Monthly Archives: September 2013

Providing Context for Executive Compensation Decisions

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s statement at a recent open meeting of the SEC; the full text 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 [September 18, 2013], the Commission takes an important step to comply with the Dodd-Frank Act’s requirements for better disclosure and accountability regarding executive compensation decisions at public companies. [1]

As required by Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Commission is proposing a rule to provide for disclosure of CEO-to-worker pay multiples. Reports show that these pay multiples have risen steadily over the years. For example, an April 2013 study by Bloomberg finds that large public company CEOs were paid an average of 204 times the compensation of rank-and-file workers in their industries. By comparison, it is estimated that the average CEO was paid about 20 times the typical worker’s pay in the 1950s, with that multiple rising to 42-to-1 in 1980, and to 120-to-1 in 2000. [2]

Given this backdrop, it is not surprising that investors are asking if such a high level of CEO-pay multiples is in the interest of corporations and their shareholders. [3] As owners of public companies, shareholders have the right to know whether CEO pay multiples reflect CEO performance. Shareholders have the right to know how their company’s internal pay comparisons may impact employee morale, productivity, hiring, labor relations, succession planning, growth, and incentives for risk-taking. [4]

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SEC Settles Regulation FD Case Against Former Vice President

The following post comes to us from John H. Sturc, partner and co-chair of the Securities Enforcement Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn alert.

On September 6, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it had brought—and settled—a cease-and-desist case under Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg. FD), which requires that public companies broadly disclose material nonpublic information to the public that their covered officers and employees intentionally or inadvertently disclose to market professionals and stockholders. The SEC charged Lawrence D. Polizzotto, a former Vice President of Investor Relations at First Solar, Inc., with selectively disclosing that the company was unlikely to receive financing under a conditional loan from the Department of Energy. Mr. Polizzotto agreed to pay a $50,000 fine to settle the charges, although he did not admit or deny the findings.

According to the SEC order, [1] Mr. Polizzotto attended a September 13, 2011 investor conference with the company’s then-CEO, who “publicly expressed confidence” that First Solar would receive three loan guarantees of $4.5 billion from the Department of Energy. Several executives, including Mr. Polizzotto, learned a couple of days later that First Solar would not get at least one of the loan guarantees. The company began discussing how and when to publicly disclose this information. However, before the company issued a public announcement, a number of analysts and stockholders began contacting the company after the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to the Department of Energy inquiring about its loan guarantee program and the status of the guarantees that had not yet closed, including all three of First Solar’s conditional guarantees. Even though the company had not yet issued its public announcement, Mr. Polizzotto and his subordinate had phone conversations with more than 30 analysts and investors. They used talking points on the calls that “effectively signaled” First Solar would not receive one of the loan guarantees. The SEC charged that these calls violated Reg. FD, which requires simultaneous public disclosure of material nonpublic information that is intentionally disclosed by covered corporate officers and company spokespersons to market professionals and stockholders. [2] In addition to the $50,000 penalty from the settlement of these charges, Mr. Polizzotto agreed to cease and desist from violating Reg. FD and Section 13(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934.

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Preferring Foreign Depositors — The Final Rule

Bradley Sabel is partner and co-head of the Financial Institutions Advisory & Financial Regulatory practice group at Shearman & Sterling LLP. The following post is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has issued a final rule adopting with virtually no change its proposed approach to depositor preference for deposits payable at foreign offices of US banks. While the rule will provide guidance for US banks responding to international efforts to require equal treatment of local branch deposits with home-country deposits in insolvency, it does not address several outstanding issues. US banks will have to tread carefully.

The proposed rule from last April was intended to deal with international efforts, and primarily one led by the United Kingdom, to protect depositors of local branches of US banks. Those branches are not covered by the US deposit insurance scheme. [1] The FDIC was concerned that an insured bank with a London branch would cause the branch’s deposits to be equally payable at either the London branch or the US head office; these would effectively be “dual-office” deposits. The advantage of making them payable at the head office is that the deposits thereby become insured deposits under Federal law and FDIC regulations, and a US bank would not have to take costly steps such as converting its London branch into a subsidiary bank.

