Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Role of Governments and Proxy Advisory Firms in Corporate Governance

Daniel M. Gallagher is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Commissioner Gallagher’s remarks at the 12th European Corporate Governance & Company Law Conference in Dublin, Ireland. The full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Gallagher and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I am delighted to be able to participate in this conference, and especially proud as an Irish-American that it is being held in conjunction with Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This conference is particularly valuable because it provides a forum for executives, directors, investors, and policy makers to have a frank and productive dialogue on important corporate governance issues.

I would like to talk about the increasing role that governments – particularly, in the United States, the federal government – play in corporate governance as well as the increasingly prominent influence of proxy advisory firms on how companies are governed and on how shareholders vote. These changes have led to, among other things, new limitations and requirements being imposed on boards of directors and companies. And while the resulting costs to investors are easily apparent, the purported benefits are harder to discern. Although today I will for the most part discuss these issues as they apply to U.S. companies, I note that there is a related trend in Europe. As such, I hope that my comments may help inform your approach to regulating corporate governance as well.

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Delaware Court of Chancery Criticizes Board’s Sale Process

The following post comes to us from Robert B. Schumer, chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In Koehler v. NetSpend Holdings Inc., the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the directors of NetSpend likely breached their Revlon duty to obtain the highest price reasonably available for stockholders by pursuing a single-bidder strategy for selling the company. The board’s lack of knowledge as to the company’s value and related failure to contact potentially interested parties set it apart from other single bidder cases such as Plains Exploration, a recent case where the court found a single-bidder sale process to be reasonable. Nevertheless, the Court declined to enjoin the merger because an injunction could risk the stockholders’ opportunity to receive a substantial premium over the market price for their shares.

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Hardwired Conflicts: Big Bang Protocol, Libor and Paradox of Private Ordering

The following post comes to us from Daniel Awrey of the University of Oxford Faculty of Law.

The working paper, Hardwired Conflicts: The Big Bang Protocol, Libor and the Paradox of Private Ordering, examines the darker side of the private market structures at the heart of the global financial system.

Imagine we allowed referees to place bets on the sporting events they officiated. On one level, this would almost certainly offend our sense of fair play. On another level, however, we might ultimately view this as unproblematic insofar as teams were able to freely contract with those referees willing to make credible commitments not to exploit such conflicts of interest, and so long as compliance with these contracts was relatively easy to monitor and enforce. Imagine now, however, that there exists a limited number of qualified referees, that these referees coordinate in the development of a standard form contract which does not prohibit betting on games, and that they collectively enjoy sufficient market power to ensure that these contracts receive widespread adoption. Imagine further that the costs of determining whether a referee had in fact wagered on a game are extremely high and, as a corollary, that there exists no credible threat of either private contractual enforcement or market-based (reputational) sanctions. Given these additional facts, we might be of the view that this state of affairs is likely to undermine confidence in the integrity of the game. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that professional sports leagues prohibit referees from wagering on games. It seems remarkable, therefore, that we permit this type of activity in the most high stakes game of all: finance.

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Responding to Objections to Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending (6): The Claim that Disclosure Rules are Prohibited by the Constitution

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Associate Professor of Law, Milton Handler Fellow, and Co-Director of the Millstein Center 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 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 month in the Georgetown Law Journal. This post is the sixth in a series of posts, based on the Shining Light article, in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending; the full series of posts is available here.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is currently considering a rulemaking petition that we filed along with eight other corporate and securities law professors asking the Commission to develop rules requiring that public companies disclose their spending on politics. In our first five posts in this series (collected here), we examined five objections raised by opponents of such rules and explained why these objections provide no basis for opposing rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. In this post, we consider a sixth objection: the claim that the Constitution prohibits the SEC from requiring companies to disclose their spending on politics.

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Say Pays! Shareholder Voice and Firm Performance

The following post comes to us from Vicente Cuñat of the Financial Markets Group at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Mireia Giné of the Financial Management Department at IESE Business School of the University of Navarra, and Maria Guadalupe of the Department of Economics and Political Science at INSEAD.

In our paper, Say Pays! Shareholder Voice and Firm Performance, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we estimate the effect of increasing shareholder “voice” in corporations through a new governance rule that provides shareholders with a regular vote on pay: Say on Pay. Say on Pay policy is an important governance change mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act that provides shareholders with a vote on executive pay. It is part of a general trend toward more CEO accountability and increased shareholder rights. Shareholders may use this new channel to voice their discontent regarding the link between pay and performance. This new policy is at the forefront of the debate on executive pay and its efficacy to deliver firm performance.

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Corporate Director Selection and Recruitment: A Matrix

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 Lawrence J. Trautman; the full publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Achieving optimal board composition and succession planning requires an articulated and clearly communicated enterprise strategy. The ideal mix of director skills and experience depends on a number of company-specific factors. This report provides a matrix that nominating committees and boards can use to help define their needs and to provoke discussion about how to improve company-specific corporate governance.

How do you build the best board for your organization? What attributes and skills are required by law and what mix of experiences and talents will give you the best corporate governance? What commonly required director attributes are a must for each board and how do you customize and fine-tune your search to achieve a high-performing board? Optimal board composition—that is, achieving the best mix of director skills and experience—depends on many company-specific variables. Some of the most important of these include, but are not limited to: (1) stage of company development, (2) the extent to which international markets are mission critical to the company’s future (in which case nominees should have a detailed understanding of target culture, markets and business risk); (3) unique technology dependence; and (4) the need for access to financial and capital markets.

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Cross-Border at the Crossroads: The SEC’s “Middle Ground”

John Ramsay is acting director of the Division of Trading and Markets at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Mr. Ramsay’s remarks at the New York City Bar Association, available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Mr. Ramsay and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commissioners, or the Staff.

I’d like to describe the Commission’s recent set of proposals on the cross-border regulation of derivatives. First, though, I’ll describe the state of play among international regulators, both in developing their derivatives regimes and in grappling with the thorny cross-border aspects of derivatives trading.

Status of International Regulatory Efforts

Countries are at various stages of implementing their derivatives regimes in response to the G20 commitments.

The U.S. is further along in this effort. The SEC has now proposed substantially all of the rules required by Title VII, and we have adopted the foundational definitional rules and those governing swap clearing agencies standards, among others. The CFTC is further along in the adoption mode and is on track to complete the adoption of their rules later this year.

Other jurisdictions are further behind, which means that it is difficult to assess at this point how similar their requirements may be to those that the U.S. is implementing.

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