Monthly Archives: October 2014

Elements of an Effective Whistleblower Hotline

The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, Chief Operating Partner concentrating in the corporate and securities area at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit, Walt Draney, and Todd Freier.

It has been reported that approximately two-thirds of companies in the U.S. are affected by fraud, losing an estimated 1.2% of revenue each year to such activity. [1] Indirect costs associated with fraud, such as reputational damage and costs associated with investigation and remediation of the fraudulent acts, may also be substantial. When and where implemented, an internal whistleblower hotline is a critical component of a company’s anti-fraud program, as tips are consistently the most common method of detecting fraud. [2] Consequently, it is essential that companies consider implementing, if they have not already done so, effective whistleblower hotlines. [3] To the extent hotlines are currently in place, companies need to evaluate them to ensure that the hotlines are operating as intended and are effective in preventing and identifying unethical or potentially unlawful activity, including corporate fraud, securities violations and employment discrimination or harassment. This evaluation should be a key element of every company’s assessment of its compliance and ethics program.


ISS Proposes Equity Plan Scorecards

Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to draft policy changes to the ISS Equity Plan Scorecard issued by ISS on October 15, 2014.

As issues around cost transparency and best practices in equity-based compensation have evolved in recent years, ISS proposes updates to its Equity Plans policy in order to provide for a more nuanced consideration of equity plan proposals. As an alternative to applying a series of standalone tests (focused on cost and certain egregious practices) to determine when a proposal warrants an “Against” recommendation, the proposed approach will incorporate a model that takes into account multiple factors, both positive and negative, related to plan features and historical grant practices.

Feedback from clients and corporate issuers in recent years, beginning with the 2011-2012 ISS policy cycle, indicates strong support for the proposed approach, which incorporates the following key goals:


Updated CD&A Template Aims to Improve Communication

Matt Orsagh is a director at CFA Institute.

In 2011, CFA Institute released the Compensation Discussion and Analysis (CD&A) Template as a tool to help companies produce a more succinct and informative CD&A that served the needs of both companies and investors. At the time there were complaints from both issuers and investors that the typical CD&A was seen by too many issuers as a compliance document that was too lengthy and too opaque to serve as the communication tool investors desired.

In the intervening years disclosures in the CD&A have improved a great deal, due in part to increased engagement between issuers and investors, a better understanding of disclosure best practices by issuers, and more willingness by some issuers to experiment with more creative ways of telling their stories.


Shareholder Returns of Hostile Takeover Targets

Sabastian V. Niles is counsel in the Corporate Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he focuses on rapid response shareholder activism, takeover defense and corporate governance. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Niles and Eric S. Robinson.

This morning [October 22, 2014], Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) issued a note to clients entitled “The IRR of ‘No’.” The note argues that shareholders of companies that have resisted hostile takeover bids all the way through a proxy fight at a shareholder meeting have incurred “profoundly negative” returns following those shareholder meetings, compared to alternative investments. ISS identified seven cases in the last five years where bidders have pursued a combined takeover bid and proxy fight through a target shareholder meeting, and measured the mean and median total shareholder returns from the dates of the contested shareholder meeting through October 20, 2014, compared to target shareholders having sold at the closing price the day before the contested meeting and reinvesting in the S&P 500 index or a peer group.

A close look at the ISS report shows that it has at least two critical methodological and analytical flaws that completely undermine its conclusions:


Opacity in Financial Markets

The following post comes to us from Yuki Sato of the Department of Finance at the University of Lausanne and the Swiss Finance Institute.

In my paper, Opacity in Financial Markets, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, I study the implications of opacity in financial markets for investor behavior, asset prices, and welfare. In the model, transparent funds (e.g., mutual funds) and opaque funds (e.g., hedge funds) trade transparent assets (e.g., plain-vanilla products) and opaque assets (e.g., structured products). Investors observe neither opaque funds’ portfolios nor opaque assets’ payoffs. Consistent with empirical observations, the model predicts an “opacity price premium”: opaque assets trade at a premium over transparent ones despite identical payoffs. This premium arises because fund managers bid up opaque assets’ prices, as opacity potentially allows them to collect higher fees by manipulating investor assessments of their funds’ future prospects. The premium accompanies endogenous market segmentation: transparent funds trade only transparent assets, and opaque funds trade only opaque assets. A novel insight is that opacity is self-feeding in financial markets: given the opacity price premium, financial engineers exploit it by supplying opaque assets (that is, they render transparent assets opaque deliberately), which in turn are a source of agency problems in portfolio delegation, resulting in the opacity price premium.


