effectively advocate for, their positions on annual meeting agenda items. As the process for the 2016 proxy and annual reporting season begins, there are a number of recent developments that public companies should be aware of that will impact current and future seasons.

This post is divided into five sections covering the following topics:


The Limits of Using TSR as an Incentive Measure

David N. Swinford is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Pearl Meyer & Partners, LLC. This post relates to research conducted by Pearl Meyer and the Cornell University ILR School’s Institute for Compensation Studies.

The widespread and growing use of total shareholder return (TSR) as an incentive measure is not the panacea many believe it to be. To test our point of view we wanted to explore one critical question: Does the inclusion of TSR measures in long-term incentive plans result in improved firm performance?

To find out the answer, Pearl Meyer collaborated with the Cornell University ILR School’s Institute for Compensation Studies to conduct original research on the use of TSR by S&P 500 companies over a ten year period.


Observations on Short-Termism and Long-Termism

Charles Nathan is partner and head of the Corporate Governance Practice at RLM Finsbury. This post responds to a post by Robert C. Pozen, titled Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

The debate about whether U.S. public companies are afflicted by short-termism rather than more beneficial longer-term behavior and, if so, its effect on our economy is ubiquitous. It occupies increasing attention in corporate board rooms, executive suites and investment management businesses from the smallest to the largest. The debate is a commonplace topic in the legal and academic worlds as well as the financial press, and it is rapidly spreading to more general news outlets and the political scene—to the point where at least one Presidential candidate has made the debate a focal point of her tax reform platform.

A complicating factor in the debate is that there is no consensus about what short-term and long-term refer to. Is or should the debate be about:

  • investor behavior (e.g., short-term traders versus long-term holders),
  • investor objectives (e.g., increases in portfolio value in the short-term at the cost of foregoing better long-term fund performance),
  • corporate behavior (e.g., focusing on short-term profitability to meet or better quarterly performance goals to the detriment of greater long-term profitability), or
  • corporate objectives and strategy (e.g., engaging in financial engineering to generate short-term value creation, thereby precluding long-term investment in building the business through research and development, improved plants and production methods or product and market expansion)?

In this post we offer some observations on the debate, as well as its rhetoric and assumptions, in an effort to bring some clarity to the topic, identify the important issues and resolve at least some of them.

The Failure of Liability in Modern Markets

Yesha Yadav is an Associate Professor of Law of Vanderbilt Law School. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Yadav.

In April 2015, the Justice Department indicted Navinder Sarao—a 36 year-old trader operating out of his parents’ basement—for actions resulting in the Flash Crash in May 2010. [1] According to the complaint, Sarao’s use of fake or “spoof” orders was damaging enough to precipitate a near 1000-point plunge in in the Dow Jones Index. It is telling that, today, a single trader can stand accused of contributing to this extraordinary drop in the value of the stock market. The complaint draws into relief the central challenge facing securities trading. With markets approaching ever-fuller levels of automation and driven by complex algorithms, even small-time traders like Sarao can create costs far in excess of either the seriousness of their conduct—or their capacity to pay for what they do. As I argue in The Failure of Liability in Modern Markets, to be published in the Virginia Law Review, the liability framework anchoring modern, algorithmic markets struggles to both control harmful risks and to punish them satisfactorily. Where instances of mistake, carelessness and fraud can neither be reliably controlled nor adequately punished, the law’s capacity to create a fair, richly informed marketplace must come under serious doubt.


Materiality as Pleading Obstacle

Brad S. Karp is chairman and partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

Claims brought under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Act”) are typically challenging for defendants to dismiss. Some defendants may have affirmative defenses, but most of the Act’s provisions impose strict liability for alleged misstatements—meaning that a plaintiff need not plead scienter—and claims brought under the Act are subject to the relatively low pleading standard imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Further, although plaintiffs suing under the Act must allege facts sufficient to show that the purported misstatements were material, courts are generally reluctant to dismiss for failure to plead this element because materiality is an inherently fact-bound inquiry.

Notwithstanding these principles, on September 29, 2015, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Oetken, J.) dismissed a putative class action brought under the Act on the ground that the complaint’s materiality allegations failed as a matter of law. The opinion provides valuable insights on how to defeat other Act claims on similar grounds. [1]


The SEC’s Focus on Cybersecurity

Jessica Forbes is a corporate partner resident the New York office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Ms. Forbes, Joanna D. Rosenberg, and Stacey Song.

