Category Archives: Accounting & Disclosure

Timing Stock Trades for Personal Gain: Private Information and Sales of Shares by CEOs

Robert Parrino is Professor of Finance at the University of Texas at Austin. This post is based on an article by Professor Parrino; Eliezer Fich, Associate Professor of Finance at Drexel University; and Anh Tran, Senior Lecturer in Finance at City University London. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Insider Trading via the Corporation by Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here), Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

In October 2000, the SEC enacted Rule 10b5-1 which enables managers to reduce their exposure to allegations of trading on material non-public information by announcing pre-planned stock sales up to two years in advance. In our paper, Timing Stock Trades for Personal Gain: Private Information and Sales of Shares by CEOs, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine the impact of Rule 10b5-1 on the gains that CEOs earn when they sell large blocks of stock.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Rejects M&A Litigation Settlement

Ariel J. Deckelbaum is a partner and deputy chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum. 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 Acevedo v. Aeroflex Holding Corporation, in connection with a stockholder suit that challenged the sale of a company with a controlling stockholder to a third party, the Delaware Court of Chancery rejected a settlement which provided a global release of claims in exchange for a reduced termination fee and a shortening of the matching-rights period by one day, holding that these deal protections were not impediments to competing bidders and therefore were insufficient to support a global release.

In 2014, Aeroflex agreed to sell itself to a third-party and a class-action challenging the transaction was subsequently commenced. After engaging in discovery and consulting with third-party experts, the plaintiff concluded that the consideration offered to the Aeroflex stockholders fell within a range of reasonable value for Aeroflex’s shares, but that the proxy omitted certain material facts. The parties agreed to a settlement where the plaintiff granted the defendants a global release of all possible claims in exchange for modifying the deal protections by (i) reducing the termination fee by over 40% from $32 million to $18 million, and (ii) shortening the matching rights period from four business days to three business days. Additionally, the defendants agreed to make certain supplemental disclosures in the proxy.

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SEC Charges Computer Sciences Corporation & Former Executives With Accounting Fraud

Nicholas S. Goldin is a partner and Yafit Cohn is an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher publication.

On June 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) entered into settled administrative cease-and-desist proceedings with Computer Sciences Corporation (“CSC”) and some of its former executives due to the company’s alleged manipulation of financial results and concealment of problems with the company’s largest contract. [1] Among other things, CSC agreed to pay a $190 million penalty to settle the charges, and two of CSC’s former executives agreed to return a portion of their compensation to CSC pursuant to the clawback provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The SEC also charged former CSC finance executives for ignoring accounting standards to increase reported profits.

Factual Background and SEC Findings

CSC entered into a contract with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (“NHS”) to build and deploy an electronic patient record system. The contract had the potential to earn CSC $5.4 billion in revenue if the company satisfied the timeframes outlined in the contract. The contract also included penalties of up to $160,000 per day for missed deadlines. CSC had trouble developing the software. CSC and NHS amended the contract, NHS agreeing to waive the penalties in exchange for certainty of deployment of the electronic record system on an agreed upon date. It later became clear that CSC would not be able to meet its commitments under the amended contract either.

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Are Public Companies Required to Disclose Government Investigations?

Jon N. Eisenberg is partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg.

For many public companies, the first issue they have to confront after they receive a government subpoena or Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) is whether to disclose publicly that they are under investigation. Curiously, the standards for disclosure of investigations are more muddled than one would expect. As a result, disclosure practices vary—investigations are sometimes disclosed upon receipt of a subpoena or CID, sometimes when the staff advises a company that it has tentatively decided to recommend an enforcement action, sometimes not until the end of the process, and sometimes at other intermediate stages along the way. In many cases, differences in the timing of disclosure may reflect different approaches to disclosure. We discuss below the standards that govern the disclosure decision and practical considerations. We then provide five representative examples of language that companies used when they disclosed investigations at an early stage.

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“Pay Versus Performance” Rule Proposed by SEC Under Dodd-Frank

Joseph E. Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder which first appeared in the New York Law Journal. Andy Tsang, a senior financial analyst with the firm, assisted in the preparation of this column. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

 

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” —E.O. Wilson [1]

On April 29, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced its proposal to add a new Item 402(v), captioned “Pay versus Performance,” to Regulation S-K. [2] The SEC announced the proposed rule pursuant to Dodd-Frank Section 953(a). [3] Section 953(a) directs the SEC to adopt rules requiring that proxy statements and certain “consent solicitation material” [4] provide “information that shows the relationship between executive compensation actually paid and the financial performance of the issuer, taking into account any change in the value of the shares of stock and dividends of the registrant and any distributions.” This is in addition to information already provided under Item 402 of Regulation S-K.
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Chamber of Commerce Airs Grievances Related To Internal Controls Inspections

Jason M. Halper is a partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and William J. Foley Jr.

