Category Archives: Securities Regulation

Shedding Light on Dark Pools

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement at an open meeting of the SEC; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today, [November 18, 2015], the Commission considers proposing much-needed enhancements to the regulatory regime for alternative trading systems (“ATSs”) that trade national market system (“NMS”) stocks. I will support these proposals because they could go a long way toward helping market participants make informed decisions as they attempt to navigate the byzantine structure of today’s equity markets.


Increasing Transparency of Alternative Trading Systems

Kara M. Stein is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Stein’s recent remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Stein and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today [November 18, 2015], the Commission meets to consider a proposal to increase the transparency of alternative trading systems (ATS). Many ATSs are commonly referred to as “dark pools”. To most people, dark pools are a little bit of a mystery, and that’s because they often function in great secrecy. Today’s proposal seeks to shine a light into that darkness.

Modern ATSs are a product of the rapid technological advances that have revolutionized the way stocks are bought and sold. An ATS is an electronic order matching system operated by a broker-dealer. Much like an exchange, it brings together buyers and sellers. There are many types of ATSs, and they facilitate the purchase and sale of all types of securities ranging from equities to corporate bonds to Treasuries, and more. Unlike an exchange, which must disclose publicly quotes and prices at which securities transactions occur, an ATS can operate in the dark with only limited information about its operations.


Derivatives and Uncleared Margins

Dan Ryan is Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC publication by Mr. Ryan, Mike Alix, Adam Gilbert, Armen Meyer, and Christopher Scarpati.

Over the past two weeks, the US banking regulators released their much anticipated final margin requirements for the uncleared portion of the derivatives market. [1] This portion amounts to over $250 trillion of the global $630 trillion outstanding and has up to now been operating in “business as usual” mode, [2] while other derivatives have been pushed into clearing. The final rule’s release completes a long process since it was proposed in 2011 and re-proposed in 2014. [3]

The good news for the industry is that the final rule is generally aligned with international standards [4] and similar requirements proposed in major foreign jurisdictions. Most notably, the final rule increases the threshold of swap activity that would bring a financial end user (e.g., hedge fund) within the rule’s scope from $3 billion to $8 billion. This change, which aligns the rule with European and Japanese proposals, eases the compliance burden of smaller, less-risky market participants.


19 Law Professors Submit Amicus Brief in Union Political Spending Case

John C. Coates is the John F. Cogan, Jr. Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School. This post relates to a brief submitted by 19 law professors, led by Professor Coates, in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The amicus brief is available here.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that under the First Amendment, the government could not restrict a corporation’s independent political spending, even in the interest of aligning corporate expression with shareholders’ views. In contrast, an earlier Court case, Abood v. Detroit of Board of Education, conditioned the ability of unions to use fees from non-members for political spending on a mechanism for non-members to opt out of fees not directly used in collective bargaining. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Associationcurrently awaiting oral argument in the Court’s October Term 2015—again deals with speech by labor unions, which the Supreme Court has compared to speech by corporations.

Presently, California requires that public schoolteachers either join the California Teachers Union or pay “agency fees” to compensate the union for its efforts on their behalf. Plaintiffs, a group of teachers, argue that these fees constitute forced subsidization of the union’s speech. Pinning their claim to the First Amendment, plaintiffs are seeking to invalidate agency fees altogether, or else require non-union members to affirmatively consent to subsidizing the union’s speech. In effect, plaintiffs are seeking to overturn Abood, converting an opt-out to an opt-in. The CTU, on the other hand, argues that the opt-out already required by Abood means that non-union teachers are not forced to pay for union speech at all.


The Continuing Work of Enhancing Small Business Capital Formation

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement at the SEC Government-Business Forum on Small Business Capital Formation; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

As everyone participating in today’s [November 19, 2015] Forum knows well, our nation’s small businesses spur innovation, produce technological change, and drive job creation across the greater economy. In fact, from mid-2009—or what some pinpoint as the end of the “Great Recession”—to mid-2013, small businesses accounted for approximately 60% of net new jobs. More recently, statistics compiled through the first three quarters of 2014 show that our nation’s 28 million small business owners have been responsible for an even greater share of overall job creation, accounting for between 73% and 84% of net new jobs during that period. There can be no doubt that facilitating an environment that nurtures and breeds successful startups and small companies is critical to the health of our greater economy.


