Monthly Archives: December 2013

Regulating the Timing of Disclosure

The following post comes to us from Lisa Bryant-Kutcher of the Department of Accounting at Colorado State University, Emma Peng of the Accounting Area at Fordham, and David Weber of the Department of Accounting at the University of Connecticut.

In our paper, Regulating the Timing of Disclosure: Insights from the Acceleration of 10-K Filing Deadlines, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, we examine how regulatory reforms that accelerate 10-K filing deadlines in 2003 affect the reliability of accounting information. The intended purpose of the new deadlines is to improve the efficiency of capital markets by making accounting information available to market participants more quickly. However, accelerating filing deadlines compresses the time available for firms and their auditors to prepare, review, and audit accounting reports, suggesting potential costs in the form of increased misstatements and lower reliability. We provide empirical evidence on the effects of accelerating deadlines by comparing the likelihood of restatement of 10-K filings before and after the rule change.


Corporate Political Spending and the Mutual Fund Vote

Bruce F. Freed is president and a founder of the Center for Political Accountability. This post is based on the CPA’s Annual Mutual Fund Survey; the full report, including a description of the data source and appendix, is available here.

Mutual funds’ support for corporate political disclosure reached a new high in 2013, according to a ten-year analysis by the Center for Political Accountability. Forty large US mutual fund families voted in favor of corporate political spending disclosure an unprecedented 39% of the time, on average.

CPA’s review of mutual fund votes looks at how 40 of the largest U.S. fund families voted on 276 shareholder requests for disclosure of corporate political contributions at U.S. companies over proxy seasons from 2004 to 2013 (covering shareholder meetings from 1 July 2003 to 30 June 2013). Together, these fund families manage around $3.3 trillion in U.S. securities, according to Morningstar® fund data, and control a large portion of the shareholder vote in US securities.


The Bankruptcy-Law Safe Harbor for Derivatives: A Path-Dependence Analysis

The following post comes to us from Steven L. Schwarcz, Stanley A. Star Professor of Law & Business at Duke University School of Law. The post is based on a paper co-authored by Professor Schwarcz and Ori Sharon of Duke University School of Law.

Bankruptcy law in the United States, which serves as an important precedent for the treatment of derivatives under insolvency law worldwide, gives creditors in derivatives transactions special rights and immunities in the bankruptcy process, including virtually unlimited enforcement rights against the debtor (hereinafter, the “safe harbor”). The concern is that these special rights and immunities grew incrementally, primarily due to industry lobbying and without a systematic and rigorous vetting of their consequences.

Path Dependence

This type of legislative accretion process is a form of path dependence—a process in which the outcome is shaped by its historical path. To understand path dependence, consider Professor Mark Roe’s example of an 18th century fur trader who cuts a winding path through the woods to avoid dangers. Later travelers follow this path, and in time it becomes a paved road and houses and industry are erected alongside. Although the dangers that affected the fur trader are long gone, few question the road’s inefficiently winding route.


Delaware Court: Missed Sales Forecasts Could be “Material Adverse Effect”

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 Osram Sylvania Inc. v. Townsend Ventures, LLC, the Delaware Court of Chancery (VC Parsons) declined to dismiss claims by Osram Sylvania Inc. that, in connection with OSI’s purchase of stock of Encelium Holdings, Inc. from the company’s other stockholders (the “Sellers”), Encelium’s failure to meet sales forecasts and manipulation of financial results by the Sellers amounted to a material adverse effect (“MAE”). The decision was issued in the context of post-closing indemnity claims asserted by OSI against the Sellers and not a disputed closing condition.

OSI, a stockholder of Encelium, agreed to purchase the remaining capital stock of Encelium not held by OSI pursuant to a stock purchase agreement executed on the last day of the third quarter of 2011. The $47 million purchase price was agreed based on Encelium’s forecasted sales of $4 million for the third quarter of 2011, as well as Sellers’ representations concerning Encelium’s financial condition, operating results, income, revenue and expenses. Following the closing of the transaction in October 2011, OSI learned that Encelium’s third quarter results were approximately half of its forecast and alleged that Encelium and the Sellers knew about these sales results, but failed to disclose them at closing in violation of a provision in the agreement requiring them to disclose facts that amount to an MAE. OSI also alleged other misconduct by Encelium and the Sellers, including, among other things, that they had manipulated Encelium’s second quarter results to make its business appear more profitable.

In considering the Sellers’ motion to dismiss OSI’s contract and tort-based claims, the court held that:


ISS Updates Proxy Voting Policies, Requests Peer Group Changes

Holly J. Gregory is a corporate partner specializing in corporate governance at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. This post is based on a Weil Gotshal alert; the complete publication, including appendicies, is available here.

On November 21, 2013, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) released updates to its proxy voting policies for the 2014 proxy season, effective for meetings held on or after February 1, 2014. [1] In addition, ISS has requested that companies notify it by December 9, 2013 of any changes to a company’s self-selected peer companies for purposes of benchmarking CEO compensation for the 2013 fiscal year.

This post provides guidance to US companies on how to address ISS policy changes and also highlights recent developments regarding potential regulation or self-regulation of proxy advisory firms.

The amendments to ISS proxy voting policies for the 2014 proxy season relate to:


Corporate Governance at Silicon Valley Companies 2013

The following post comes to us from David A. Bell, partner in the corporate and securities group at Fenwick & West LLP. This post is based on portions of a Fenwick publication, titled Corporate Governance Practices and Trends: A Comparison of Large Public Companies and Silicon Valley Companies (2013); the complete survey is available here.

