Tag: Information asymmetries

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.


Corporate Law and The Limits of Private Ordering

James D. Cox is the Brainerd Currie Professor of Law of Duke Law School. The following post is based on an article forthcoming in the Washington University Law Review. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

Solomon-like, the Delaware legislature in 2015 split the baby by amending the Delaware General Corporation Law to authorize forum-selection bylaws and to prohibit charter or bylaw provisions that would shift to the plaintiff defense costs incurred in connection with shareholder suits that were not successfully concluded. The legislature acted after the Boilermakers Local 154 Retirement Fund. v. Chevron Corp ATP Tour, Inc. v. Deutscher Tennis Bund, broadly empowered the board vis-à-vis the shareholders through the board’s power to amend the bylaws. Repeatedly the analysis used by each court referenced the contractual relationship the shareholders had through the articles of incorporation and the bylaws with their corporation. The action of the Delaware legislation hardly puts the important question raised by each opinion to bed: are there limits on the board of directors to act through the bylaws to alter the rights shareholders customarily enjoy? Stated differently, can the board of directors’ authority to amend the bylaws extend to changing both the procedural and substantive relationship shareholders have with their corporation. In examining this question, the article, Corporate Law and The Limits of Private Ordering, develops two broad points: the shareholder’s relationship is more than just a contract and, even if the relationship was contractual, bedrock contract law does not support the results reached in Boilermakers and ATP Tour, Inc. In conclusion, the article also uncovers an issued overlooked in the debate over the relative prerogatives of shareholders and the board of directors, namely that bylaws proposed by the board of directors carry a strong presumption of propriety whereas those proposed by shareholders do not.


SEC Disclosures by Foreign Firms

Audra Boone is a senior financial economist at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Boone, Kathryn Schumann, Assistant Professor of Finance at James Madison University, and Joshua White, Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Georgia. The views expressed in the post are those of Dr. Boone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commissioners, or the Staff.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) established the ongoing reporting regime for U.S.-listed foreign firms when most of these filers were large, well-known companies that had a primary trading venue on a major foreign exchange. Accordingly, prior work argues that the SEC exempted these firms from producing quarterly and event-driven filings beyond those mandated by their home country or exchange. [1] Specifically, the SEC stipulates that foreign firms must supply ongoing disclosures on a Form 6-K only when they publicly release information outside the U.S. (e.g., updates on earnings, acquisitions, raising capital, or payout structure). [2]

The composition of foreign firms listing in the U.S. has evolved over the years towards one with more firms stemming from less transparent countries and those lacking a primary listing outside the U.S. Notably, foreign firms with these characteristics likely have fewer ongoing reporting mandates, and thus considerable discretion regarding the information they supply to the SEC. Yet, there is little evidence on how the deference to home country requirements affects ongoing reporting and information flows in more recent periods. Studying these issues helps understand the relative trade-offs of creating a competitive landscape for attracting foreign firm listings and ensuring meaningful information flows to investors, thus balancing capital formation and investor protection.

Are Institutions Informed About News?

Norman Schürhoff is Professor of Finance at the Swiss Finance Institute. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Schürhoff; Terrence Hendershott, Professor of Finance at the University of California, Berkeley; and Dmitry Livdan, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of California, Berkeley.

Who is informed on the stock market? There are plenty of reasons to believe that institutional investors possess value-relevant information. Unlike retail investors, institutions often directly communicate with publicly traded firms as well as brokerage firms through their investment banking, lending, and asset management divisions. Most mutual funds and hedge funds employ buy-side analysts and enjoy better relationships with sell-side analysts. Their economies of scale allow institutions to monitor many sources of information. Last but not least, institutions employ professionals and technologies with superior information processing skills. Yet, the academic literature has struggled to identify the information channel in institutional trading. There is some evidence that institutional investors are informed, but studies examining institutional order flow around specific events provide mixed evidence.


Shareholder Activism and Voluntary Disclosure

Jordan Schoenfeld is Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Utah. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Schoenfeld and Thomas Bourveau, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here), and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

Information is the foundation on which traders form their beliefs about a company and ultimately their investment decisions. In empirical settings, information often arrives in the form of a company disclosure. Since managers have significant discretion over disclosure, researchers have extensively studied the relation between disclosure and trading via the price system. In our paper, Shareholder Activism and Voluntary Disclosure, which was recently made available on SSRN, we study the relation between disclosure and a specific class of traders, shareholder activists. The activism literature has only indirectly explored the link between company disclosures and activism. For example, several papers include financial statement variables as regressors in their empirical models of activist targeting (e.g., Brav, Jiang, Partnoy, and Thomas, 2008). We extend this literature by looking at disclosure explicitly.


