Monthly Archives: March 2014

The 2014 Board Practices Survey

Matteo Tonello is Managing Director at The Conference Board. This post relates to The 2014 Board Practices Survey being led by Dr. Tonello; Bruce Aust, Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Client Group at NASDAQ OMX; and Scott Cutler, Executive Vice President and Head of Global Listings at NYSE Euronext. Board members, general counsel, corporate secretaries and corporate governance officers, and investor relations officers of U.S. public companies are invited to participate in the survey; the survey can be completed online by clicking here.

The Conference Board, NASDAQ OMX and NYSE Euronext announced last week the renewal of their research collaboration to document the state of corporate governance practices among publicly listed corporations in the United States.

The centerpiece of the collaboration is The 2014 Board Practice Survey, which the three organizations are disseminating to their respective memberships. Findings will constitute the basis for a benchmarking tool searchable by market index, company size (measured by revenue and asset value) and industry sectors. In addition, they will be described in Director Compensation and Board Practices: 2014 Edition, scheduled to be released jointly in the fall.


Spin-Off and Listing by Introduction of Feishang Anthracite Resources Limited

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by William Y. Chua, Kung-Wei Liu, and Kenny Chiu.

China Natural Resources, Inc. (“CHNR”), a natural resources company based in the People’s Republic of China (the “PRC”) with shares listed on the NASDAQ Capital Market, recently completed the spin-off (the “Spin-Off”) and listing by introduction (the “Listing by Introduction”) on The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited (the “Hong Kong Stock Exchange”) of its wholly-owned subsidiary, Feishang Anthracite Resources Limited (“Feishang Anthracite”), which operated CHNR’s coal mining and related businesses prior to the Spin-Off. [1] S&C represented CHNR and Feishang Anthracite in connection with the Spin-Off and Listing by Introduction, which is the first-of-its-kind where a U.S.-listed company successfully spun off and listed shares of its businesses on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, including advising on the U.S. and Hong Kong legal issues that arose in connection with this transaction.


Crisis Management Lesson from Toyota and GM: “It’s Our Problem the Moment We Hear About It”

Ben W. Heineman, Jr. is a former GE senior vice president for law and public affairs and a senior fellow at Harvard University’s schools of law and government. This post is based on an article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review online, which is available here.

Delay in confronting crises is deadly. Corporate leaders must have processes for learning of important safety issues. Then they must seize control immediately and lead a systematic response. Crisis management is the ultimate stress test for the CEO and other top leaders of companies. The mantra for all leaders in crisis management must be: “It is our problem the moment we hear about it. We will be judged from that instant forward for everything we do—and don’t do.”

These are key lessons for leaders in all types of businesses from the front page stories about Toyota’s and GM’s separate, lengthy delays in responding promptly and fully to reports of deadly accidents possibly linked to product defects.

The news focus has been on regulatory investigations and enforcement relating to each company, but the ultimate question is why the company leaders didn’t forcefully address the possible defect issues when deaths started to occur.


Delaware Decision Reinforces Need for Proper Procedure in Squeeze-Out Merger

The following post comes to us from David N. Shine, partner and co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, and is based on a Fried Frank publication.

The private equity firm that was the controlling stockholder of Orchard Enterprises effected a squeeze-out merger of the minority public stockholders. Two years later, a Delaware appraisal proceeding determined that Orchard’s shares at the time of the merger were worth more than twice as much as was paid in the merger. Public shareholders then brought suit, claiming that the directors who had approved the merger and the controlling stockholder had breached their fiduciary duties and should be held liable for damages. The Orchard decision [1] issued by the Delaware Chancery Court this past Friday adjudicates the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment before trial.


Risk Choice under High-Water Marks

The following post comes to us from Itamar Drechsler of the Department of Finance at New York University Stern School of Business.

High-water mark (HWM) contracts are the predominant compensation structure for managers in the hedge fund industry. In the paper, Risk Choice under High-Water Marks, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, I seek to understand the optimal dynamic risk-taking strategy of a hedge fund manager who is compensated under such a contract. This is both an interesting portfolio-choice question, and one with potentially important ramifications for the willingness of hedge funds to bear risk in their role as arbitrageurs and liquidity providers, especially in times of crises. High-water mark mechanisms are also implicit in other types of compensation structures, so insights from this question extend beyond hedge funds. An example is a corporate manager who is paid performance bonuses based on record earnings or stock price and whose choice of projects influences the firm’s level of risk.


