Monthly Archives: February 2014

Addressing Known Risks to Better Protect Investors

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 2014 “SEC Speaks” Conference; the full text, 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.

I am honored to be here today [February 21, 2014]. This is the sixth time that I have spoken at “SEC Speaks” as a Commissioner. Much has changed since my first “SEC Speaks” in February 2009. At that time, we were in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Among other things, Lehman Brothers had recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, The Reserve Primary Money Market Fund had “broken the buck,” and the U.S. Government had just bailed out insurance giant AIG. In addition, the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme had come to light just a few months earlier, further shaking investor confidence in the capital markets.

These and other events made it clear that the SEC had much to do to become a more effective regulator and to enhance its protection of investors. It was also clear that the agency itself had to undergo significant change. As a result, in my 2009 remarks at “SEC Speaks,” I highlighted a number of steps that Congress and the SEC should take to close regulatory loopholes. These regulatory gaps included a lack of appropriate regulation in the areas of over-the-counter derivatives, hedge funds, and municipal securities—areas that Congress subsequently addressed in the Dodd-Frank Act.

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Dodd-Frank Enhanced Prudential Standards for U.S. Bank Holding Companies and Foreign Banks

The following post comes to us from Luigi L. De Ghenghi and Andrew S. Fei, and is based on two Davis Polk publications; the full publications, including visuals, tables, flowcharts and timelines, are available here (focusing on U.S. bank holding companies) and here (focusing on foreign banks).

Pursuant to Section 165 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Federal Reserve has issued a final rule to establish enhanced prudential standards for large U.S. bank holding companies (BHCs) and foreign banking organizations (FBOs).

U.S. BHCs: The final rule represents the latest in a series of U.S. regulations that apply heightened standards to large U.S. BHCs. As the graphic below illustrates, under the emerging post-Dodd-Frank prudential regulatory landscape for U.S. BHCs, the number and stringency of prudential standards generally increase with the size of the banking organization.

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Financing as a Supply Chain

The following post comes to us from Will Gornall and Ilya Strebulaev, both of the Finance Area at Stanford University.

In our recent NBER working paper, Financing as a Supply Chain: The Capital Structure of Banks and Borrowers, we propose a novel framework to model joint debt decisions of banks and borrowers. Our framework combines the models used by bank regulators with the models used to explain capital structure in corporate finance. This structure can be used to explore the quantitative impact of government interventions such as deposit insurance, bailouts, and capital regulation.

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Shareholder Activism in M&A Transactions

Alan M. Klein is a Partner in the Corporate Department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. The following post is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

Shareholder activism, which has increasingly occupied headlines in recent years, continued along its sharp growth trajectory in 2013. The number of activists, as well as the amount of capital backing them, has increased substantially, as has the sophistication and effectiveness of their tactics.

In addition, last year was particularly noteworthy for the role shareholder activism played in the M&A sector, including a number of high-profile attacks on announced business combination transactions. In November 2013, we hosted a conference to discuss the rise of shareholder activism as it relates to M&A activity. We gathered a number of industry-leading experts to discuss significant recent developments and emerging trends and to explore tactics and responses from a company and an activist perspective. The panel discussions at this conference provided a number of interesting insights, observations and data points, and several of the key themes and highlights are outlined below.

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CEO Job Security and Risk-Taking

The following post comes to us from Peter Cziraki of the Department of Economics at the University of Toronto and Moqi Xu of the Department of Finance at the London School of Economics.

In our paper, CEO Job Security and Risk-Taking, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we use the length of employment contracts to estimate CEO turnover probability and its effects on risk-taking. Protection against dismissal should encourage CEOs to pursue riskier projects. Indeed, we show that firms with lower CEO turnover probability exhibit higher return volatility, especially idiosyncratic risk. An increase in turnover probability of one standard deviation is associated with a volatility decline of 17 basis points. This reduction in risk is driven largely by a decrease in investment and is not associated with changes in compensation incentives or leverage.

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Toward Board Declassification in 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 Companies: The SRP’s Report for the 2012 and 2013 Proxy Seasons

Lucian Bebchuk is the Director of the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP), Scott Hirst is the SRP’s Associate Director, and June Rhee is a counsel at the SRP. The SRP, a clinical program operating at Harvard Law School, works on behalf of public pension funds and charitable organizations seeking to improve corporate governance at publicly traded companies, as well as on research and policy projects related to corporate governance. 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.

Editor’s Note:

The Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) just released its final report for the 2012 and 2013 proxy seasons, the SRP’s first two years year of operations. As the report details, major results obtained include the following:

  • 100 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies (listed here) entered into agreements to move toward declassification;
  • 81 S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies (listed here) declassified their boards; these companies have aggregate market capitalization exceeding one trillion dollars, and represent about two-thirds of the companies with which engagement took place;
  • 58 successful declassification proposals (listed here), with average support of 81% of votes cast; and
  • Proposals by SRP-represented investors represented over 50% of all successful precatory proposals by public pension funds and over 20% of all successful precatory proposals by all proponents.

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Communication and Decision-Making in Corporate Boards

The following post comes to us from Nadya Malenko of the Finance Department at Boston College.

The board of directors is a collective body, whose members have diverse expertise in various aspects of the company’s business. Therefore, communication between directors is critical to successful board functioning. In recent years, regulators, shareholders, and directors themselves have been paying increased attention to decision-making policies that could increase the quality of board discussions. Executive sessions that exclude the management, separation of the CEO and chairman positions, board retreats, and separate committees on specific topics have been put in place to promote more effective communication. As governance experts Carter and Lorsch (2004) emphasize, “If we could offer only one piece of advice, it would be to strive for open communication among board members.”

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An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law

Robert H. Sitkoff is the John L. Gray Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

I’ve recently posted to SSRN a book chapter called “An Economic Theory of Fiduciary Law,” which will be published in Philosophical Foundations of Fiduciary Law by Oxford University Press. The editors are Andrew Gold and Paul Miller.

The purpose of my chapter is to restate the economic theory of fiduciary law. In doing so, the chapter makes several fresh contributions. First, it elaborates on earlier work by clarifying the agency problem that is at the core of all fiduciary relationships. In consequence of this common economic structure, there is a common doctrinal structure that cuts across the application of fiduciary principles in different contexts. However, within this common structure, the particulars of fiduciary obligation vary in accordance with the particulars of the agency problem in the fiduciary relationship at issue. This point explains the purported elusiveness of fiduciary doctrine. It also explains why courts apply fiduciary law both categorically, such as to trustees and (legal) agents, as well as ad hoc to relationships involving a position of trust and confidence that gives rise to an agency problem.

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Basel III Framework: Net Stable Funding Ratio (Proposed Standards)

Barnabas Reynolds is head of the global Financial Institutions Advisory & Financial Regulatory Group at Shearman & Sterling LLP. This post is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication. The complete publication, including annex, is available here.

A key new element of the Basel III framework for regulatory capital aims to improve banks’ management of their funding and liquidity profiles. Two new measures are proposed: a “net stable funding ratio”, and a “liquidity coverage ratio”. The net stable funding ratio has received relatively little attention due to its seemingly distant implementation date of 1 January 2018. However, its impact will be immediate and significant for many banking institutions.

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White House Releases NIST Cybersecurity Framework

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. This post is based on a Sidley update by Alan Raul and Ed McNicholas.

On February 12, the White House released the widely anticipated Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (“the Framework”). Developed pursuant to Executive Order 13636 (issued in February 2013), the Framework strongly encourages companies across the financial, communications, chemical, transportation, healthcare, energy, water, defense, food, agriculture, and other critical infrastructure sectors to implement and comply with its voluntary standards. The provisions set forth in the Framework may establish a new baseline for industry standard practices, and may impact or guide FTC enforcement actions and plaintiff data breach lawsuits.

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