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Basel III Framework: US/EU Comparison

Bradley Sabel is partner and co-head of the Financial Institutions Advisory & Financial Regulatory practice group at Shearman & Sterling LLP. The following post is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication.

The US and EU rules implementing Basel III follow many aspects of Basel III closely, but there are major differences in approach in several key areas. Financial institutions have been engaged in a “race to the top” to show strong capital ratios but rules on leverage appear to be the most challenging and may require significant business restructuring. The interplay between the US and EU implementation of Basel III and the gradual “phase in” of certain rules, particularly on liquidity and leverage, will have a profound impact on the relative competitiveness of relevant US and EU financial institutions. This client publication, and the accompanying US/EU comparison and summary table, highlight points of international consistency and divergence.

Basel III establishes a new set of global standards for capital adequacy and liquidity for banking organizations. Although principally aimed at banks, these standards also apply to certain other types of financial institution (e.g., EU investment firms) as well. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (the “Basel Committee”) developed Basel III to supplement and, in certain respects, replace, the existing Basel II standards, the composite version of which was issued in 2006 as an update to Basel I. [1] The core elements of Basel III were finalized at the international level in 2010 and implementing rules have now been issued in 25 of the 27 jurisdictions that comprise the Basel Committee. [2]

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Proxy Voting Analytics (2009-2013)

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to a report released jointly by The Conference Board and FactSet, authored by Dr. Tonello, Melissa Aguilar, and Thomas Singer of The Conference Board. The Executive Summary is available here. For details regarding how to obtain a copy of the full report, contact matteo.tonello@conference-board.org.

While the number of shareholder proposals filed at U.S. public companies continued to increase this year, management has been less successful at obtaining permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to exclude from the voting ballot new types of investor demands.

The finding is discussed in the latest Proxy Voting Analytics (2009-2013), recently released by The Conference Board in collaboration with FactSet Research. The study examines data from more than 2,400 annual general meetings (AGMs) held at Russell 3000 and S&P 500 companies between January 1 and June 30, 2013. Historical comparisons with findings from the last four proxy seasons are also made.

Data analyzed in the report includes:
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IPOs and the Slow Death of Section 5

The following post comes to us from Donald Langevoort and Robert Thompson, Professor of Law and Professor of Business Law, respectively, at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 is slowly dying. We have to be careful about making such a bold-sounding claim because Section 5 performs two distinct legal functions. First, it creates a presumption that offerings of securities using the facilities of interstate commerce have to be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That is not the aspect of Section 5 that concerns us here, however. Our aim in our current research is entirely at the separate function that takes up most of Section 5’s statutory text: restraining the marketing of registered public offerings so that salesmanship does not run ahead of the mandatory disclosure that is supposed to inform investor decisions of whether to buy or not, often referred to as “gun-jumping.” This is a devolution we find interesting and insufficiently examined in legal scholarship. Our focus is entirely on the IPO, the paradigmatic form of issuer capital-raising, and not offerings by seasoned issuers.

We describe this as a slow death because it began almost as soon as the Act was passed. Section 5 started as a simple, rigid and coherent rule that limited sales efforts after the SEC had declared the registration statement “effective.” The industry found this impracticable and to some extent just ignored it, setting in motion two decades of negotiations as to a proper balance between the demand for pre-effective marketing and the concerns about gun-jumping. A legislative compromise, eventually reached in 1954, gave us the statutory language that is mostly still with us today.

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How Stock Exchange Indices Can Advance Good Corporate Governance Practices

The following post comes to us from Pasquale Di Benedetta, Corporate Governance Specialist at the World Bank and Andreas Grimminger, Managing Director at PGS Advisors International, and is based on a World Bank/IFC study by Mr. Di Benedetta and Mr. Grimminger.

