Monthly Archives: May 2012

Final Rule Issued on Systemically Important Firms, Many Unknowns Remain

Bradley Sabel is partner and co-head of Financial Institutions Advisory & Financial Regulatory practice group at Shearman & Sterling LLP. This post is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication from Mr. Sabel and Donald N. Lamson.

On April 3, 2012 the Financial Stability Oversight Council issued its final rule and interpretive guidance governing its process for designating a nonbank financial company as a systemically important financial institution under the Dodd-Frank Act. The adoption of the Final Rule marks the completion of the highly anticipated standards for designating SIFIs, a process that first began in October 2010. While there have been changes made to the process, much remains to be understood how the FSOC will use its authority to determine whether a nonbank financial company should be supervised and subject to prudential standards. It is widely anticipated that designations of some SIFIs will be made before year-end, making us wonder whether the designation process has been underway without final rules being in place.

The Statute

Section 113 of the Dodd-Frank Act [1] authorizes the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) to designate a nonbank financial company to be supervised by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”) and be subject to prudential standards. [2] The FSOC will make a designation after determining that material financial distress at the company or the nature, scope, size, scale, concentration, interconnectedness, or mix of the activities of the company could pose a threat to the financial stability of the United States.

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Tailspotting

The following post comes to us from David Yermack, Professor of Finance at the NYU Stern School of Business.

In the paper, Tailspotting: How Disclosure, Stock Prices and Volatility Change When CEOs Fly to Their Vacation Homes, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I document a close connection between the timing of corporate news disclosures and CEOs’ personal vacation schedules. I find that companies tend to disclose favorable news just before CEOs leave for vacation and then hold over subsequent news announcements until they return to headquarters. During periods when CEOs are away from the office, stock prices behave quietly with sharply lower volatility than usual. Volatility increases immediately when CEOs return to work. I identify CEO vacation trips by merging publicly available flight histories of corporate jets with on-line real estate records that indicate locations where CEOs own vacation residences, often in upscale oceanfront communities in Florida or New England or close to golf or ski resorts.

For example, on January 7, 2010, aerospace manufacturer Boeing Co. disclosed a 28% increase in annual commercial airliner deliveries and also issued an earnings forecast for the year ahead. Boeing stock rose 4%, capping three days in which it outperformed the market by almost 10%. The company’s shares were quiet for the next several weeks, not moving significantly again until January 27, when Boeing announced strong quarterly earnings and its stock rose more than 7%. In between these announcements, Boeing’s CEO appears to have been on vacation, an inference based upon Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records of company aircraft trips to and from an airport near his vacation home in Hobe Sound, FL. During this vacation period, the annualized volatility of Boeing’s stock dropped to 0.16, an unusually low level for a major blue chip. During the three days before and three days after his trip, the volatility was more than twice as high at 0.40.

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Twelve Shareholder Declassification Proposals Submitted by SRP-Represented Investors Win Approval with Average Support of 79%

Editor’s Note: Professor Lucian Bebchuk is the Director of the Harvard Law School Shareholder Rights Project (SRP), and Scott Hirst is the SRP’s Associate Director. Any views expressed and positions taken by the SRP and its representatives should be attributed solely to the SRP and not to Harvard Law School or Harvard University.

Although the current proxy season is still in its early stages, shareholders of twelve S&P 500 companies have already approved precatory declassification proposals that investors represented by the Harvard Law School Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) submitted. These early results, as well as the large number of such proposals expected to go to a vote at other S&P 500 companies, are described further below.

As described in detail on the SRP’s website, during the 2011-12 proxy season, the SRP has been representing and advising several institutional investors – Illinois State Board of Investment (ISBI), the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA), the Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF), the North Carolina State Treasurer (NCDST), and the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) – in connection with the submission of precatory shareholder proposals to more than eighty S&P 500 companies that have classified boards. The proposals urge repealing the classified board and moving to annual elections, which are widely viewed as corporate governance best practice.

Through active engagement with companies receiving declassification proposals, negotiated outcomes have been obtained with forty-four S&P 500 companies. These forty-four companies have entered into agreements committing them to bring management proposals to declassify their boards. Overall, the forty-four companies that have entered into such agreements represent about one-third of the S&P 500 companies that had staggered boards as of the beginning of this proxy season. At this stage of the proxy season, twelve agreed-upon management proposals to declassify have already been approved by shareholders.

In many of the companies receiving proposals, however, negotiated outcomes have not been obtained. In such cases, the shareholder proposals submitted by the SRP-represented investors are expected to go, or have already gone, to a vote at the 2012 annual meeting. In particular, such proposals have already gone to a vote at sixteen companies, and fourteen of them have already released voting results.

Of these fourteen proposals, twelve have already passed. The table below provides information concerning the precatory declassification proposals that passed. As the table indicates, these proposals obtained average support of 79.25% of votes cast.

