Monthly Archives: November 2012

Harvard’s Shareholder Rights Project is Still Wrong

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. Daniel A. Neff is co-chairman of the Executive Committee and partner at Wachtell Lipton. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Mr. Neff, Andrew R. Brownstein, Adam O. Emmerich, David A. Katz, and Trevor S. Norwitz. This post discusses the 2012/2013 activities of the Shareholder Rights Project, which are described in an earlier post here.

A small but influential alliance of activist investor groups, academics and trade unions continues — successfully it must be said — to seek to overhaul corporate governance in America to suit their particular agendas and predilections. We believe that this exercise in corporate deconstruction is detrimental to the economy and society at large. We continue to oppose it.

The Shareholder Rights Project, Harvard Law School’s misguided “clinical program” which we have previously criticized, today issued joint press releases with eight institutional investors, principally state and municipal pension funds, trumpeting their recent successes in eliminating staggered boards and advertising their “hit list” of 74 more companies to be targeted in the upcoming proxy season. Coupled with the new ISS standard for punishing directors who do not immediately accede to shareholder proposals garnering a majority of votes cast (even if they do not attract enough support to be passed) — which we also recently criticized — this is designed to accelerate the extinction of the staggered board.


Effective Small Business Capital Formation

Editor’s Note: Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at the SEC Government-Business Forum on Small Business Capital Formation in Washington, D.C., available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Small business is a powerful engine for economic growth. Independent businesses with fewer than 500 employees account for half of all private sector jobs and more than half of nonfarm private GDP. [1] Growth in small business helps fuel the U.S. economy, generating opportunity, competition, and demand. Small businesses are essential to sustaining a strong economy, strong communities, and a strong middle class.

Today’s Forum reflects the Commission’s continuing interest in capital formation issues for small businesses. Indeed, the Commission has had a long-term focus on small business, and has utilized multiple avenues to regularly and consistently seek input from small business stakeholders. For example:


Advancing Board Declassification in the 2013 Proxy Season

Editor’s Note: Lucian Bebchuk is the Director of the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP), a clinical program at Harvard Law School, 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. The work of the SRP has been discussed in other posts on the Forum available here

In joint press releases issued earlier this week, the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) and each of eight institutional investors it represents announced their collaboration for the 2013 proxy season to encourage 74 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 public companies to move to annual elections. The SRP has submitted shareholder proposals on behalf of the eight SRP-represented investors for a vote at the 2013 annual meetings of 74 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies. A list of the 74 companies that received proposals is available here. The proposals urge repeal of the companies’ staggered boards and a move to annual elections.

The SRP and SRP-represented investors have already begun to engage with companies receiving shareholder declassification proposals, and some of the companies receiving shareholder proposals have already agreed to take steps necessary to declassify their boards. It is expected that, as occurred during the 2012 proxy season, the engagement by the SRP and SRP-represented investors will result in negotiated outcomes and moves to annual elections at a large proportion of the 74 companies receiving proposals.


Mandatory Clawback Provisions, Information Disclosure, and the Regulation of Securities Market

The following post comes to us from Diane Denis, Professor of Finance at the University of Pittsburgh.

In the paper, Mandatory Clawback Provisions, Information Disclosure, and the Regulation of Securities Markets, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting and Economics, I discuss the potential pitfalls of mandating that compensation be recouped from the executives of firms that are found to have engaged in material accounting misstatements. My discussion is motivated by recent evidence in the literature that the voluntary adoption of such clawback provisions by firms is followed by a reduced incidence of accounting restatements, lower auditing fees and a reduced auditing lag, and stronger earnings response coefficients. It is tempting to conclude from this evidence that government attempts to mandate such provisions, most recently through Section 954 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, will increase the accuracy of information disclosure by firms and thereby enhance the integrity of the capital market. I argue that such a conclusion is premature at best.


DOJ and SEC Issue FCPA Guidance

Marc S. Rosenberg is a partner and co‑chair of the Corporate Governance and Board Advisory practice at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. This post is based on a Cravath memorandum.