In recent months, issues related to internal control systems and reporting have taken on an increased profile and significance. For example, as previously noted by the authors here and here, the SEC has sought to prioritize compliance with internal controls by initiating a growing number of investigations into companies based on allegations of inadequate internal controls.

By way of background, “internal controls” refers to the procedures and practices that companies use to manage risk, conduct business efficiently, and ensure compliance with the law and company policy. Public companies are required to maintain sufficient internal controls by the securities laws. In particular, Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (as amended by the Dodd-Frank Act) requires, among other things, that: (i) company management assess and report on the effectiveness of the company’s internal control over its financial reporting, and (ii) the company’s independent auditors verify management’s disclosures. Sarbanes-Oxley also created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) to oversee public company audits, including the audits of internal control reporting. The PCAOB, in turn, conducts regular inspections to ensure compliance with laws, rules and professional standards.

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SEC Seeks Input on Enhanced Disclosures for Audit Committees

Michael J. Scanlon is a partner and member of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert.

At an open meeting held on July 1, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a concept release addressing the prospect of enhanced disclosures for audit committees. The much-publicized concept release is available here and requests comment on a number of possible changes to existing SEC disclosure requirements about the work of audit committees, focusing in particular on audit committees’ selection and oversight of independent auditors. The SEC said that it has issued the release in response to views expressed by some that current disclosures may not provide investors with sufficient information about what audit committees do and how they perform their duties. The release seeks feedback on whether certain audit committee disclosures should be added, removed or modified to provide additional meaningful disclosures to investors.

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The Next Frontier for Boards, Oversight of Risk Culture

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Parveen P. Gupta and Tim Leech. The complete publication, including footnotes and Appendix, is available here.

Over the past 15 years expectations for board oversight have skyrocketed. In 2002 the Sarbanes-Oxley Act put the spotlight on board oversight of financial reporting. The 2008 global financial crisis focused regulatory attention on the need to improve board oversight of management’s risk appetite and tolerance. Most recently, in the wake of a number of high-profile personal data breaches, questions are being asked about board oversight of cyber-security, the newest risk threatening companies’ long term success. This post provides a primer on the next frontier for boards: oversight of “risk culture.”

Weak “risk culture” has been diagnosed as the root cause of many large and, in the words of the Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White, “egregious” corporate governance failures. Deficient risk and control management processes, IT security, and unreliable financial reporting are increasingly seen as mere symptoms of a “bad” or “deficient” risk culture. The new challenge that corporate directors face is how to diagnose and oversee the company’s risk culture and what actions to take if it is found to be deficient.

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Basel III Liquidity Framework: Final Net Stable Funding Ratio Disclosure Standards

Andrew R. Gladin is a partner in the Financial Services and Corporate and Finance Groups at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication authored by Mr. Gladin, Mark J. Welshimer, Andrea R. Tokheim, and Christopher F. Nenno.

Last week, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (the “Basel Committee”) published final standards (the “Final Disclosure Standards”) for the disclosure of information relating to banks’ net stable funding ratio (the “NSFR”) calculations. [1] The Final Disclosure Standards were adopted substantially as proposed in December 2014. [2]

The NSFR, which the Basel Committee adopted in final form in October 2014, [3] is one of the key standards, along with the liquidity coverage ratio (the “LCR”), [4] introduced by the Basel Committee to strengthen liquidity risk management as part of the Basel III framework. The NSFR is designed to promote more medium- and long-term funding of the assets and activities of banks over a one-year time horizon. The Final Disclosure Standards, in turn, are part of the broader so-called Pillar 3 disclosure regime (along with disclosure requirements in capital rules as well as the LCR-related disclosure framework) and are designed to “improve the transparency of regulatory funding …, enhance market discipline, and reduce uncertainty in the markets as the NSFR is implemented.” [5]

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Attorney-Whistleblowing and Conflicting Regulatory Regimes

Jennifer M. Pacella is Assistant Professor of Law at City University of New York (CUNY), Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College.

In my latest article, Conflicted Counselors: Retaliation Protections for Attorney-Whistleblowers in an Inconsistent Regulatory Regime, I examine the ever-evolving issue of attorney-whistleblowing, the reporting requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) of attorneys representing issuer-clients, the potential for conflict of these requirements with the rules of professional conduct in various states, and the lack of retaliation protections for attorneys subject to these rules. Although attorney-whistleblowing undoubtedly invokes concerns about ethics and client relationships, SOX requires attorneys who “appear and practice” before the Securities and Exchange Commission to internally blow the whistle on their clients by reporting evidence of material violations of the law “up-the-ladder” when they represent issuers. If an attorney fails to adhere to these requirements, he/she will be subject to SEC-imposed civil penalties and disciplinary action. The SOX rules also allow an attorney to make a permissive disclosure to the SEC, revealing confidential information without the issuer-client’s consent, in certain instances, including when the attorney reasonably believes necessary to prevent substantial financial injury to the issuer.

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