Category Archives: Securities Regulation

Expanding Oversight: SEC Proposes Amendments to Rule 15b9-1

The following post comes to us from Andre E. Owens, partner in the securities practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication.

On March 25, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”) proposed an amendment to Rule 15b9-1 (the “Proposal”) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) that, if adopted, would close an historical exception to the general requirement that registered broker-dealers must become members of a registered national securities association (“Association”), effectively, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”). [1] In doing so, the SEC intends to require SEC-registered broker-dealers that are members of one or more securities exchanges to also become members of FINRA, subject to FINRA rules and oversight. According to the SEC, FINRA membership would help accomplish a key regulatory goal: enhancing the oversight of off-exchange and cross-market trading activity. [2]

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Regulators Working Together to Serve Investors

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent remarks at the North American Securities Administrators Association Annual NASAA/SEC 19(d) Conference; 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.

It is my honor to deliver the opening remarks for today’s [April 14, 2015] North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) and Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) 19(d) Conference. For those who are keeping count, this is my seventh year as the SEC’s liaison to NASAA. It has been a privilege to serve you in this role, which I have done since my early days as a Commissioner. Before I begin my remarks, however, let me issue the standard disclaimer that the views I express today are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SEC, my fellow Commissioners, or members of the staff.

NASAA and the SEC have a long history of working together to provide a robust regulatory environment for businesses to grow and to protect the investors who fuel that growth. Today is a clear example of that partnership, where representatives from the SEC and state regulators come together to share ideas for increasing cooperation and collaboration. This partnership is crucial to achieving our common goal of protecting investors, maintaining market integrity, and facilitating capital formation.

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Do Proxy Advisors Say On Pay Voting Policies Improve TSR?

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Ira Kay, Brian Johnson, Brian Lane, and Blaine Martin.

The vast majority—98%—of companies have passed their annual say on pay votes (SOP) over the past four years. Proxy advisor voting recommendations remain highly influential on these votes, and many companies, perhaps hundreds, have changed the structure of their executive pay programs to try to comply with proxy advisor policies and to obtain a “FOR” SOP vote recommendation from proxy advisors. Proxy advisors base voting recommendations on quantitative and qualitative tests that are highly tailored to their own perspective of and guidance on what comprises a successful executive pay model. [1] Are these voting recommendations correlated with long-term shareholder value creation as measured by total shareholder returns (TSR)? While correlation does not prove causation, what possible explanations may explain the correlation observed in our research?

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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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The SEC Opens a New Front in Whistleblower Protection

Wayne Carlin is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Carlin, John F. Savarese, and David B. Anders.

For some time, SEC officials have expressed concern about confidentiality agreements that may deter corporate employees from submitting whistleblower reports. The SEC has now brought its first enforcement action in this area, a settled case in which the respondent agreed to pay a $130,000 civil penalty without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings. According to the SEC’s order, the company required its employees to sign confidentiality agreements at the outset of interviews in internal investigations. The agreements prohibited witnesses from communicating with anyone else any of “the subject matter discussed during the interview.” Such communication was permissible only if the employee first obtained authorization from the company’s legal department. The SEC found that this practice violated Rule 21F-17, which prohibits taking “any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible securities law violation, including enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement … with respect to such communications.”

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Reasonable Investor(s)

The following post comes to us from Tom C. W. Lin at Temple University Beasley School of Law.

Much of financial regulation for investor protection is built on a convenient fiction. In regulation, all investors are identically reasonable investors. In reality, they are distinctly diverse investors. This fundamental discord has resulted in a modern financial marketplace of mismatched regulations and misplaced expectations—a precarious marketplace that has frustrated investors, regulators, and policymakers.

In a new article, Reasonable Investor(s), published in the Boston University Law Review, I examine this fundamental discord in financial regulation, and seek to make a general positive claim and a specific normative claim. First, the general positive claim contends that a fundamental dissonance between investor heterogeneity in reality and investor homogeneity in regulation has created significant discontent in financial markets for both regulators and investors. Second, the specific normative claim argues that policymakers should formally recognize a new typology of algorithmic investors as an early step towards better acknowledging contemporary investor diversity, so as to forge more effective rules and regulations in a fundamentally changed marketplace. Together, both claims aim to highlight the harms caused by not better recognizing contemporary investor diversity and explain how we can begin to address those harms. Ultimately, the article aspires to create a new and better framework for thinking about investors and investor protection.

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Implications of the SEC’s Plans to Amend Rule 15b9-1

Annette Nazareth is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and a former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on an article by Ms. Nazareth and Jeffrey T. Dinwoodie that first appeared in Traders Magazine.

The overwhelming majority of SEC-registered broker-dealers must also be members of FINRA. Through a commonly overlooked exemption in SEC Rule 15b9-1, some broker-dealers that operate proprietary-only businesses are able to avoid FINRA regulation. The SEC recently voted to on a proposal to amend this rule on March 25.

While it is not clear whether the SEC will seek to eliminate the exemption or narrow its availability, the rulemaking could have important implications for firms currently relying on the exemption and, more broadly, for the ongoing market structure debate.

Let’s explore the history of this exemption and some of the possible implications of an SEC rulemaking.

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2015 IPO Study

The following post comes to us from Proskauer Rose LLP and is based on the Executive Summary of a Proskauer publication; the complete publication, including extensive analysis of multiple industry sectors and foreign private issuers, is available here.

We examined 119 U.S.-listed IPOs with a minimum deal size of $50 million in 2014, representing about half of the overall market for deals meeting those criteria. Our study covered a range of industries and included foreign private issuers and master limited partnerships, but excluded certain uncommon deal structures.

This edition expands on last year’s study (discussed on the Forum here) in several important ways. Collectively, these enhancements widen our perspective and, in the process, deepen our analysis.

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Supreme Court’s Omnicare Decision Muddies Section 11 Opinion Liability Standards

The following post comes to us from Jon N. Eisenberg, partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP, and is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The Supreme Court has a long history of rejecting expansive interpretations of implied private rights of action under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act. Most notably, since 1975, it rejected the argument that mere holders, rather than only purchasers and sellers, may bring private damage actions under Section 10(b), rejected the argument that Section 10(b) liability may be imposed based on negligence rather than scienter, rejected the argument that Section 10(b) may be applied to “unfair” as opposed to fraudulent conduct, rejected the argument that purchase price inflation is enough to show damages under Section 10(b), rejected the argument that Section 10(b) reaches aiders and abettors rather than only primary violators, and rejected efforts to muddy the distinction between primary and secondary liability under Section 10(b).

The Court, however, has barely even mentioned Section 11 of the Securities Act in its opinions, much less interpreted it. Section 11, unlike Section 10(b), 1) provides an express private right of action, 2) is limited to misrepresentations and omissions in a registration statement, and 3) requires no proof of culpability although defendants other than an issuer have due diligence affirmative defenses. The Supreme Court’s March 24, 2015 decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, No. 13-435, is the Court’s first meaningful foray into Section 11. Unfortunately, the decision, which addresses opinion liability under Section 11, provides an amorphous standard that is likely to lead to unpredictable results. It should provide little comfort to plaintiffs or defendants and should make defendants more cautious about including unnecessary opinions in registration statements and, where appropriate, should lead them to carefully qualify opinions that they do include.

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