Those Short-Sighted Attacks on Quarterly Earnings

Robert C. Pozen  is a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Mark Roe is a professor at Harvard Law School. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Corporate Short-termism—In the Boardroom and in the Courtroom by Mark Roe (discussed on the Forum here); and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

The clamor against so-called corporate short-term thinking has been steadily rising, with a recent focus on eliminating the quarterly earnings report that public firms issue. Quarterly reports are said to push management to forgo attractive long-term projects to meet the expectations of investors and traders who want smooth, rising earnings from quarter to quarter.

The U.K. recently eliminated mandatory quarterly reports with the goal of lengthening the time horizon for corporate business decision-making. And now Martin Lipton, a prominent U.S. corporate lawyer, has proposed that U.S. companies’ boards be allowed to choose semiannual instead of quarterly reporting. The proposal resonates in Washington circles: Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has criticized “quarterly capitalism” as has the recently departed Republican SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher.

But while quarterly reporting has drawbacks, the costs of going to semiannual reporting clearly outweigh any claimed benefits.


13(d) Reporting Inadequacies in an Era of Speed and Innovation

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton publication by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here); and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and other market regulators confront a challenging issue: How to effectively monitor and regulate activity in an environment that is both fast-moving and highly complex? The principles and architecture of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 were created for a much simpler financial world—an analog world—and they struggle to describe and contain the digital world of today. The lightning speed of information flow and trading, the constant innovations in financial products, and the increasing sophistication of active market participants each pose enormous challenges for the SEC; together, even more so. The ongoing controversy over Section 13(d) reporting exemplifies the many challenges facing the SEC in this regard.


Regulating Trading Practices

Andreas M. Fleckner is a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg. This post is based on a chapter prepared for The Oxford Handbook of Financial Regulation (forthcoming).

High-frequency trading, dark pools, front-running, phantom orders, short selling—the way securities are traded ranks high among today’s regulatory challenges. Thanks to a steady stream of news reports, investor complaints, and public investigations, it has become commonplace to call for the government to intervene and impose order. The regulation of trading practices, one of the oldest roots of securities law and still a regulatory mystery to many people, is suddenly the talk of the town.

From a historical and empirical perspective, however, many of the recent developments look less dramatic than some observers believe. This is the essence of Regulating Trading Practices, my chapter for the new Oxford Handbook of Financial Regulation. The chapter explains how today’s regulatory regime evolved, identifies the key rationale for governments to intervene, and analyzes the rules, regulators, and techniques of the world’s leading jurisdictions. My central argument is that governments should focus on the price formation process and ensure that it is purely market-driven. Local regulators and self-regulatory organizations will take care of the rest.


Delaware Court Imposes Damages for Breach of Fiduciary Duties

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 by Mr. Deckelbaum, Justin G. Hamill, Stephen P. Lamb, Jeffrey D. Marell, and Frances Mi. 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 In re Dole Food Co. Inc. Stockholder Litigation, in connection with a take-private transaction with the controlling stockholder, the Delaware Court of Chancery held in a post-trial opinion that the President of the company and its controlling stockholder undermined the sales process by depriving the special committee of the ability to negotiate on a fully informed basis and the stockholders of the ability to consider the merger on a fully informed basis. The court held that the President and the controlling stockholder intentionally acted in bad faith (with the President also engaging in fraud) and that they were jointly and severally liable for damages of $148,190,590. Because fiduciary breaches of this nature are not exculpable or indemnifiable under Delaware law, the controlling stockholder and the President are personally liable for the damages imposed.


Corporate Use of Social Media

James Naughton is Assistant Professor of Accounting at Northwestern University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Naughton; Michael Jung, Assistant Professor of Accounting at New York University; Ahmed Tahoun, Assistant Professor of Accounting at London Business School; and Clare Wang, Assistant Professor of Accounting at Northwestern University.

Social media has transformed communications in many sectors of the U.S. economy. It is now used for disaster preparation and emergency response, security at major events, and public agencies are researching new uses in geolocation, law enforcement, court decisions, and military intelligence. Internationally, social media is credited for organizing political protests across the Middle East and a revolution in Egypt. In the business world, social media is considered a revolutionary sales and marketing platform and a powerful recruiting and networking channel. Little research exists, however, on how firms use social media to communicate financial information to investors and how investors respond to investor disseminated through social media, despite firms devoting considerable effort to creating and managing social media presences directed at investors. Motivated by this lack of research, in our paper, Corporate Use of Social Media, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we provide early large-sample evidence on the corporate use of social media for investor communications. More specifically, we investigate why firms choose to disseminate investor communications through social media, whether investors and traditional media outlets respond to social media disclosures, and whether potential adverse consequences to the firm exist from the use of social media to disseminate investor communications.


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