Statement on Credit Risk Retention

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC, 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.

Today [October 22, 2014], the Commission will consider the recommendation of the staff to adopt, jointly with five other federal agencies, final rules for the asset-backed securities market that will require securitizers to keep “skin in the game.” Specifically, we will consider rules to require certain securitizers to retain no less than five percent of the credit risk of the assets they securitize. These rules, which are mandated by Section 941 of the Dodd-Frank Act, are part of a strong and comprehensive package of reforms that will address some of the most serious issues exposed in the asset-backed securities market that contributed to the financial crisis.


Proxy Access in the US

The following post comes to us from Matt Orsagh, director at CFA Institute, and is based on the summary of a CFA publication, titled Proxy Access in the United States: Revisiting the Proposed SEC Rule; the complete publication is available here.

In this summary of CFA Institute findings, we take a brief look at the history of proxy access, discuss the pertinent academic studies, examine the benefits and limits of cost–benefit analysis, analyze the use of proxy access in non-US jurisdictions, and draw some conclusions.

How We Got Here

Proxy access refers to the ability of shareowners to place their nominees for director on a company’s proxy ballot. This right is available in many markets, though not in the United States. Supporters of proxy access argue that it increases the accountability of corporate boards by allowing shareowners to nominate a limited number of board directors. Afraid that special-interest groups could hijack the process, opponents of proxy access are also concerned about its cost and are not convinced that proxy access would improve either company or board performance.


Shareholder Scrutiny and Executive Compensation

The following post comes to us from Mathias Kronlund of the Department of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Shastri Sandy of the Department of Finance at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

As a result of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, public firms must periodically hold advisory shareholder votes on executive compensation (“say on pay”). One of the main goals of the say-on-pay mandate is to increase shareholder scrutiny of executive pay, and thus alleviate perceived governance problems when boards decide on executive compensation. In our paper, Does Shareholder Scrutiny Affect Executive Compensation? Evidence from Say-on-Pay Voting, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine how firms change the structure and level of executive compensation depending on whether the firm will face a say-on-pay vote or not.


Key Privacy Issues in M&A Transactions

The following post comes to us from Paul A. Chandler, Counsel at Mayer Brown LLP, and is based on a Mayer Brown Legal Update by Mr. Chandler and Lei Shen.

Many merger and acquisition (“M&A”) agreements lack specific representations and warranties regarding privacy issues. Often, this is because deal lawyers do not recognize potential privacy risks where the target company (the “Target”) lacks e-commerce websites or retail stores that collect consumer data. Nonetheless, significant privacy issues may exist even if the Target is a traditional “brick and mortar” business. Early attention to privacy issues in M&A transaction planning and due diligence can mitigate risks for both buyers and sellers.


The Institutional Framework for Cost Benefit Analysis in Financial Regulation

The following post comes to us from Robert Bartlett, Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Four years after the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), the use of cost benefit analysis (CBA) in financial regulation has come to play a critical role in an increasingly heated debate concerning the statute’s implementation. Requiring nearly three hundred rule-makings across twenty agencies, Dodd-Frank’s enormous regulatory mandate represents for many an especially dangerous risk of the typical “drift” and “slack” problems long associated with administrative rule-making. The fact that Dodd-Frank was enacted in the midst of an economic recession only heightens these fears, particularly the concern that overworked and/or overzealous agencies might discharge their regulatory mandate by promulgating cost-insensitive regulations. In light of these concerns, a number of Congressional proposals now exist that would subject financial rule-making to more formal CBA reflecting the conventional belief that rigorous CBA can provide much-needed accountability over regulatory agencies.


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