Category Archives: Accounting & Disclosure

Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms

The following post comes to us from Henry T. C. Hu, Allan Shivers Chair in the Law of Banking and Finance at the University of Texas School of Law.

Financial innovation has fundamental implications for the key substantive and information-based mechanisms of corporate governance. My new article, Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms: The Evolution of Decoupling and Transparency (forthcoming in Business Lawyer, Spring 2015) focuses on two phenomena: “decoupling” (e.g., “empty voting,” “empty crediting,” and “hidden [morphable] ownership”) and the structural transparency challenges posed by financial innovation (and by the primary governmental response to such challenges). In decoupling, much has happened since the 2006-2008 series of sole- and co-authored articles (generally with Bernard Black and one with Jay Westbrook) developed and refined the pertinent analytical framework. In transparency, the analytical framework for “information,” developed and refined in 2012-2014, can contribute not only to the comprehensive new SEC “disclosure effectiveness” initiative but also to resolving complications arising from the creation of a new parallel public disclosure system—the first new system since the creation of the SEC.

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SEC Implements Dodd-Frank Reporting and Dissemination Rules for Security-Based Swaps

The following post comes to us from Arthur S. Long, partner in the Financial Institutions and Securities Regulation practice groups at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on the introduction of a Gibson Dunn publication; the complete publication, including footnotes and charts, is available here.

Implementation of the derivatives market reforms contained in Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act) may fairly be characterized as a herculean effort. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has finalized dozens of new rules to implement Title VII’s provisions governing “swaps.” Although Title VII requires the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) to implement similar provisions for “security-based swaps” (SBSs), the SEC’s rulemaking process has lagged the CFTC’s.

Earlier this year, the SEC finalized two of its required rules: one (Final Regulation SBSR) governs the reporting of SBS information to registered security-based swap data repositories (SDRs) and related public dissemination requirements; the other covers the registration and duties of SDRs (SDR Registration Rule). Additionally, the SEC published a proposed rule to supplement Final Regulation SBSR that addresses, among other things, an implementation timeframe, the reporting of cleared SBSs and platform-executed SBSs, and rules relating to SDR fees (Proposed Regulation SBSR). Comments on Proposed Regulation SBSR must be submitted to the SEC by May 4, 2015.

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Holding Corporate Officers and Directors Accountable for Failures of Corporate Governance

The following post comes to us from Greg M. Zipes, a trial attorney with the United States Department of Justice. This post is based on his article Ties that Bind: Codes of Conduct that Require Automatic Reductions to the Pay of Directors, Officers, and Their Advisors for Failures of Corporate Governance that was recently published in the Journal of Business and Securities Law. All comments are in Mr. Zipes’ individual capacity and do not reflect the views of the Department of Justice.

Executives and directors at large corporations rarely face personal liability for failures of oversight that lead to large penalties or losses to their companies. As outlined in my recent article, the American consumer can help provide a solution to this lack of accountability.

I propose that corporate executives and directors sign binding codes of conduct requiring them to uphold specific standards within their corporations. They would agree to specific, transparent reductions in compensation if they fail to live up to these standards. This proposal does not rely on the altruism of these corporate heads to sign. Rather, it assumes that those consumers, dismayed by corporate excesses, will direct at least a portion of their business towards those companies with executives who are willing to put their compensation on the line.

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Optimizing Proxy Communications

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young LLP, and is based on a publication by the EY Center for Board Matters.

Proxy statements continue to evolve. New disclosure trends are sharpening company messaging to investors, while other disclosure practices leave investors seeking clarification.

To learn what kinds of disclosures are most valuable to investors, EY asked them where they would like to see disclosure enhancements and the kinds of disclosure practices they prefer.

The EY Center for Board Matters recently had conversations with 50 institutional investors, investor associations and advisors on their corporate governance views and priorities.

This post is the third in a series of four posts based on insights gathered from those conversations and previewing the 2015 proxy season. The first post (available here) focused upon board composition; the second (available here) upon shareholder activism. The upcoming final post will focus on the shareholder proposal landscape.

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Resolution Preparedness: Do You Know Where Your QFCs Are?

The following post comes to us from Dan Ryan, Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and is based on a PwC publication by Mr. Ryan, Frank Serravalli, Dan Weiss, John Simonson, and Daniel Sullivan. The complete publication, including appendix, is available here.