Since 2003, Fenwick has collected a unique body of information on the corporate governance practices of publicly traded companies that is useful for Silicon Valley companies and publicly-traded technology and life science companies across the U.S. as well as public companies and their advisors generally. Fenwick’s annual survey covers a variety of corporate governance practices and data for the companies included in the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index (S&P 100) and the high technology and life science companies included in the Silicon Valley 150 Index (SV 150). [1] In this report, we present statistical information for a subset of the data we have collected over the years. These include:

  • makeup of board leadership
  • number of insider directors
  • gender diversity on boards of directors
  • size and number of meetings for boards and their primary committees
  • frequency and number of other standing committees
  • majority voting
  • board classification
  • use of a dual-class voting structure
  • frequency and coverage of executive officer and director stock ownership guidelines
  • frequency and number of shareholder proposals
  • number of executive officers


Jobs Act Title III Crowdfunding Moves Closer To Reality

The following post comes to us from Peter J. Loughran, corporate partner and co-chair of the Securities Group at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, and is based on a Debevoise & Plimpton Client Update by Mr. Loughran, Paul M. Rodel, and Lee A. Schneider.

On October 23, 2013, the SEC voted unanimously to propose Regulation Crowdfunding, [1] the rules related to the offer and sale of securities through crowdfunded private offerings, as set forth in Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (“JOBS”) Act. FINRA then published its proposed rules governing the licensing and regulation of so-called “funding portals,” a new type of limited-purpose regulated intermediary solely for these offerings. Crowdfunding itself is not new. Websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo help all sorts of businesses, organizations and people raise money through small individual contributions for an identifiable idea or business. Until the JOBS Act, however, crowdfunding could not be used to offer or sell securities to the general public. Issuers and intermediaries relying on Regulation Crowdfunding expect to further democratize investing in start-ups, because any investor, whether or not accredited, may invest in these securities.

To permit crowdfunding, JOBS Act Title III added two provisions to the Securities Act of 1933: (1) Section 4(a)(6), which creates a new exemption to allow issuers to use crowdfunding to offer and sell securities in unregistered offerings and (2) Section 4A, which requires certain disclosures to be made by crowdfunding issuers and sets forth requirements for crowdfunding intermediaries. Proposed Regulation Crowdfunding and the proposed FINRA rules would implement these statutory provisions and create the regulatory framework for crowdfunding. Both agencies have sought comment on all aspects of their proposed rules, which are due in early February.


The Growth of Appraisal Litigation in Delaware

The following post comes to us from David J. Berger, partner focusing on corporate governance at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and is based on a WSGR Alert memorandum. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. 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.

Numerous commentators and academics have written about the growth of M&A litigation over the last several years. Less noticed, but perhaps more significant, has been the growing tendency of institutional and other large investors to exercise their appraisal rights under Delaware law. Investors in several recent high-profile mergers have announced their intention to, or sought to, exercise their appraisal rights, including in deals involving Dell, Dole Food Company, and 3M/Cogent.

In many of these situations, an even more novel phenomenon is occurring: hedge funds, arbitrageurs, and other money managers are buying the stock of target companies even after a deal is announced to have the option to exercise appraisal rights. Some funds even have been created expressly for this purpose, perhaps with the view that the risks in an appraisal proceeding may be far greater to the target company than to the shareholder.

One such risk is that historically the definition of “fair value” in an appraisal proceeding under Delaware law provides wide discretion to the court to “take into account all relevant factors” beyond the price paid in the underlying merger, even where that price was the result of an arms-length transaction. The practical impact of this standard is that the court’s determination of value may get reduced to a “battle of the experts,” while the experts’ own analyses may be based on future projections and/or other financial information that is, by definition, uncertain. As a result, there is often little hard data to predict what the value of an entity in an appraisal proceeding could be.


The Effect of Audit Committee Expertise on Monitoring Financial Reporting

The following post comes to us from Udi Hoitash, Ganesh Krishnamoorthy, and Arnold Wright, all of the Accounting Group at Northeastern University, and Jeffrey Cohen, Professor of Accounting at Boston College.

In our paper, The Effect of Audit Committee Industry Expertise on Monitoring the Financial Reporting Process, forthcoming in The Accounting Review, we examine the impact of audit committee (AC) industry expertise on the AC’s effectiveness in monitoring the financial reporting process. Despite the increased responsibilities, authority, independence, and financial expertise requirements placed on ACs by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), ACs may, nonetheless, lack sufficient industry expertise to understand and thus properly monitor complex industry specific accounting issues. For instance, expertise in the retail industry may assist ACs to ensure that companies take an adequate write-down of inventory when their products face potential obsolescence. Similarly, revenue recognition, a prominent area of accounting manipulation (Beasley et al. 2000, 2010), entails an evaluation and understanding of the earnings process, which is tied to a company’s business processes that are often industry specific.


Supreme Court to Consider Overruling “Fraud-on-the-Market” Presumption

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Brian T. Frawley, Robert J. Giuffra Jr., Richard H. Klapper, and Matthew A. Schwartz.

On November 15, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, raising the prospect that the Court will overrule or significantly limit the legal presumption that each member of a securities fraud class action relied on the statements challenged as fraudulent in the lawsuit. Without this so-called “fraud-on-the-market” presumption, putative class action plaintiffs will be unable to maintain a securities fraud class action unless they can clear the logistically difficult hurdle of proving that each individual shareholder actually relied on the challenged statements when making its purchase or sale of securities. At least four Justices have recently indicated that the Court should reconsider the validity of that doctrine, suggesting that the ultimate opinion in Halliburton could lead to a significant change in securities class action law. Even if the Court ultimately affirms fraud-on-the-market or some variant of the doctrine, the Court may expand defendants’ ability to defeat what in practice has evolved into a virtually irrefutable presumption of reliance. Furthermore, the uncertainty caused by the pendency of the Halliburton appeal may warrant staying securities class actions and may reduce the settlement value of pending cases.


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