Last week, the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice and the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission released their long-awaited guidance on the application and enforcement of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The release—a 120-page “Resource Guide”—confirms that FCPA enforcement remains a central priority of the U.S. government while simultaneously and most importantly identifying the circumstances when the government may decline to pursue an enforcement action. It is available at

Compliance Program Guidance

While much of the guidance reaffirms statutory interpretations that practitioners have gathered from published government settlements and opinion releases, it also provides a useful tool for companies seeking to develop FCPA compliance programs that will minimize the risk of enforcement action or severe penalties in the event those systems fail to prevent a violation. Having such a compliance program in place is particularly important given the SEC’s announcement last week that it received more than 3,000 whistleblower complaints in the first year of the new whistleblower program implemented under the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Guide identifies the hallmarks of strong compliance programs generally and addresses the elements of effective FCPA controls, reiterating that there is no “one-size-fits-all” program; an effective FCPA compliance program addresses corruption risks specific to the organization and includes meaningful unique controls to mitigate those risks. Some possible risk-based compliance controls that the Guide suggests are:


The Sensitivity of Corporate Cash Holdings to Corporate Governance

Katherine Schipper is a Professor of Accounting at Duke University.

In the paper, The Sensitivity of Corporate Cash Holdings to Corporate Governance, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, my co-authors (Qi Chen, Xiao Chen, Yongxin Xu, and Jian Xue) and I analyze the change in cash holdings of a large sample of Chinese-listed firms associated with the split share structure reform that required nontradable shares held by controlling shareholders to be converted to tradable shares, subject to shareholder approval and adequate compensation to tradable shareholders. The reform removed a substantial market friction and gave controlling shareholders a clear incentive to care about share prices, because they could benefit from share value increases by selling some of their shares for cash.

We predict and find that this governance improvement led to reduced cash holdings of affected firms, and that the effect is more pronounced for private firms than for state-owned enterprises (SOEs), for firms with more agency conflicts, and for firms for which financial constraints are most binding. We interpret these results as consistent with both a direct free cash flow channel and an indirect financial constraint channel. These results are robust to several alternative specifications that address concerns about endogeneity and concomitant effects. They provide strong evidence that governance arrangements affect firms’ cash holdings and cash management behaviors. To the extent that cash management is a key operational decision that affects firm value, our findings suggest an important mechanism for corporate governance to affect firm value.


Capital Plans and Stress Test Rules

H. Rodgin Cohen is a partner and senior chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP focusing on acquisition, corporate governance, regulatory and securities law matters. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell LLP publication by Joel Alfonso, Andrew R. Gladin and Mark J. Welshimer; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

On November 9, 2012, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”) issued instructions and guidance for:

  • the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review program for 2013 (“CCAR 2013”) applicable to the 19 bank holding companies (“BHCs”) with total assets of $50 billion or more that were previously subject to CCAR and the Supervisory Capital Assessment Program (“SCAP”); and
  • the Capital Plan Review program for 2013 (“CapPR 2013”) applicable to an additional 11 BHCs with total assets of $50 billion or more that were not subject to prior CCARs or SCAP, but were subject to CapPR in 2012.

CCAR 2013 and CapPR 2013 are both being conducted under the Federal Reserve’s previously adopted Capital Plan Rule. In addition, elements of CCAR 2013 are being implemented in conjunction with the Federal Reserve’s newly finalized Stress Test Rules adopted pursuant to the separate stress test requirements of sections 165(i)(1) and (2) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). The following is an outline of certain notable aspects of the CCAR 2013, CapPR 2013 and their respective instructions.

In certain instances, the instructions and guidance for CCAR 2013 and CapPR 2013 contain new provisions, while in others, the new instructions are largely congruous with procedures for previous CCAR and CapPR iterations. Important aspects of CCAR 2013 instructions include:


2012 Shareholder Activism Insight Report

Marc Weingarten is partner and chair of the Business Transactions Group at Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP. This post is based on a Schulte Roth & Zabel report by Mr. Weingarten and David Rosewater; the full publication, including charts and figures, is available here.