Since 2001, eight stock exchanges around the world have launched corporate governance indices (CGIs), sometimes as part of a broader environment, social, and governance (ESG) initiative. The comprehensive analysis of these indices is presented in our World Bank/IFC study: “Raising the Bar on Corporate Governance – A Study of Eight Stock Exchanges Indices”. The study is the first of its kind, and it reveals that CGIs may have a positive impact in enhancing legal and regulatory frameworks by contributing to the development of objective and measurable governance benchmarks. The study also shows that CGIs offer companies an opportunity to differentiate themselves in the market and be more attractive to foreign and domestic capital; and, ultimately, CGIs incentivize companies to adopt better governance practices. Nevertheless, as the process for vetting companies to access the indices continues to evolve, the scrutiny of underlying methodologies, the disclosure of company ratings or company self-assessments, and the on-going monitoring process have still room to improve.

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Do Ownership and Control Affect Firm Value?

The following post comes to us from Bang Dang Nguyen of Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge and Kasper Meisner Nielsen of the Department of Finance at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.

In our paper, When Blockholders Leave Feet First: Do Ownership and Control Affect Firm Value?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate the effect of ownership and control on firm value, a longstanding question in finance, by employing the sudden death of large individual shareholders as a natural experiment. Our analysis focuses on stock price reactions to the deaths of individual blockholders who hold 5% or more in a U.S. listed firm. The main advantage of this approach is that sudden deaths are exogenous events that allow us to identify the impact of ownership and control on firm value. We analyze the value of inside and outside blockholders. Outside blockholders differ from insiders in that they are not actively involved in day-to-day management. We compare the magnitude of stock price reactions between inside and outside blockholders and note that any effect of ownership transition on firm value due to liquidity or anticipated takeover activity is likely to cancel out. The difference in the stock price reactions between inside and outside blockholders is therefore informative about the value of ownership and control.

Our study is the first to evaluate the effect of blockholders on firm value through the use of sudden deaths. In a related paper Slovin and Sushka (1993) analyze the event of death of blockholders. We draw a distinction between sudden and non-sudden deaths because entrenched blockholders are likely to hold onto their ownership until their deaths. Our concerns about entrenchment appears to be relevant as our findings show that stock price reactions are systematically more positive for non-sudden deaths than for sudden deaths. Using sudden death as opposed to non-sudden death is thus important for the interpretation of the effect of blockholders on firm value.

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Damages and Reliance under Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act

Joseph A. Grundfest is the W. A. Franke Professor of Law and Business at Stanford University Law School.

A textualist interpretation of the implied private right of action under Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act concludes that the right to recover money damages in an aftermarket fraud can be no broader than the express right of recovery under Section 18(a) of the Exchange Act. The Act’s original legislative history and recent Supreme Court doctrine are consistent with this conclusion, as is the Act’s subsequent legislative history.

Section 18(a), however, requires that plaintiffs affirmatively demonstrate actual “eyeball” reliance as a precondition to recovery and does not permit a rebuttable presumption of reliance. Accordingly, if the Exchange Act is to be interpreted as a “harmonious whole,” with the scope of recovery under the implied Section 10(b) private right being no greater than the recovery available under the most analogous express remedy, Section 18(a), then Section 10(b) plaintiffs must either demonstrate actual reliance as a precondition to recovery of damages, or the Court should revisit Basic, as suggested by four justices in Amgen, and overturn Basic’s rebuttable presumption of reliance. A textualist approach thus provides a rationale for reversing Basic that avoids the complex debate over the validity of the efficient market hypothesis, an academic dispute that the Supreme Court is not optimally situated to referee.

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SEC Proposes CEO Pay Ratio Rule

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Glen T. Schleyer, Marc Trevino, and Jane Y. Wang.

On September 18, 2013, a divided SEC Commission proposed a requirement that U.S. public companies disclose:

  • the median of the annual total compensation of all employees of the issuer, except the issuer’s CEO (or the equivalent);
  • the annual total compensation of the issuer’s CEO (or the equivalent); and
  • the ratio of those two amounts.

The proposal was approved by a three-to-two vote and will not affect the 2014 proxy season. The specifics of the proposal have not yet been published, and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP will issue a more detailed memorandum after their publication. Comments will be due 60 days after publication of the proposal in the Federal Register, and the objecting Commissioners have specifically requested “detailed and data-heavy” comments regarding the expected cost of complying with the proposal and the potential harm of including the additional disclosure in proxy statements.

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