Two shareholder proposals to declassify (detailed here) did not pass. Although these proposals failed to gain majority support, they received an average support of 48.55% of the votes cast.

Precatory proposals are expected to go to a vote at twenty-two other S&P 500 companies. A list of these companies is available here.

COMPANIES WHERE DECLASSIFICATION PROPOSALS WON APPROVAL
Company Proponent % of Votes
Cast in Favor
EQT Corporation  (EQT) OPERS 80.98%
F5 Networks, Inc. (FFIV) ISBI 77.20%
FLIR Systems, Inc. (FLIR) NCF 81.94%
FMC Corporation  (FMC) NCF 82.65%
Hess Corporation  (HES) NCDST 77.55%
Lexmark International, Inc.  (LXK)  NCDST 92.82%
Moody’s Corporation (MCO) NCF 76.94%
People’s United Financial, Inc. (PBCT) NCDST 90.61%
SCANA Corporation (SCG) NCDST 60.28%
Snap-On Incorporated (SNA) NCDST 84.87%
US Steel Corporation (X) NCDST 82.48%
V.F. Corporation (VFC) NCF 62.74%
  Average: 79.25%

Continuing Developments in the 2012 Proxy Season

Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Stuart N. Alperin and Regina Olshan, partners in the Executive Compensation and Benefits group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and is based on a Skadden alert. This alert is the second in a series; the prior alert is available here.

As we continue to monitor developments in the unfolding 2012 proxy season, here are some key themes that have emerged thus far:

What are the overall vote results?

Of the first 180 companies of the Russell 3000 to report the results of say-on-pay proposals, approximately:

  • 65 percent have passed with more than 90 percent support;
  • 25 percent have passed with between 70.1 percent and 90 percent support;
  • 8 percent have passed with between 50 percent and 70 percent support;
  • 2 percent (three companies) obtained less than 50 percent support — Actuant and International Game Technology were discussed in our prior mailing and KB Home is discussed below. In a vote result reported after the cutoff date for the calculations above, news reports indicated that Citigroup Inc.’s say-on-pay proposal received 45 percent of votes cast, making it the fourth company (and the largest company) whose say-on-pay proposal has received less than 50 percent support this year.

Thus far, these percentages are not materially different from the full-year results for the 2011 proxy season.

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Court Rejects Selective Waiver Doctrine for Privileged Materials

The following post comes to us from Christopher J. Steskal, partner and chair of the White Collar/Regulatory Group at Fenwick & West LLP, and is based on a Fenwick Alert by Mr. Steskal, Susan S. Muck, Jennifer C. Bretan, and Alexis I. Caloza.

Corporations subject to criminal and civil regulatory investigations have long grappled with the highly charged decision over whether to provide the government with privileged communications and attorney work product or whether to maintain those materials as privileged despite a governmental inquiry. On the one hand, a corporation may hope to avoid criminal prosecution or civil regulatory action, as well as potential downstream effects of such actions on insurance rights and indemnification, by forthright disclosure of “relevant facts” to the government, including information that may be protected by attorney-client privilege or the attorney work product doctrine. See Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations, reprinted in United States Attorneys’ Manual, tit. 9 ch. 9-28.710, 9-28.720(a). On the other hand, in disclosing privileged materials and work product to the government, the corporation risks having waived the privilege over those very same materials as to third parties, including civil litigants seeking to recover monetary damages from the corporation.

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Proposals for Binding Shareholder Votes on Executive Pay in the UK

Amy Goodman is a partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn memo by Ms. Goodman, James A. Cox, Jeffery Roberts, and Daniel E. Pollard.

On March 14, 2012, the UK Government published a consultation paper on its proposals to give shareholders of quoted companies a greater influence over executive pay.

The Government proposes to introduce a binding shareholder vote on executive pay policy (possibly requiring a 65% or 75% super majority), a non-binding shareholder vote on the subsequent application of that pay policy and a binding shareholder vote on exit payments in excess of one year’s basic salary.

The new rules would apply to certain UK quoted companies. The new rules would apply to those companies with either a standard or a premium listing on the London Stock Exchange main market and UK incorporated companies listed on the NYSE, NASDAQ or officially listed in another EEA member state but would not apply to companies trading on AIM or the Plus Growth market. The rules would replace the existing requirement for a non-binding vote on the director’s remuneration report.

Existing Regulation of Executive Pay

Since 2003 UK company law has required that quoted companies produce a directors’ remuneration report (which forms part of their annual report and accounts) and seek an advisory vote on that remuneration report. These reports provide detailed disclosure of the pay and benefits for the financial year in question but contain limited information about the bonus and incentive targets for the following financial year.