In January, the US Secretary of Treasury issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPR”) that would establish new recordkeeping requirements for Qualified Financial Contracts (“QFCs”). [1] US systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”) and certain of their affiliates [2] will be required under the NPR to maintain specific information electronically on end-of-day QFC positions, and to be able to provide this information to regulators within 24 hours if requested. This is a significant expansion in both scope and detail from current QFC recordkeeping requirements, which now apply only to certain insured depository institutions (“IDIs”) designated by the FDIC. [3]

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SEC Enforcement Actions for Failure to Update 13D Disclosures

The following post comes to us from James Moloney, partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn publication by Mr. Moloney and Andrew Fabens, with assistance from Lauren Traina.

On Friday, March 13, 2015, the SEC announced that it had settled a string of 21C administrative proceedings brought against eight officers, directors, and shareholders of public companies for their failure to report plans and actions leading up to planned going private transactions. The SEC press release can be found here. In doing so, the SEC sent another strong reminder to those that beneficially own more than 5% of the equity securities of a public company to keep their 13D disclosures current.

The respondents included a lottery equipment holding company, the owners of a living trust, and the CEO of a Chinese technical services firm. According to the SEC, the respondents in each of these cases failed to report various plans and activities with respect to the anticipated going private transactions, including when the parties: (i) determined the form of the going private transaction; (ii) obtained waivers from preferred shareholders; (iii) assisted in arriving at shareholder vote projections; (iv) informed management of their plans to take the company private; and (v) recruited shareholders to execute on the proposals. In one case the respondents were charged for failure to report owning securities in the company that was going private. In another case, the respondents reported their transactions months or years later. The proceedings resulted in cease-and-desist orders as well as the imposition of civil monetary penalties ranging from $15,000 to $75,000 per respondent.

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Keeping It Private—Tough Disclosure Issues in Take-Private Transactions

Daniel Wolf is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis focusing on mergers and acquisitions. The following post is based on a Kirkland memorandum by Mr. Wolf and Norbert B. Knapke II.

One of the tougher issues buyers face when engaging in preliminary discussions regarding a potential going-private transaction is whether and when an amendment to required SEC stock ownership disclosures needs to be filed as steps are taken to advance the transaction. Recent settlements between the SEC and officers, directors and major shareholders for failure to update their stock ownership disclosures to reflect material changes—including steps to take a company private—illustrate the importance of careful consideration of these issues when pursuing a going-private transaction.

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SEC Charges Schedule 13D Filers for Untimely Disclosure

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Katz and Alison Z. Preiss.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced last week that it had charged eight directors, officers and major stockholders for failing to timely disclose steps taken to take their respective companies private in their beneficial ownership reports on Schedule 13D. The orders issued by the SEC indicate the SEC staff became aware of the violations in the course of their review of proxy and Schedule 13E-3 transaction statements, which described the steps taken in the required disclosures regarding the background of the transactions. The orders note that emails and other contemporaneous communications clearly indicate the steps taken that had not been properly disclosed. The orders issued by the SEC (to which the offending parties consented) resulted in cease-and-desist orders and payment of civil penalties.

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A Few Observations on Shareholders in 2015

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s recent address at Tulane’s 27th Annual Corporate Law Institute; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today [March 19, 2015], I will share a few observations on three specific areas: the current state of shareholder activism; the shareholder proposal process; and fee-shifting bylaws. I know your next two panels take up aspects of these important topics, but I think the space is lively and big enough for all of us to comment.

The Current Activism Landscape

There are different views on what is meant by “shareholder activism,” but just the word “activism” triggers an adverse reaction from many companies. Reflexively painting all activism negatively is, in my view, using too broad a brush and indeed is counterproductive. To me, the term activism captures the range of efforts by investors to influence a company’s management or decision-making. Some of it is constructive. In certain situations, activism seeks to bring about important changes at companies that can increase shareholder value. Now, some of you may find the juxtaposition of the word “activism” with “shareholder value” does not comport with your sense of reality. Some of you also believe that activists are not interested in increasing long-term value for shareholders and other stakeholders. Still others will assert that activists are simply short-term traders looking to make a quick dollar. I did say this was a lively topic with many different views.

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SEC Enforcement Developments in 2014, and a Look Forward

The following post comes to us from Bill McLucas, partner and chair of the securities department at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication by Mr. McLucas; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.

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