Monthly Archives: September 2014

The New York Fed: A “Captured” Regulator

The following post comes to us from Luigi Zingales, Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago, and is based on an op-ed by Mr. Zingales that was published today in Il Sole 24 Ore, which can be found here.

The world of American finance has been invested by a new scandal. At its core, there is New York’s Federal Reserve; in other words, the institution that supervises America’s main banks. The scandal exploded because of the revelations emerged in a legal lawsuit about a layoff.

Carmen Segarra, a supervision lawyer, sued after being fired only seven months into her job. The New York Fed says it fired her due to poor performance. Segarra instead maintains that she was given the pink slip because she did not adapt to ‘Fed culture’—so permissive towards banks it regulates, almost to the point of collusion.

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Delaware Court Declines to Dismiss Claims Against Disinterested Directors

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication authored by Alexandra D. Korry, Melissa Sawyer, and William J. Magnuson. 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 an opinion [1] issued on September 9, 2014, the Delaware Court of Chancery (VC Glasscock) held that in a controlling stockholder freeze-out merger subject to entire fairness review at the outset, disinterested directors entitled under a company’s charter to exculpation for duty of care violations cannot prevail in a motion to dismiss even though the claims against them for breach of fiduciary duty are not pled with particularity; instead, the issue of whether they will be entitled to exculpation must await a developed record, post-trial. The decision once again highlights the litigation cost that will be imposed on companies engaged in controlling stockholder freeze-out mergers for failing to employ both of the safeguards that Delaware has endorsed to ensure business judgment, instead of entire fairness, review—(1) an up-front non-waivable commitment by the controller to condition the transaction on an informed vote of a majority of the minority stockholders and (2) approval of the transaction by a well-functioning and broadly empowered special committee of disinterested directors. At the motion to dismiss stage, disinterested directors effectively will be treated in the same manner as controllers and their affiliated directors.

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Executive Gatekeepers: Useful and Divertible Governance?

The following post comes to us from Adair Morse of the Finance Group at the University of California, Berkeley; and Wei Wang and Serena Wu, both of Queen’s School of Business, Canada.

In our paper, Executive Gatekeepers: Useful and Divertible Governance?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the role of executive gatekeepers in preventing governance failures, and the counter-incentive effects created by equity compensation. Specifically, we examine the following two questions. First, do executive gatekeepers actually improve governance in the average firm? Second, does the effectiveness of gatekeepers in ensuring compliance and/or reducing corporate misconduct depend on their incentive contracts?

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Important Proxy Advisor Developments

David A. Katz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and complex securities transactions. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal; the full article, including footnotes, is available here.

As 2014 winds down and 2015 approaches, proxy advisory firms—and the investment managers who hire them—are finding themselves under increased scrutiny. Staff guidance issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission at the end of June and a working paper published in August by SEC Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher both indicate that oversight of proxy advisory services will be a significant focus for the SEC during next year’s proxy season. Under the rubric of corporate governance, annual proxy solicitations have become referenda on an ever-widening assortment of corporate, social, and political issues, and, as a result, the influence and power of proxy advisors—and their relative lack of accountability—have become increasingly problematic. The SEC’s recent actions and statements suggest that the tide may be turning. Proxy advisory firms appear to be entering a new era of increasing accountability and potentially decreasing influence, possibly with further, more significant, SEC action to come.

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Mandatory Disclosure Quality, Inside Ownership, and Cost of Capital

The following post comes to us from John Core and Rodrigo Verdi of the Accounting Group at MIT, and Luzi Hail of the Department of Accounting at the University of Pennsylvania.

Whether mandatory disclosure regulation and insider ownership affect a firm’s cost of capital is an important question in financial economics. In our paper, Mandatory Disclosure Quality, Inside Ownership, and Cost of Capital, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine this question on a large global sample of more than 10,000 firms across 35 countries.

