Tag: Transparency


Preparing for the Regulatory Challenges of the 21st Century

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 Georgia Law Review’s Annual Symposium, Financial Regulation: Reflections and Projections; 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.

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 Georgia Law Review’s Annual Symposium, Financial Regulation: Reflections and Projections; 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.

During my tenure as an SEC Commissioner, our country’s economy has experienced extreme highs and lows. In fact, the country experienced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, followed by the current period of significant economic growth where the stock market has grown by around 165% from the low point of the financial crisis.

I have had a front-row seat to all of this, as I became an SEC Commissioner just weeks before the financial crisis hit our nation. As a result, I witnessed first-hand just how fragile our capital markets can be, and the need for a robust and effective SEC to protect them. First, let me provide a snapshot of what went on. I was sworn-in as an SEC Commissioner on July 31, 2008. Within a few weeks, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. To give you a sense of its rapid decline, within 15 days, its share price went from $17.50 per share to virtually worthless. The demise of Lehman Brothers is often seen as the first in a rapid succession of events that led to an unimaginable market and liquidity crisis. These events included:

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The (Neglected) Value of Board Accountability in Corporate Governance

The following post comes to us from Marc Moore, Director of the Centre for Corporate and Commercial Law at University of Cambridge.

The following post comes to us from Marc Moore, Director of the Centre for Corporate and Commercial Law at University of Cambridge.

The term “accountability” is virtually ubiquitous within literature and debates on organizational governance, and especially within corporate governance. However, as a social phenomenon it is frequently misunderstood, particularly by corporate lawyers.

To a large extent, this is unsurprising. After all, it is to be expected that complex sociological issues posed by the historically peculiar scale and structure of public companies—such as decisional power, accountability and legitimacy—will be received somewhat uneasily within orthodox corporate law discourse. Indeed, with limited exceptions, Anglo-American corporate law scholarship today remains rooted in the traditional conceptual habitat of private law, with its characteristic focus on the discrete relational transaction. A latent but nonetheless significant consequence of this has been the definitional “fudging” by corporate lawyers of some inherently public-governmental phenomena that are relevant to corporate governance, in an attempt to render them consistent with the logic and language of private law. This is true nowhere more than with respect to the difficult concept of accountability.

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Keeping Pace with Digital Disruption in our Securities Marketplace

Kara M. Stein is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Stein’s recent address at the Practising Law Institute’s SEC Speaks in 2015 Conference, 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.

Kara M. Stein is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Stein’s recent address at the Practising Law Institute’s SEC Speaks in 2015 Conference, 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.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge the remarkable and dedicated career of Harvey Goldschmid. Just a few weeks ago, Harvey visited me to discuss his perspectives on a number of timely securities law issues. His superb intellect was reinforced by his engaging personality and skill as a teacher.

Harvey’s intense passion for the securities laws and investor protection was an inspiration to many of us. In authoring a tribute to Harvey Goldschmid in 2006, SEC historian Joel Seligman labeled him one of the most influential Commissioners. [1] I couldn’t agree more.

This conference provides us with an opportunity to look backward and to look forward. As I look back over the SEC’s history, I am always impressed by the rate and degree of change.

Picture Wall Street 80 years ago—the street was filled with dozens of young men—“runners”—carrying paper back and forth between various brokers and dealers and banks and exchanges and companies that made up the securities markets. Runners were the backbone of the securities market, delivering paperwork and stock certificates at a rate of $8 per day. Maybe the telephone would ring (the desk telephone was launched in 1932) or a telegram would arrive. And investors, would look to the newspaper to decide what stocks to buy or sell.

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Making the Municipal Securities Market More Transparent, Liquid, and Fair

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.

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.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the municipal securities market. There is perhaps no other market that so profoundly influences the quality of our daily lives. Municipal securities provide financing to build and maintain schools, hospitals, and utilities, as well as the roads and other basic infrastructure that enable our economy to flourish. Municipal bonds’ tax-free status also makes them an important investment vehicle for individual investors, particularly retirees. Ensuring the existence of a vibrant and efficient municipal bond market is essential, particularly at a time when state and local government budgets remain stretched.

Unfortunately, despite its size and importance, the municipal securities market has been subjected to a far lesser degree of regulation and transparency than other segments of the U.S. capital markets. In fact, investors in municipal securities are afforded “second-class treatment” under current law in many ways. This has allowed market participants to cling to outdated notions about how the municipal securities market should operate. The result is a market that, in the view of many, is excessively opaque, illiquid, and decentralized.

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Aligning the Interests of Company Executives and Directors with Shareholders

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.

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.

Today [February 9, 2015], the Commission issued proposed rules on Disclosure of Hedging by Employees, Officers and Directors. These congressionally-mandated rules are designed to reveal whether company executive compensation policies are intended to align the executives’ or directors’ interests with shareholders. As required by Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act, these proposed rules attempt to accomplish this by adding new paragraph (i) to Item 407 of Regulation S-K, to require companies to disclose whether they permit employees and directors to hedge their companies’ securities.

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Financial Disclosure and Market Transparency with Costly Information Processing

The following post comes to us from Marco Di Maggio of the Finance and Economics Division at Columbia University and Marco Pagano, Professor of Economics at the University of Naples Federico II.

The following post comes to us from Marco Di Maggio of the Finance and Economics Division at Columbia University and Marco Pagano, Professor of Economics at the University of Naples Federico II.

In our paper, Financial Disclosure and Market Transparency with Costly Information Processing, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we provide new insights about the effects of financial disclosure and market transparency. Specifically, we address the following question: can the disclosure of financial information and the transparency of security markets be detrimental to issuers? On the one hand, there is an increasing concern that, in John Kay’s words, “there is such a thing as too much transparency. The imposition of quarterly reporting of listed European companies five years ago has done little but confuse and distract management and investors.” On the other, insofar as disclosure reduces adverse selection and thus increases assets’ issue prices, it should be in the best interest of asset issuers: these should spontaneously commit to high disclosure and list their securities in transparent markets. This is hard to reconcile with the need for regulation aimed at augmenting issuers’ disclosure and improving transparency in off-exchange markets. Yet, this is the purpose of much financial regulation such as the 1964 Securities Acts Amendments, the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.

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Responding to Corporate Political Disclosure Initiatives

The following post comes to us from Robert K. Kelner, partner in the Election and Political Law Practice Group at Covington & Burling LLP, and is based on a Covington Alert by Mr. Kelner, Keir D. Gumbs, and Zachary Parks. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about political spending includes: Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson, Jr. (discussed on the Forum here). Posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

The following post comes to us from Robert K. Kelner, partner in the Election and Political Law Practice Group at Covington & Burling LLP, and is based on a Covington Alert by Mr. Kelner, Keir D. Gumbs, and Zachary Parks. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about political spending includes: Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson, Jr. (discussed on the Forum here). Posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

Despite recent setbacks, efforts by activist groups to pressure companies to disclose details of their political activities are not going away. As these groups become increasingly sophisticated, 2015 looks to be their most active year to date. In fact, for the first time ever, the Center for Political Accountability plans to issue a report this year ranking the political spending disclosure practices of all 500 companies in the S&P 500 Index. This post highlights recent developments regarding corporate political spending disclosure efforts, looks ahead to what public companies can expect in the near future, and provides strategies and tips for those grappling with disclosure issues.

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Addressing the Lack of Transparency in the Security-Based Swap Market

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at a recent 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.

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at a recent 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 [January 14, 2015], the Commission considers rules that are designed to address the lack of transparency in the security-based swaps (SBS) market that substantially contributed to the 2008 financial crisis. These rules are the result of the Congressional mandate in the Dodd-Frank Act, which directed the SEC and the CFTC to create a regulatory framework to oversee this market.

The global derivatives market is huge, at an amount estimated to exceed $692 trillion worldwide—and more than $14 trillion represents transactions in SBS regulated by the SEC. The continuing lack of transparency and meaningful pricing information in the SBS market puts many investors at distinct disadvantages in negotiating transactions and understanding their risk exposures. In addition, as trillions of dollars have continued to trade in the OTC market, there is still no mandatory mechanism for regulators to obtain complete data about the potential exposure of individual financial institutions and the SBS market, in general.

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Shareholder Proposals on Social and Environmental Issues

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Melissa Aguilar and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Melissa Aguilar and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Political spending and climate change, key topics during the 2014 proxy season, are expected to feature heavily again in 2015 shareholder proposals. This post reviews the content of the social and environmental proposals voted on most frequently by shareholders of Russell 3000 companies during the 2014 season, including the topics that received the highest average shareholder support. The complete publication provides examples of proposal text and sponsor supporting statements, as well as board responses and related corporate disclosure.

Nearly 40 percent of all shareholder proposals submitted at Russell 3000 companies that held meetings during the first half of 2014 were related to social and environmental policy issues, up from 29.2 percent in 2010, as documented in Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014). Social and environmental policy proposals now represent the second-largest category of the subjects in terms of both the number submitted and the number voted, narrowly behind corporate governance.

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Why Commissioner Gallagher is Mistaken about Disclosure of Political Spending

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending, discussed on the Forum here. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published last year in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here.

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending, discussed on the Forum here. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published last year in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here.

Last week, Securities and Exchange Commissioner Daniel Gallagher took the unusual step of publishing a letter to the editor of the New York Times expressing his opposition to the SEC even considering companies’ disclosure of political spending. In his letter, the Commissioner vows “to fight to keep” the subject off the SEC’s agenda. As explained below, however, his letter fails to provide a substantive basis for his vehement opposition to transparency in corporate spending on politics.

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    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
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    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
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