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Defrauded Investors Deserve Their Day in Court

Editor’s Note: Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on a statement from Commissioner Aguilar; the full statement, 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 Commission has authorized that a Study be sent to Congress expressing the views of the Staff on the cross-border scope of the private right of action under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. However, my conscience compels me to write separately to record my views on the Study. I write to convey my strong disappointment that the Study fails to satisfactorily answer the Congressional request, contains no specific recommendations, and does not portray a complete picture of the immense and irreparable investor harm that has resulted, and will continue to result, due to Morrison v. National Australia Bank, Ltd.

In the United States we have a strong belief that, whether rich or poor, we are all entitled to our day in court. Sadly, for many American investors this is no longer true.

If American investors are defrauded by a company that they have invested in – and that company is listed on a foreign exchange – investors may be unable to have their day in court and seek redress against this company for its lies and misrepresentations. Thus, investors have been stripped of a traditional American right.

This was not always the case. For decades, federal courts applied the same standard to determine whether U.S. federal securities law applied to frauds that took place, in whole or in part, outside of the United States. Under that standard, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”) and other antifraud provisions applied “when there was ‘significant U.S. fraudulent conduct that directly caused the plaintiffs losses’ (the conduct test) or when there were ‘significant effects’ on the U.S. securities markets (the effects test).”

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Court Rules on Short-swing Liability Rules

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

On March 26, 2012, in Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC v. Simmonds, the U.S. Supreme Court held 8-0 that the two-year statute of limitations for suits under the short-swing liability rules of Section 16(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is not tolled (i.e., suspended) until an insider files a Section 16(a) disclosure statement; the limitations period can begin running even if the disclosure statement is filed at a later date or never filed at all. The Court’s decision provides insiders of U.S. public companies with better protection and more certainty against time-barred claims.

The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, which had held, citing to its precedent, that the limitations period is tolled until an insider files the Section 16(a) disclosure statement “regardless of whether the plaintiff knew or should have known of the conduct at issue”. In dicta, the Supreme Court also rejected the Second Circuit’s rule that the limitations period is tolled until the plaintiff “gets actual notice that a person subject to Section 16(a) has realized specific short-swing profits that are worth pursuing”.

The Supreme Court did indicate some willingness to permit equitable tolling of the Section 16(b) limitations period, but under circumstances more limited than the “disclosure” rule of the Ninth Circuit or the “actual notice” rule of the Second Circuit.

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An Update on the Forum Selection Bylaw Cases

The following post comes to us from Bradley W. Voss, partner in the Commercial Litigation Practice Group of Pepper Hamilton LLP, and is based on a Pepper Hamilton publication. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is co-sponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In February 2012, several purported class action lawsuits were filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery challenging corporate bylaw amendments adopted by companies pursuant to 8 Del. C. § 109. Generally speaking, the challenged bylaw amendments would require that certain types of corporate law claims by shareholders be brought and resolved in the Delaware Court of Chancery, and not elsewhere. [1] In the Delaware class actions, the shareholder plaintiffs sued a dozen companies, as well as members of their respective boards of directors. Each of the cases was assigned to Chancellor Leo E. Strine, Jr.

The complaints in the various actions are similar. Plaintiffs allege that the forum selection bylaw amendments are invalid under Delaware and other law, that they violate shareholder rights because they were adopted by boards of directors without the consent of the shareholders, and that the directors who adopted the bylaw amendments violated their fiduciary duties.

Of the 12 companies that were sued, the majority repealed the challenged bylaw prior to the deadline for responding to the complaint. In those cases, the parties stipulated that the claims were moot, and the actions were dismissed.

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Management Quality, Venture Capital Backing, and Initial Public Offerings

The following post comes to us from Thomas Chemmanur, Professor of Finance at Boston College; Karen Simonyan of the Department of Finance at Suffolk University; and Hassan Tehranian, Professor of Finance at Boston College.

In the paper, Management Quality, Venture Capital Backing, and Initial Public Offerings, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we use hand-collected data on the quality and reputation of the management teams of a large sample of 3,240 entrepreneurial firms going public during 1993-2004 to conduct the first large-sample study of the relationship between VC-backing and management quality and the effect of these two variables on a firm’s IPO characteristics and valuation, post-IPO financial policies, and post-IPO operating performance. We hypothesize that VC-backing positively affects the quality of a firm’s management team, and that both management quality and VC-backing play a certifying role in conveying a firm’s intrinsic value to the financial market, reducing the information asymmetry faced by it.

Our empirical findings are as follows. First, we find that overall VC-backed firms have higher quality management teams compared to non-VC-backed firms. In particular, VC-backed firms have a greater percentage of management team members with MBA degrees, a greater percentage of managers with prior managerial experience, a greater percentage of managers in core functional areas (operations and production, sales and marketing, R&D, and finance), and larger management teams compared to non-VC-backed firms. At the same time, VC-backed firms have lower percentages of management team members who are CPAs and who have prior managerial experience at law and accounting firms; further, their managers have shorter average tenures and smaller heterogeneity in these tenures.

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