Monthly Archives: August 2014

2014 Proxy Season Review

The following post comes to us from Bridget Neill, Director of Regulatory Policy at Ernst & Young, and is based on an Ernst & Young publication by Ruby Sharma and Allie M. Rutherford. The complete publication is available here.

Nearly 40 investor representatives shared with us their key priorities for the 2014 proxy season. We review the developments around these topics over the 2014 proxy season through shareholder proposal submissions, investor voting trends, proxy statement disclosures and behind-the-scenes company-investor engagement.

Key Developments in the 2014 Proxy Season

Activist investors are becoming more active and influential: Nearly 150 campaigns by hedge fund activists were launched in just the first half of this year. Both companies and long-term institutional investors are learning to navigate this changing landscape.

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The Corporate Value of (Corrupt) Lobbying

The following post comes to us from Alexander Borisov of the Department of Finance at the University of Cincinnati, and Eitan Goldman and Nandini Gupta, both of the Department of Finance at Indiana University.

Despite the fact that corporations and interest groups spent about $30 billion lobbying policy makers over the last decade (Center for Responsive Politics, 2012), there is a lack of robust empirical evidence on whether firms’ lobbying expenditures create value for their shareholders. Moreover, while the public perception of the lobbying process is that it involves unethical behavior that may bias rather than inform politicians, this is difficult to show since unethical practices are not typically observable. In our recent ECGI working paper, The Corporate Value of (Corrupt) Lobbying, we identify events that exogenously affect the ability of firms to lobby, and find that firms that lobby more experience a significant decrease in market value around these events. Investigating the channels by which lobbying may add value, we find evidence suggesting that the value partly arises from potentially unethical arrangements between firms and politicians.

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SEC Charges Corporate Officers with Fraud

The following post comes to us from R. Daniel O’Connor, partner focusing on securities enforcement at Ropes & Gray LLP, and is based on a Ropes & Gray Alert authored by Mr. O’Connor, Marko S. Zatylny, Kait Michaud, and Michael J. Vito.

On July 30, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) advanced a novel theory of fraud against the former CEO (Marc Sherman) and CFO (Edward Cummings) of Quality Services Group, Inc. (“QSGI”), a Florida-based computer equipment company that filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The SEC alleged that the CEO misrepresented the extent of his involvement in evaluating internal controls and that the CEO and CFO knew of significant internal controls issues with the company’s inventory practices that they failed to disclose to investors and internal auditors. This case did not involve any restatement of financial statements or allegations of accounting fraud, merely disclosure issues around internal controls and involvement in a review of the same by senior management. The SEC’s approach has the potential to broaden practical exposure to liability for corporate officers who sign financial statements and certifications required under Section 302 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”). By advancing a theory of fraud premised on internal controls issues without establishing an actionable accounting misstatement, the SEC is continuing to demonstrate that it will extend the range of conduct for which it has historically pursued fraud claims against corporate officers.

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SEC Adopts Money Market Fund Reforms

Annette Nazareth is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and a former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

On July 23, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted significant amendments (the “amendments”) to rules under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “Investment Company Act”) and related requirements that govern money market funds (“MMFs”). The SEC’s adoption of the amendments is the latest action taken by U.S. regulators as part of the ongoing debate about systemic risks posed by MMFs and the extent to which previous reform efforts have addressed these concerns. Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department (“Treasury”) and the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) released guidance on the same day setting forth simplified rules to address tax compliance issues that the SEC’s MMF reforms would otherwise impose on MMFs and their investors.

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Director Engagement on Executive Pay

Jeremy L. Goldstein is founder of Jeremy L. Goldstein & Associates, LLC. This post is based on a publication by Mr. Goldstein.

Since the implementation of the mandatory advisory vote on executive compensation, shareholder engagement has become an increasingly important part of the corporate landscape. In light of this development, many companies are struggling to determine whether, when and how corporate directors should engage with shareholders on issues of executive compensation. Set forth below are considerations for companies grappling with these issues.