On September 22, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) issued a cease-and-desist order (the “Order”) and settled charges against St. Louis-based investment adviser R.T. Jones Capital Equities Management (“R.T. Jones”) for failing to establish required policies and procedures to safeguard customer information in violation of Rule 30(a) of Regulation S-P (“Rule 30(a)”) under the Securities Act of 1933. [1]

Rule 30(a) requires every broker, dealer, investment company and registered investment adviser to adopt written policies and procedures reasonably designed to ensure the security and confidentiality of customer information and to protect customer information from anticipated threats or unauthorized access. According to the Order, from at least September 2009 through July 2013, R.T. Jones stored personal information of its clients and other persons on its third party-hosted web server without adopting any such written policies and procedures. In July 2013, a hacker gained access to the data on R.T. Jones’ web server, rendering the personal information of more than 100,000 individuals vulnerable to theft. In response to the cyber attack, R.T. Jones notified each individual whose information was compromised.


Those Short-Sighted Attacks on Quarterly Earnings

Robert C. Pozen  is a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Mark Roe is a professor at Harvard Law School. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Corporate Short-termism—In the Boardroom and in the Courtroom by Mark Roe (discussed on the Forum here); and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

The clamor against so-called corporate short-term thinking has been steadily rising, with a recent focus on eliminating the quarterly earnings report that public firms issue. Quarterly reports are said to push management to forgo attractive long-term projects to meet the expectations of investors and traders who want smooth, rising earnings from quarter to quarter.

The U.K. recently eliminated mandatory quarterly reports with the goal of lengthening the time horizon for corporate business decision-making. And now Martin Lipton, a prominent U.S. corporate lawyer, has proposed that U.S. companies’ boards be allowed to choose semiannual instead of quarterly reporting. The proposal resonates in Washington circles: Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has criticized “quarterly capitalism” as has the recently departed Republican SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher.

But while quarterly reporting has drawbacks, the costs of going to semiannual reporting clearly outweigh any claimed benefits.


Regulatory Approvals for Bank M&A

Edward D. Herlihy is a partner and co-chairman of the Executive Committee at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Herlihy and Richard K. Kim.

The Federal Reserve’s approval last week of M&T’s pending acquisition of Hudson City has prompted a great deal of speculation as to the current state of the regulatory approval process for bank mergers and acquisitions. Announced over three years ago, on August 27, 2012, the M&T/Hudson City transaction has taken longer to receive Federal Reserve approval than any other bank merger. Many in the industry have interpreted the delay in receiving approval for the merger as representing a policy change by the Federal Reserve. As discussed below, we view the transaction as largely an idiosyncratic event that is a result as much of timing as any policy shifts by the Federal Reserve. With this approval, taken together with the others that the Federal Reserve has issued over the past several months, there is now more clarity and certainty to the regulatory approval process for bank M&A. With the exception of the largest systemically important banks, there is no regulatory policy impeding bank mergers.


SCOTUS Declines Petition on Insider Trading Ruling

Brad S. Karp is chairman and partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

Today [October 5, 2015], the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the petition for a writ of certiorari (the “Petition”) filed by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), a landmark decision that dismissed indictments against two insider trading defendants. By declining to hear the Petition, the Supreme Court ensured that the Second Circuit’s decision in Newman will remain binding in the Second Circuit and influential across the country.

As we explain below, two of Newman’s holdings are particularly important: first, that the government must prove that a remote tippee knew or should have known of the personal benefit received by a tipper in exchange for disclosing nonpublic information; and second, that the benefits alleged by the government in United States v. Newman were not sufficient to support a conviction, as they were not sufficiently “consequential.”


Delaware’s Respect for Informed Stockholder Approval of Mergers

William Savitt is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Savitt, Ryan A. McLeod, and Nicholas Walter. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In an important ruling last week, the Delaware Supreme Court reaffirmed that control of Delaware companies lies in the boardroom and held that the deferential business judgment rule is the “appropriate standard of review for a post-closing damages action” when a third-party merger “has been approved by a fully informed, uncoerced majority of the disinterested stockholders.” Corwin v. KKR Fin. Holdings LLC, No. 629, 2014 (Del. Oct. 2, 2015) (en banc).

The ruling affirms the Court of Chancery’s dismissal of a case challenging KKR’s $2.6 billion acquisition of KKR Financial Holdings LLC (“KFN”), about which we previously wrote. Attacking the trial court’s ruling, stockholder plaintiffs argued that KKR was KFN’s controlling shareholder (notwithstanding its small equity stake) because a KKR affiliate managed KFN’s day-to-day operations pursuant to a management agreement. The Supreme Court disagreed and confirmed that a minority stockholder will not be considered a controller without “a combination of potent voting power and management control such that the stockholder could be deemed to have effective control of the board without actually owning a majority of stock.” Because KKR was not a controlling stockholder, the transaction was not subject to entire fairness review.


  • Subscribe

  • Cosponsored By:

  • Supported By:

  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
    Alma Cohen
    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
    Jesse Fried
    Oliver Hart
    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
    Robert Pozen
    Mark Ramseyer
    Mark Roe
    Robert Sitkoff
    Holger Spamann
    Guhan Subramanian

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    David Fox
    Stephen Fraidin
    Byron Georgiou
    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    Jack B. Jacobs
    Paula Loop
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Morton Pierce
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward