Tag: Transparency

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.


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.


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.

Securing Our Nation’s Economic Future

Leo E. Strine, Jr. is Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, the Austin Wakeman Scott Lecturer on Law and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. This post is based on Chief Justice Strine’s recent keynote address to the Fellows Colloquium of the American College of Governance Counsel, available here. 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), and Can We Do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law, by Leo E. Strine (discussed on the Forum here).

These days it has become fashionable to talk about a subject some of us have been addressing for some time: [1] whether the incentive system for the governance of American corporations optimally encourages long-term investment, sustainable policies, and therefore creates the most long-term economic and social benefit for American workers and investors. Many commentators have come to the conclusion that the answer to that question is no. They bemoan the pressures that can lead corporate managers to quick fixes like offshoring, which might give a balance sheet a short-term benefit, but cut our nation’s long-term prospects. They lament the relative tilt in corporate spending toward stock buybacks and away from spending on capital expenditures. They look at situations where corporations took environmental or other regulatory short-cuts, which ended up in disaster, and ask whether anyone is thinking about sustainable approaches. They rightly point to the accounting gimmickry involved in several high-profile debacles and ask what it has to do with the creation of long-term wealth for human investors.


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.


Announcement of New Rulemaking Database

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s recent public statement, available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Strong regulations are central to the Commission’s mission. For more than 80 years, we have used rulemaking to establish a comprehensive framework for our securities markets that protects investors, enhances market integrity, and promotes capital formation. The rulemaking process is the means through which the Commission responds to the ever-changing securities markets, targets and attacks harmful practices in those markets, and meets the goals mandated by Congress. Our rules provide important standards against which we assess compliance in our examinations and hold wrongdoers accountable in our enforcement actions.


Sustainability Practices 2015

Matteo Tonello is Managing Director at The Conference Board, Inc. This post relates to Sustainability Practices 2015, an annual benchmarking report authored by Mr. Tonello and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, graphics, and appendices, is available here.

More US companies are aligning sustainability disclosure with global standards through the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework. Even though the overall environmental and social disclosure rate among global companies has remained essentially unchanged over the last year, reporting using the GRI framework continued its rise in the United States, and one out of three large U.S. companies now adopt those guidelines. Exceptional progress has also been made in the transparency of individual practices, such as anti-bribery and climate change.

These are some of the findings from The Conference Board Sustainability Practices Dashboard 2015, a comprehensive database and online benchmarking tool that serves as the foundation for this report. The dashboard captures the most recent disclosure of environmental and social practices by large public companies around the world and segments them by market index, geography, sector, and revenue group. Other key findings from this year’s data include the following:


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.


Peer Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility

Hao Liang is Assistant Professor of Finance at Singapore Management University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Liang, and Jie Cao and Xintong Zhan, both of the Department of Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has increasingly become a mainstream business activity—ranging from voluntarily engaging in environmental protection to increasing workforce diversity and employee welfare—although standard economic theories predict that it should be rather uncommon (Benabou and Tirole, 2010; Kitzmueller and Shimshack, 2012). The neoclassical economic paradigm usually considers CSR as unnecessary and inconsistent with profit maximization (e.g., Friedman, 1970). This discrepancy between theory and real-world observations has attracted much scholarly attention in recent years. One popular view on why CSR prevails is that it creates a competitive advantage for the firm and thus contributes to firm value. Following this line, numerous studies have investigated the causes and consequences of CSR by focusing on its strategic value implications.


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.


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