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2014 IPO Study

The following post comes to us from Julie M. Allen, Partner in the Corporate Department and co-head of the Capital Markets Group at Proskauer Rose LLP, and is based on the Executive Summary of a Proskauer publication; the complete publication, including extensive analysis of multiple industry sectors, is available here.

Our study provides a comprehensive analysis of the 2013 US IPO market.

We examined several key aspects of IPOs, including:

  • The JOBS Act
  • Financial profiles and accounting disclosures
  • SEC comments and timing
  • Corporate governance
  • IPO expenses
  • Deal structure
  • Lock-ups
  • Sponsor-backed companies

We reviewed 100 of the 136 IPOs that priced in 2013 and met our study criteria.

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Peer Effects and Corporate Corruption

The following post comes to us from Christopher Parsons of the Finance Area at the University of California, San Diego; Johan Sulaeman of the Department of Finance at Southern Methodist University; and Sheridan Titman, Professor of Finance at the University of Texas at Austin.

Traditional models of crime frame the choice to engage in misbehavior like any other economic decision involving cost and benefit tradeoffs. Though somewhat successful when taken to the data, perhaps the theory’s largest embarrassment is its failure to account for the enormous variation in crime rates observed across both time and space. Indeed, as Glaeser, Sacerdote, and Scheinkman (1996) argue, regional variation in demographics, enforcement, and other observables are simply not large enough to explain why, for example, two seemingly identical neighborhoods in the same city have such drastically different crime rates. The answer they propose is simple: social interactions induce positive correlations in the tendency to break rules.

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Board Structures and Directors’ Duties: A Global Overview

The following post comes to us from Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and is based on a chapter of Getting The Deal Through—Corporate Governance 2014, an annual guide that examines issues relating to board structures and directors’ duties in 33 jurisdictions worldwide.

Corporate governance remains a hot topic worldwide this year, but for different reasons in different regions. In the United States, this year could be characterised as largely “business as usual”; rather than planning and implementing new post-financial crisis corporate governance reforms, companies have operated under those new (and now, not so new) reforms. We have witnessed the growing and changing influence of large institutional investors, and different attempts by companies to respond to those investors as well as to pressure by activist shareholders. We have also continued to monitor the results of say-on-pay votes and believe that shareholder litigation related to executive compensation continues to warrant particular attention.

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Corporate Governance and the Erosion of Deutschland AG

The following post comes to us from Wolf-Georg Ringe, Professor of International Commercial Law at Copenhagen Business School.

The conventional view in comparative corporate governance research holds that German corporations are characterized by the prevalence of large blockholders, making it the typical example for a system of concentrated ownership. In my recent paper, Changing Law and Ownership Patterns in Germany: Corporate Governance and the Erosion of Deutschland AG, which has been made publicly available on SSRN, I show that the traditional ownership patterns in German corporations are currently undergoing a major change. The old “Deutschland AG”, a nationwide network of firms, banks, and directors, is eroding along three dimensions: the concentration of ownership is diffusing, the role of banks in equity participations is weakening, and the shareholder body is becoming increasingly international. It appears that these changes are more pronounced the larger the corporation. I present new data to support these developments and explore the consequences in governance and in law that have been taken or that need to be drawn from this finding.

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Compliance or Legal? The Board’s Duty to Assure Clarity

The following post comes to us from Michael W. Peregrine, partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. This post is based on an article by Mr. Peregrine; the views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the views of McDermott Will & Emery LLP or its clients.

A series of developments threaten to blur the important distinction between the corporation’s legal and compliance functions. These developments arise from federal regulatory action, media and public discourse, policy statements from compliance industry leaders, and new surveys reflecting the increasing prominence of the general counsel. If left unaddressed, they could lead to significant organizational risk, e.g., leadership disharmony, misallocation of executive resources, ineffective risk management, and the loss of the attorney-client privilege in certain circumstances. The governing board is obligated to address this risk by working with executive leadership to assure clarity between the roles of general counsel and chief compliance officer.

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