Monthly Archives: June 2014

Measuring Readability in Financial Disclosures

The following post comes to us from Tim Loughran and Bill McDonald, both of the Department of Finance at the University of Notre Dame.

The Fog Index has become a popular measure of financial disclosure readability in recent accounting and finance research. The SEC has even contemplated the use of the Fog Index to help identify poorly written financial documents. However, the measure has migrated to financial applications without its efficacy in the context of business disclosures having been determined.

In our forthcoming Journal of Finance paper, Measuring Readability in Financial Disclosures, we argue that traditional readability measures like the Fog Index are poorly specified in the realm of business writing. The Fog Index is based on two components: sentence length and word complexity. Although sentence length is a reasonable readability measure, it is difficult to accurately measure in financial documents. More importantly, we show that the count of multisyllabic words in 10-K filings is dominated by common business words that should be easily understood. Frequently used “complex” words like company, operations, and management are not going to confuse consumers of SEC filings. Additionally, the correlation of complex words with alternative measures of readability contradicts its traditional interpretation.

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Bebchuk Included in the Thomson Reuters List of Most Influential Authors in all Research Fields

Professor Lucian Bebchuk was recently included in the list of most highly cited authors in academic research during 2002-2012 issued by Thomson Reuters.

Spotlighting the standout researchers of the last decade, Thomson Reuters has issued Highly Cited Researchers, a compilation of influential names in science. These researchers earned the distinction by writing the greatest numbers of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as Highly Cited Papers—ranking among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year of publication—between 2002 and 2012. According to Thomsen Reuters, “the listings of Highly Cited Researchers feature authors whose published work in their specialty areas has consistently been judged by peers to be of particular significance and utility.”

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Incentives and Ideology

The following post comes to us from James Kwak at University of Connecticut School of Law.

The financial crisis that began in 2007 prompted a tidal wave of thinking about financial regulation. One major theme that has been pursued by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, journalists, and scholars—most recently in Other People’s Houses, by Jennifer Taub—is the question of what went wrong in the years or decades leading up the crisis. A second strand of research answers the question of what substantive regulations we should have; one important book in this genre is The Banker’s New Clothes, by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig. But beyond the issue of what regulations are appropriate for today’s complex financial system, a third important area of inquiry is the political and administrative landscape in which financial regulations (whether statutes, rules, administrative guidances, or court opinions) are hammered out. After all, if it were somehow possible to design a perfect regulatory framework, it could only become effective by navigating through the complicated web of interests and incentives that encompasses the legislative and executive (and perhaps judicial) branches.

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PCAOB Adopts New and Amended Auditing Standards

The following post comes to us from Michael Scanlon, partner in the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance and Corporate Transactions practice groups at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn alert by Mr. Scanlon.

On June 10, 2014, The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) adopted new and amended auditing standards that expand audit procedures required to be performed with respect to three important areas: (1) related party transactions; (2) significant unusual transactions; and (3) a company’s financial relationships and transactions with its executive officers. The standards also expand the required communications that an auditor must make to the audit committee related to these three areas. They also amend the standard governing representations that the auditor is required to periodically obtain from management.

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CFTC Provides Streamlined No-Action Relief Filing Procedure

The following post comes to us from Carolyn A. Jayne, partner in the Investment Management, Hedge Funds and Alternative Investments practice at K&L Gates LLP, and is based on a K&L Gates publication by Ms. Jayne, Cary J. Meer, and Lawrence B. Patent; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The Division of Swap Dealer and Intermediary Oversight (the “Division”) of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC” or the “Commission”) recently issued CFTC Letter No. 14-69 (May 12, 2014) (the “Letter”), which provides to certain commodity pool operators (“CPOs”) who delegate (the “Delegating CPO”) their CPO responsibilities to registered CPOs (the “Designated CPO”) a standardized, streamlined approach to apply for no-action relief from the requirement to register as a CPO. The Division previously has granted no-action relief to many Delegating CPOs on an individualized basis. However, the Division recently has seen a substantial increase in the number of no-action requests after the rescission of the CPO exemption from registration in Regulation 4.13(a)(4) and the adoption of a broad definition of the types of swaps subject to CFTC regulation. This streamlined approach will eliminate the need for many, but not all, Delegating CPOs to apply for individualized no-action relief, a more labor-intensive and time-consuming endeavor. However, this approach is available only under certain circumstances described below, and not all Delegating CPOs will qualify.

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Volcker Rule: Observations on Interagency FAQs, OCC Interim Examination Guidelines

Margaret E. Tahyar is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. The following post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

More than six months after the release of final Volcker Rule regulations, banking organizations continue to grapple with a long list of interpretive questions and an opaque process for seeking clarity from the Volcker agencies. Regulatory silence broke for a brief moment this past week in the form of a short interagency FAQ and, from the OCC, interim examination guidelines for assessing banking entities’ progress toward Volcker Rule compliance during the conformance period.

