Tag: SEC


FTC Charges Activist Hedge Fund

Sabastian V. Niles is counsel in the Corporate Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Niles, Nelson O. Fitts, and Franco Castelli.

Yesterday [August 24, 2015], the Federal Trade Commission announced that Dan Loeb’s Third Point had settled a complaint charging violations of the notification and waiting period requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act in connection with purchases of Yahoo! stock in 2011.

The HSR Act requires that acquirors notify the federal antitrust agencies of transactions that meet applicable thresholds and observe a pre-acquisition waiting period. Acquisitions of up to 10% of a company’s voting stock are exempt if made solely for the purpose of investment, and the acquirer “has no intention of participating in the formulation, determination, or direction of the basic business decisions of the issuer.” Buyers who intend to be involved in the management of the target company or to seek representation on its board of directors are not eligible for the exemption. HSR requirements have historically been enforced strictly and narrowly against public companies, officers, directors, and investors, without deference or favor to any particular class of violator.

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SEC and PCAOB on Audit Committees

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update by Ms. Gregory, Jack B. Jacobs and Thomas J. Kim.

Public company counsel and audit committee members should be aware of recent activity at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) that could lead to additional regulation of audit committee disclosure and to federal normative expectations for how audit committees and their members behave.

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Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism

Robert C. Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. This post is based on an article forthcoming in the Financial Analysts Journal. 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), and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

Across the world, a clamor is rising against corporate short-termism—the undue attention to quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term sustainable growth. In one survey of chief financial officers, the majority of respondents reported that they would forgo current spending on profitable long-term projects to avoid missing earnings estimates for the upcoming quarter.

Critics of short-termism have singled out a set of culprits—activist hedge funds that acquire 1% or 2% of a company’s stock and then push hard for measures designed to boost the stock price quickly but unsustainably. The typical activist program involves raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, or spinning off corporate divisions—usually accompanied by a request for board seats.

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Scrutiny of Private Equity Firms

Veronica Rendón Callahan is a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and co-chair of the firm’s Securities Enforcement and Litigation practice. This post is a based on an Arnold & Porter memorandum.

On June 29, 2015, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. with misallocating more than $17 million in broken deal expenses to its flagship private equity funds in breach of its fiduciary duty as an SEC-registered investment adviser. KKR agreed to pay nearly $30 million to settle the charges. This action represents a continuing and robust focus by the SEC on fee and expense allocation practices and disclosure by private equity fund advisers, many of which are relatively newly registered with the SEC following passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. It serves as a reminder of the need for private equity firms and other advisers to private investment funds to consider bolstering their compliance and disclosure policies and procedures related to the allocation of fees and expenses.
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Securities Class Action Filings—2015 Midyear Assessment

John Gould is senior vice president at Cornerstone Research. This post is based on a report from the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research; the full publication is available here.

Plaintiffs brought 85 new federal class action securities cases in the first half of 2015, according to Securities Class Action Filings—2015 Midyear Assessment, a report compiled by Cornerstone Research and the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse. This represents a decrease from the second half of 2014, when plaintiffs filed 92 securities class actions. The number of filings in the first six months of 2015 remains 10 percent below the semiannual average of 94 observed between 1997 and 2014—the seventh consecutive semiannual period below the historical average.

Despite this period of little overall change in filing activity, securities class actions against companies headquartered outside the United States increased in the first half of 2015. Twenty filings, or 24 percent of the total, targeted foreign firms. Asian firms were named in more than half of these cases.

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SEC Adopts CEO Pay Ratio Disclosure Rule

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update by Ms. Gregory, John P. Kelsh, Thomas J. Kim, Corey Perry, and Rebecca Grapsas. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Growth of Executive Pay by Lucian Bebchuk and Yaniv Grinstein.