Chairman’s Address at SEC Speaks 2014

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s remarks at the 2014 SEC Speaks Conference; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Good morning. I am very honored to be giving the welcoming remarks and to offer a few perspectives from my first 10 months as Chair. Looking back at remarks made by former Chairs at this event, the expectation seems to be for me to talk about the “State of the SEC.” I will happily oblige on behalf of this great and critical agency.

In 1972, 42 years ago at the very first SEC Speaks, there were approximately 1,500 SEC employees charged with regulating the activities of 5,000 broker-dealers, 3,500 investment advisers, and 1,500 investment companies.

Today the markets have grown and changed dramatically, and the SEC has significantly expanded responsibilities. There are now about 4,200 employees—not nearly enough to stretch across a landscape that requires us to regulate more than 25,000 market participants, including broker-dealers, investment advisers, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, municipal advisors, clearing agents, transfer agents, and 18 exchanges. We also oversee the important functions of self-regulatory organizations and boards such as FASB, FINRA, MSRB, PCAOB, and SIPC. Only SIPC and FINRA’s predecessor, the NASD, even existed back in 1972.


Recommendations from Conference Board Task Force on Corporate/Investor Engagement

Charles Nathan is partner and head of the Corporate Governance Practice at RLM Finsbury. Arthur H. Kohn is a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. This post relates to a report from The Conference Board Task Force on Corporate/Investor Engagement, one of three related publications released by The Conference Board Governance Center as a result of its year-long multifaceted study of corporate/investor engagement.

The 2008 financial crisis and the slow recovery that has followed has brought further evidence tending to support the view that the structure of our corporate sector needs adjustment, and that its faults affect the competitiveness of our economy. The crisis has resulted, as would be expected, in a raft of new rules and regulations, which as usual have been implemented before there emerged any consensus about the nature of the problems. There has also been a vigorous competition of ideas over causes and remedies.


Do Conservative Justices Favor Wall Street?

The following post comes to us from Marco Ventoruzzo of Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law, and Bocconi University.

The appointment of Supreme Court justices is a politically-charged process and the “ideology” (or “judicial philosophy”) of the nominees is perceived as playing a potentially relevant role in their future decision-making. It is fairly easy to intuit that ideology somehow enters the analysis with respect to politically divisive issues such as abortion and procreative rights, sexual conduct, freedom of speech, separation of church and state, gun control, procedural protections for the accused in criminal cases, and governmental powers. Many studies have tackled the question of the relevance of the ideology of the justices or appellate judges on these issues, often finding a correlation between policy preferences and decisions.


75% of 2014 Engagements Have Already Produced Agreements to Declassify

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.

In a news alert released last week, the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP), working with SRP-represented investors, announced the high level of company responsiveness to engagements during the 2014 proxy season. In particular, as discussed in more detail below, major results obtained so far include the following:

  • Following active engagement, about three-quarters of the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies that received declassification proposals for 2014 annual meetings from SRP-represented investors have already entered into agreements to move towards board declassification.
  • This outcome reinforces the SRP’s expectation (announced in a blog post available here) that, by the end of 2014, the work of the SRP and SRP-represented investors will have resulted in about 100 board declassifications by S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies.


Supreme Court Allows State-Law Securities Class Actions to Proceed

The following post comes to us from Jonathan C. Dickey, partner and Co-Chair of the National Securities Litigation Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn publication.

On February 26, 2014, the Supreme Court decided Chadbourne & Parke LLP v. Troice, 571 U.S. ___ (2014), ruling by a 7-2 vote that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (“SLUSA”) does not bar state-law securities class actions in which the plaintiffs allege that they purchased uncovered securities that the defendants misrepresented were backed by covered securities. The decision is the first in which the Court has held that a state-law suit pertaining to securities fraud is not precluded by SLUSA, suggesting that there are limits to the broad interpretation of SLUSA’s preclusion provision that the Court has recognized in previous cases. While Chadbourne leaves many questions unanswered concerning the precise contours of SLUSA preclusion, and could encourage plaintiffs to pursue securities-fraud claims under state-law theories, the unusual facts in Chadbourne could limit the reach of the holding and provide defendants with avenues for distinguishing more typical state-law claims in other cases.


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