Neither document is a significant source of new guidance or interpretive gloss. Nonetheless, the OCC guidelines evidence the staff’s intention to begin detailed inquiries into banks’ conformance efforts to date and suggest a higher standard for interim compliance than many may have expected. It remains to be seen whether the other Volcker agencies take the same approach.

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Clearinghouses as Liquidity Partitioning

The following post comes to us from Richard Squire, Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law.

The Dodd-Frank Act established that certain swap contracts which previously were traded bilaterally (directly between buyers and sellers) must be traded through clearinghouses instead. Critics of this clearing mandate have mounted two main objections: a clearinghouse shifts risk instead of reducing it; and a clearinghouse could fail, requiring a bailout. In my article Clearinghouses as Liquidity Partitioning, recently published in the Cornell Law Review, I counter both objections by showing that clearinghouses engage in a socially valuable function that I term liquidity partitioning. Liquidity partitioning means that when one of its member firms becomes bankrupt, a clearinghouse keeps a portion of the firm’s most liquid assets, and a matching portion of its short‑term debt, out of the bankruptcy estate. The clearinghouse then applies the first toward immediate repayment of the second. Economic value is created because the surviving clearinghouse members are paid much more quickly than they would be in a bankruptcy proceeding. Meanwhile, the bankrupt member’s outside creditors are not paid any less quickly: they still are paid at the end of the bankruptcy proceeding, which the clearinghouse does nothing to prolong. These rapid cash payouts for clearinghouse members reduce illiquidity and uncertainty in the financial sector, the main causes of contagion in a crisis. And because the clearinghouse holds only liquid assets, it avoids the maturity mismatch between short‑term liabilities and long‑term assets that characterizes the balance sheets of many financial institutions. A clearinghouse therefore is much less likely than its members to fail during a crisis.

A clearinghouse achieves liquidity partitioning by engaging in netting. Thus, when a member fails, the clearinghouse uses short‑term debts owed to the member to immediately repay short‑term debts owed by the member. In this way, cash is intercepted on its way toward the bankruptcy estate and redirected toward other financial firms, who may be suffering their own liquidity shortages. The clearinghouse thereby shifts cash from lower-value to higher-value uses, decreasing liquidity pressure on the financial sector and thus the need during a crisis for a taxpayer-funded bailout.

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Comparing Insider Trading in the US and Europe

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

In the European Union insider trading has been regulated much more recently than in the United States, and it can be argued that, at least traditionally, it has been more aggressively and successfully enforced in the United States than in the European Union. Several different explanations have been offered for this difference in enforcement attitudes, focusing in particular on resources of regulators devoted to contrasting this practice, but also diverging cultural attitudes toward insiders. This situation has evolved, however, and the prohibition of insider trading has gained traction also in Europe. Few studies have focused on the substantive differences in the regulation of the phenomenon on the two sides of the Atlantic.

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The Fed’s Wake-Up Call to Bank Directors

Edward D. Herlihy and Lawrence S. Makow are partners in the Corporate Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Herlihy and Mr. Makow; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The Dodd-Frank Act was undoubtedly a thorough re-working of the regulatory paradigm for banks and other financial institutions. But no less resolute are the intentions of U.S. banking regulators to carry regulatory reform further, based in significant part on perceived “macroprudential” authority after Dodd-Frank. The new regulatory paradigm will increasingly leave behind bank regulation’s traditional moorings in the protection of federally insured deposits and safe and sound operation of banking organizations. Instead, “macroprudential” regulation will rest on the goals of protecting U.S. financial stability and reducing systemic risk—broad, malleable concepts that elude precise definition. It will seek to influence activities not just of banking organizations but also activities conducted by non-bank entities not traditionally subject to prudential regulation. And, according to an important speech given last week by Federal Reserve Governor Daniel K. Tarullo, the new regulatory paradigm embraces consideration of a potentially unprecedented expansion of the fiduciary duties of directors of banking institutions. This would give such directors very potent incentives to prioritize supervisory goals—including macroprudential objectives.

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Value Protection in Stock and Mixed Consideration Deals

Daniel Wolf is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis focusing on mergers and acquisitions. The following post is based on a Kirkland memorandum by Mr. Wolf, David B. Feirstein, and Joshua M. Zachariah.

As confidence in M&A activity seems to have turned a corner, the use of acquirer stock as acquisition currency is a serious consideration for executives and advisers on both sides of the table. A number of factors play into the renewed appeal of stock deals, including an increasingly bullish outlook in the C-level suite and higher and more stable stock market valuations, as well as deal-specific drivers like the need for a meaningful stock component in tax inversion transactions (see recent post on this Forum).

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