On August 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), by a 3-2 vote, adopted rule amendments [1] to implement Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires public companies to disclose the “pay ratio” between its CEO’s annual total compensation and the median annual total compensation of all other employees of the company. [2]

The pay ratio disclosures that will result from this much-anticipated new rule will further heighten scrutiny on corporate executive compensation practices—with specific focus on how CEO compensation compares to the “median” employee. Companies should be aware that, depending on the magnitude of pay ratios, these new disclosures may exacerbate existing concerns among investors, labor groups and others around executive compensation.

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Special Meeting Proposals

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 memorandum by Mr. Kess, Karen Hsu Kelley, and Yafit Cohn. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Shareholders petitioning the board for the special meeting right propose either to create the right or, in circumstances where the right already exists, to lower the minimum share ownership threshold required to exercise the right. As of June 30, 2015, 339 companies in the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 already provided their shareholders with the right to call a special meeting outside of the usual annual meeting. During the 2015 proxy season, 20 special meeting shareholder proposals went to a vote at Russell 3000 companies. Of these, six proposed to create the right, and 14 proposed to lower the ownership threshold with respect to an existing right. Only four special meeting shareholder proposals received majority support: three created the right for the first time and one lowered the threshold for an existing right to 25%. Overall, shareholder proposals relating to special meetings received average shareholder support of 43.6% this proxy season.
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A Registration Framework for the Derivatives Market

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; 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.

The financial crisis of 2008, and the ensuing turmoil, shook the global economy to its core and exposed the weaknesses of our regulatory regime. Years of lax attitudes, deregulation, and complacency allowed an unregulated derivatives marketplace to cause serious damage to the U.S. economy, resulting in significant losses to investors. As a result, Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act tasked the SEC and the CFTC with establishing a regulatory framework for the over-the-counter swaps market. In particular, the SEC was tasked with regulating the security-based swap (SBS) market and the CFTC was given regulatory authority over the much larger swaps market, covering products such as energy and agricultural swaps.

Today [August 5, 2015], the global derivatives market is estimated to exceed $630 trillion worldwide—with approximately $14 trillion representing transactions in SBS regulated by the SEC. The regulatory regime for the SBS market, however, cannot go into effect until the SEC has put in place the necessary rules to implement Title VII.

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Clarity in Commission Orders

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; 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.

This statement is about the critical importance of clarity in Commission Orders for enforcement actions. One of the Commission’s most effective deterrents against future misconduct is what it says about the enforcement actions it takes. As a result, the Commission must use its position as a regulatory authority to carefully and effectively send clear messages to securities industry participants regarding what is, and what is not, acceptable behavior. For this reason, Commission Orders need to contain sufficiently detailed facts so that there is no doubt as to why the Commission brought an enforcement action, why the respondent deserved to be sanctioned, and why the Commission imposed the sanctions it did.

The Commission and its staff should always be cognizant that there is a broad audience that carefully reads Commission Orders for guidance. This broad audience is usually not familiar with the underlying facts of a particular matter, and is relying on the Order’s description of the misconduct to appreciate why a named respondent ran afoul of the applicable laws. A clear and transparent Commission Order, therefore, is an absolute necessity to ensure public transparency and accountability.

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Proxy Access Proposals

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 memorandum by Mr. Kess, Karen Hsu Kelley, and Yafit Cohn. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. 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).

This year was a break-through year for shareholder proposals seeking to implement proxy access, a mechanism allowing shareholders to nominate directors and have those nominees listed in the company’s proxy statement and on the company’s proxy card. It is estimated that over 100 proxy access proposals were submitted to public companies during the 2015 proxy season, 75 of which were submitted by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on behalf of the New York City pension funds he oversees. Stringer’s “2015 Boardroom Accountability Project” affected companies in diverse industries and with a range of market capitalizations, but explicitly targeted companies with purportedly weak track records on board diversity, climate change or say-on-pay. The Comptroller’s proposals, which were precatory and identical regardless of the company’s market capitalization, generally called for the right of shareholders owning three percent of the company’s outstanding shares for at least three years to nominate up to 25% of the board in the company’s proxy materials.
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