Tag: Exchange Act


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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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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SEC Proposes Increased Thresholds for Exchange Act Registration

David Huntington is a partner in the Capital Markets and Securities Group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

In December 2014, the SEC proposed rules under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”) that reflect new, higher thresholds for registration under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”). The SEC also proposed rules that would implement higher thresholds for termination of registration and suspension of reporting for banks and bank holding companies and savings and loan holding companies. In addition, the SEC has proposed to revise the definition of “held of record” in Exchange Act Rule 12g5-1 to exclude certain securities held by persons who received them pursuant to employee compensation plans and to establish a non-exclusive safe harbor for determining whether securities are “held of record” for purposes of registration under Exchange Act Section 12(g).

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Successful Motions to Dismiss Securities Class Actions in 2014

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.

Motions to dismiss have been called “the main event” in securities class actions. They are filed in over 90% of securities class actions and they result in dismissal close to 50% of the time they are filed. In contrast, out of 4,226 class actions filed between 1995 and 2013, only 14 were resolved through a trial, and of those, only five resulted in verdicts for the defendant. In between a denial of a motion to dismiss and a trial are i) discovery, ii) opposition to class certification, iii) motion for summary judgment, iv) mediation, and v) settlement. Unfortunately for defendants in securities class actions, class certification is granted in whole or in part 84% of the time, and there is no summary judgment decision at all over 90% of the time. Thus, for most defendants in securities class actions, a denial of a motion to dismiss usually results in writing a settlement check, often after years of costly discovery. Defendants that fail to give adequate attention to motions to dismiss are shortchanging the very best opportunity they have to avoid what may otherwise become multi-year, expensive litigation.

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Liabilities Under the Federal Securities Laws

Paul Vizcarrondo is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in corporate and securities litigation and regulatory and white collar criminal matters. This post is based on the introduction of a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Vizcarrondo; the complete publication is available here.

This post deals with certain of the liability provisions of the federal securities laws: §§ 11, 12, 15 and 17 of the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”), and §§ 10, 18 and 20 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”). It does not address other potential sources of liability and sanction, such as federal mail and wire fraud statutes, state fraud statutes and common law remedies, RICO and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) disciplinary powers.

On December 22, 1995, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “Reform Act” or “PSLRA”) became law after the Senate overrode President Clinton’s veto. Pub. L. No. 104-67, 109 Stat. 737 (1995). Where relevant, this post discusses changes and additions that the PSLRA made to the liability provisions of the Securities Act and the Exchange Act.

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Increased Scrutiny of High-Frequency Trading

The following post comes to us from Matthew Rossi, partner in the Securities Litigation & Enforcement practice at Mayer Brown LLP, and is based on a Mayer Brown Legal Update by Mr. Rossi, Joseph De Simone, and Jerome J. Roche. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Following the publication of Michael Lewis’ new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (“Flash Boys”), plaintiffs’ lawyers and US government regulators have increasingly focused their attention on financial institutions participating in high-frequency trading (“HFT”). Less than three weeks after the release of Flash Boys, private plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against 27 financial services firms and 14 national securities exchanges (with additional defendants likely to be named later) alleging that the defendants’ HFT practices in the US equities markets violated the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws. Plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a separate action against The CME Group, Inc. (“CME”) and The Board of Trade of the City of Chicago (“CBOT”) containing similar allegations in US derivatives markets.

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Court of Appeals Invalidates Part of SEC’s Conflict Minerals Rule

The following post comes to us from Yafit Cohn, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

On April 14, 2014, in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit partially invalidated the final rule of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requiring public companies to investigate and disclose the origin of certain minerals found in the war-ridden Congo region (“conflict minerals”). [1] While upholding most aspects of the rule, the Court concluded that the rule and the statutory provisions on which it is based violate the First Amendment “to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’” [2] On April 29, 2014, amid uncertainty regarding the impact of the Court’s decision on issuers’ obligations under the rule, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance announced that the SEC expects issuers to comply with those aspects of the rule that were upheld by the Court.

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The Changing Regulatory Landscape for Angel Investing

Keith F. Higgins is Director of the Division of Corporation Finance at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Mr. Higgins’ remarks at the 2014 Angel Capital Association Summit; the full text is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Mr. Higgins and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commissioners, or the Staff.

The importance of small businesses in America is unquestionable—they are the foundation of today’s economy and are responsible for many of the new jobs created each year in the United States. And angel investors play a vital role in the development of small businesses by nurturing them at their earliest, most vulnerable stages when they may have little more than the next great idea. For early stage entrepreneurs, angels often are the only ones willing to listen to their business pitch, provide advice, and put in that crucial infusion of capital that is needed to transform an idea into a thriving new business. Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Home Depot—these are just some of the titans of today’s corporate America that, at an earlier stage of their development, were first backed by angel investors. [1] Equally impressive are some of the statistics about the impact of angel investing—by one estimate, in the first half of 2013 alone, angels invested approximately $9.7 billion in over 28,000 ventures, with over 111,000 new jobs created as a result of these investments. [2]

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Spin-Off and Listing by Introduction of Feishang Anthracite Resources Limited

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by William Y. Chua, Kung-Wei Liu, and Kenny Chiu.

China Natural Resources, Inc. (“CHNR”), a natural resources company based in the People’s Republic of China (the “PRC”) with shares listed on the NASDAQ Capital Market, recently completed the spin-off (the “Spin-Off”) and listing by introduction (the “Listing by Introduction”) on The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited (the “Hong Kong Stock Exchange”) of its wholly-owned subsidiary, Feishang Anthracite Resources Limited (“Feishang Anthracite”), which operated CHNR’s coal mining and related businesses prior to the Spin-Off. [1] S&C represented CHNR and Feishang Anthracite in connection with the Spin-Off and Listing by Introduction, which is the first-of-its-kind where a U.S.-listed company successfully spun off and listed shares of its businesses on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, including advising on the U.S. and Hong Kong legal issues that arose in connection with this transaction.

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Halliburton

Robert Giuffra is a partner in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Litigation Group. The following post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Jeffrey B. Wall. The Supreme Court’s reconsideration of Basic is also discussed in a Harvard Law School Discussion Paper by Professors Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell, Rethinking Basic, discussed on the Forum here.

On March 5, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, which presents whether to overrule or significantly limit plaintiffs’ ability to rely on the legal presumption that each would-be class member in a securities fraud class action relied on the statements challenged as fraudulent in the lawsuit. Without this so-called fraud-on-the-market presumption of classwide reliance, putative class action plaintiffs would face substantial barriers in maintaining securities fraud class actions. The Court’s decision in Halliburton, which is expected by June 2014, could lead to a significant change in the conduct of securities class actions. Even if the Court ultimately retains some formulation of the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance, the Court could increase defendants’ ability to contest what in practice has evolved into a virtually irrebuttable presumption.

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