Proxy Access: Preparing for the 2016 Proxy Season

Thomas W. Christopher is a partner in the New York office and Ryan J. Maierson is a partner in the Houston office of Latham & Watkins LLP. This post is based on a Latham publication by Mr. Christopher, Mr. Maierson, Tiffany Fobes Campion, and Charles C. Wang. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

As the 2016 proxy season approaches, every public company should consider its position on proxy access and should have a plan for responding to a shareholder proxy access proposal. Based on lessons learned from the 2015 season, this post summarizes:

  1. Actions a public company can take to prepare for receipt of a proxy access proposal.
  2. Whether a company should wait and react to a shareholder proxy access proposal or preemptively adopt its own proxy access regime.
  3. Alternatives available to a company following receipt of a proxy access proposal.

Proxy access is a mechanism that gives shareholders the right to nominate directors and have those nominees included in the company’s annual meeting proxy statement. Proxy access gained significant momentum in 2015, with approximately 100 proposals submitted to shareholders and approximately 58% of those proposals being approved by shareholders. [1] Very likely a number of public companies will be subject to proxy access proposals during the 2016 proxy season.


SEC Adopts Final Rules for Crowdfunding

Andrew J. Foley is a partner in the Corporate Department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss memorandum.

On October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted final rules under Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (“JOBS”) Act. These rules relate to a new exemption under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”) that will permit securities-based crowdfunding by private companies without registering the offering with the SEC. The crowdfunding proposal (“Regulation Crowdfunding”) follows the 2013 crowdfunding rule proposal in most significant respects and represents a major shift in how small U.S. companies can raise money in the private securities market.


The Pay Ratio Rule: Preparing for Compliance

Avrohom J. Kess is partner and head of the Public Company Advisory Practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher/FW Cook co-publication authored by Mr. Kess, Yafit Cohn, Bindu M. Culas, and Michael R. Marino, available here.

On August 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted its much-anticipated final rule implementing the pay ratio disclosure requirement of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act). Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act instructed the SEC to adopt rules requiring reporting companies to disclose the median of the annual total compensation of all company employees other than the company’s chief executive officer (CEO), the CEO’s annual total compensation and the ratio between these two numbers.


New Records in SEC Enforcement Actions

John C. Wander is a partner in the Shareholder Litigation & Enforcement practice at Vinson & Elkins LLP. This post is based on a Vinson & Elkins publication authored by Mr. Wander, Jeffrey S. JohnstonClifford Thau, and Olivia D. Howe.

In late October, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that under the leadership of chair Mary Jo White and enforcement director Andrew Ceresney, the SEC has continued to ramp up enforcement activity. In its 2015 fiscal year, the SEC reported filing a total of 807 actions for the year—including 507 independent enforcement actions, 168 follow-on actions, and 132 actions for delinquent filings—resulting in $4.19 billion in monetary penalties and disgorgements.

Corporate Governance Responses to Director Rule Changes

Cindy Vojtech is an Economist at the Federal Reserve Board. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Vojtech and Benjamin Kay, Economist at the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Research.

Much of the corporate governance literature has been plagued by endogeneity problems. In our paper, Corporate Governance Responses to Director Rule Changes, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we use a law change as a natural experiment to test how firms adjust the choice and magnitude of governance tools given a floor level of monitoring from independent directors. Through this analysis, we can recover the structural relationship between inputs in the governance production function. We study these relationships with a new board of director dataset with a much larger range of firm size.

In 2002, U.S. stock exchanges and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act established minimum standards for director independence. These director rules altered firm choice of other tools for mitigating agency problems. On average, treated firms do not increase the size of their board, instead inside directors are replaced with outside directors.


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