Theory predict that disclosure regulation is negatively related to the cost of capital due to two separate effects: (i) an information effect in which better disclosure improves investors’ prediction of future cash flows, or (ii) a stewardship effect in which better disclosure improves managerial alignment with shareholders and therefore increases expected cash flows. The stewardship effect is not unique to disclosure, but is also present in other governance mechanisms that increase managerial alignment such as inside ownership. As a result, these alternative alignment mechanisms potentially reinforce or substitute for the stewardship effect of disclosure. We test this argument by examining whether inside ownership is negatively associated with the cost of capital and how inside ownership affects the relation between disclosure and the cost of capital.

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Regulators Re-Propose Uncleared Swap Margin, Capital and Segregation Rules

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; the complete publication, including sidebars and appendix, is available here.

On September 3, 2014, U.S. banking regulators re-proposed margin, capital and segregation requirements applicable to swap entities [1] for uncleared swaps. [2] The new proposed rules modify significantly the regulators’ original 2011 proposal in light of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s and the International Organization of Securities Commissions’ (“BCBS/IOSCO”) issuance of their 2013 final policy framework on margin requirements for uncleared derivatives and the comments received on the original proposal. The revised proposal:

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Volcker Rule: Agencies Release New FAQ

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Eric M. Diamond, Joseph A. Hearn, and Ken Li. The complete publication, including appendix, is available here.

[On September 10, 2014], the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (collectively, the “Agencies”) provided an addition to their existing list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) addressing the implementation of section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended, commonly known as the “Volcker Rule.”

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Preparing for the 2015 Proxy Season

The following post comes to us from Lawrence R. Hamilton, partner in the Corporate & Securities practice at Mayer Brown LLP, and is based on a Mayer Brown Legal Update. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

It is time for calendar year-end public companies to focus on the upcoming 2015 proxy and annual reporting season. This post discusses the following key issues for companies to consider in their preparations:

  • Pending Dodd-Frank Regulation
  • Say-on-Pay and Compensation Disclosure Considerations
  • Shareholder Proposals
  • Proxy Access
  • Compensation Committee Independence Determinations
  • Compensation Adviser Independence Assessment
  • Compensation Consultant Conflict of Interest Disclosure
  • NYSE Quorum Requirement Change
  • Director and Officer Questionnaires
  • Proxy Advisory Firm and Investment Adviser Matters
  • Conflict Minerals
  • Cybersecurity
  • Management’s Discussion and Analysis
  • XBRL
  • Proxy Bundling
  • Foreign Issuer Preliminary Proxy Statement Relief
  • Technology and the Proxy Season

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Audit Committee Reporting To Shareholders: 2014 Proxy Season Update

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young, and is based on an Ernst & Young study by Allie M. Rutherford and Ruby Sharma. The complete publication is available here.

The 2014 proxy season saw significant growth in audit committee transparency. Continuing the trend of the past several years, an increased number of Fortune 100 companies are going beyond the minimum disclosures required.

These disclosures are also more robust—providing valuable perspectives on the activities of audit committees, including their oversight of external auditors.

The recent movement toward increased audit committee transparency has been encouraged by a variety of factors and entities. In addition to the ongoing disclosure effectiveness review by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) involving a holistic review of the US corporate disclosure regime, audit committee disclosures are receiving significant attention from a variety of stakeholders. These stakeholders include US and non-US regulators, investors, and policy organizations.

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Influence of Public Opinion on Investor Voting and Proxy Advisors

The following post comes to us from Reena Aggarwal, Professor of Finance at Georgetown University; Isil Erel of the Department of Finance at Ohio State University; and Laura Starks, Professor of Finance at the University of Texas at Austin.

In our paper, Influence of Public Opinion on Investor Voting and Proxy Advisors, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we address the question of how public opinion influences the proxy voting process. We find strong influence of public opinion on the evolution in both investor voting behavior and proxy advisor recommendations. Therefore, our results suggest that an additional channel through which the public can communicate with corporate management (and potentially influence corporate behavior) is the proxy voting process. We provide new evidence that media coverage can also influence firm behavior through the voting channel. This channel is important because media coverage captures the attention of proxy advisors, institutional investors and individual investors, and is thus reflected in recommendations and votes.

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