Schulte Roth & Zabel is pleased to present the 2012 edition of Shareholder Activism Insight, published in association with mergermarket. Based on a series of interviews with corporate executives and activist investors, this report highlights emerging trends in shareholder activism, as well as insights into the changing corporate landscape investors and executives will face in the coming years.

Corporate executives should expect to see increasing opposition from shareholders during next spring’s proxy season, according to the 78% majority of overall respondents. Using poor financial performance and the need for management or operational change as motivation, hedge funds, pensions and unions will continue the growth of shareholder activism. A significant increase in shareholder proposals will result, according to 84% of respondents.

The financial services sector is expected to see the greatest amount of shareholder activism as investors look to repair the still recovering industry after the crash of 2008. Distant runners-up, the industrials and chemicals, technology, and energy sectors are also expected to see more disputes with investors.

Half of respondents believe an active dialogue between shareholders and management can be the most effective defense tactic against activism. When a company prefers to be more active in preventing shareholder disputes, respondents cite offensive litigation, poison pills and staggered board elections as the likely defense tools.


Accounting and Litigation Risk

The following post comes to us from Zhiyan Cao, Assistant Professor of Accountancy at the University of Washington Tacoma, and Ganapathi S. Narayanamoorthy, Assistant Professor of Accountancy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In our paper, Accounting and Litigation Risk: Evidence from Directors’ & Officers’ Insurance Pricing, forthcoming in the Review of Accounting Studies, we study whether and how financial reporting concerns and traditional measures of corporate governance are priced by insurers that sell Directors’ and Officers’ (D&O) insurance to public firms. As D&O insurers typically assume the liabilities arising from shareholder litigation, the insurance premiums they charge for D&O coverage reflect their assessment of a company’s litigation risk.

Estimation of ex-ante litigation risk has always been a challenge for empirical research. Past studies employ ex-post lawsuits to derive an ex-ante measure of litigation risk. In such studies, a litigation risk prediction model is first estimated with the dependent variable being whether the firm got sued ex-post. The predicted values of the probability of getting sued are then used as ex-ante measures of litigation risk in an empirical model. Such measures ignore lawsuits filed in other jurisdictions and also cannot distinguish between frivolous and serious lawsuits. We employ a market-based measure of ex-ante litigation risk; that is, the D&O liability insurance premium, which incorporates the ex-ante expectation of both the likelihood of lawsuits and the magnitude of damages. In the U.S., public firms routinely purchase D&O insurance coverage for their directors and officers for reimbursement of defense costs and settlements arising from shareholder litigation. Most shareholder litigation is settled within policy limits, with the D&O insurers primarily footing the bill. Therefore, we expect the D&O insurers to price financial reporting risk and corporate governance risk efficiently in order to compensate for their expected payout obligations in the case of lawsuits.


SEC Division of Investment Management Key Considerations

Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Norm Champ, director of the Division of Investment Management at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Mr. Champ’s remarks at the ALI CLE 2012 Conference on Life Insurance Company Products, which are available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Mr. Champ and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Division of Investment Management, or the Staff.

I. Introduction

These are uncertain times for our nation’s investors and for those who issue and sell investment products, including variable insurance. A positive sign is that assets in variable annuities, at almost $1.6 trillion, remain near their all-time high. [1] In addition, the retirement income solutions offered by the industry are designed to address the needs of the many investors moving toward retirement in today’s uncertain market environment. However, there are significant challenges facing the business, particularly those presented by the persistent low interest rate environment and by volatile equity markets both here and abroad.

The Division has observed the industry undertaking several initiatives to address these challenges and curtail risk exposure in the contracts being offered. In addition, some insurers have chosen to exit the business. An industry on solid financial footing is important for investors, who rely on insurers’ ability to pay promised benefits. At the same time, some contract changes are not good for investors. For example, many recent changes have reduced benefits for new investors. Other changes have limited the ability of existing contract owners to make additional payments into their contracts in order to take advantage of the benefits of those contracts.


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