Monthly Archives: March 2015

Shareholders in the United Kingdom

The following post comes to us from Paul L. Davies, Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford. He was the Allen & Overy Professor of Corporate Law from 2009 to 2014 at University of Oxford, Faculty of Law. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about lobbying includes Investor Protection and Interest Group Politics by Lucian Bebchuk and Zvika Neeman (discussed on the Forum here).

The United States and the United Kingdom are lumped put together as ‘dispersed shareholder’ jurisdictions and contrasted with the concentrated shareholdings found in the rest of the world. This paper, Shareholders in the United Kingdom, argues that it would be better to view the UK, at least over the past half century, as a semi-dispersed rather than as simply a dispersed shareholder jurisdiction, and that there are interesting contrasts between the UK and the US experience.

Whilst the typical company listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange certainly lacks a single (or even a cohesive small group) of shareholders with legal control, neither does the typical company display atomised shareholdings, for example, where no single shareholder holds more than 1% of the voting rights. Typically, a coalition of six or so of the largest shareholders can put together enough votes to have a fighting chance of carrying a resolution at a shareholder meeting against the wishes of the management. The question thus becomes one of the incentives and disincentives for those shareholders to coordinate their actions.


Proxy Advisors Clarify Proxy Access and Bylaw Amendments Voting Policies

The following post comes to us from Ariel J. Deckelbaum, partner and deputy chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

On the heels of SEC Chair White’s direction to the Division of Corporation Finance to review its position on proxy proposal conflicts under Exchange Act Rule 14a-8(i)(9), both Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have issued clarifying policies on proxy access, entering the fray of what is becoming the hottest debate this proxy season. The publication of ISS’s updated policy in particular means that market forces may have outpaced the SEC’s review process. In order to avoid risking a withhold or no-vote recommendation from ISS against their directors, many companies will be faced with the choice of (i) including any shareholder-submitted proxy access proposal in their proxy materials (either alone or alongside a management proposal) (ii) excluding the shareholder submitted proposal on the basis of a court ruling or no-action relief from the Division of Corporation Finance on a basis other than Rule 14a-8(i)(9) (conflict with management proposal) or (iii) obtaining withdrawal of the proposal by the shareholder proponent.


The Role of Institutional Investors in Open-Market Share Repurchase Programs

The following post comes to us from Thomas Chemmanur, Professor of Finance at Boston College, and Yingzhen Li of The Brattle Group.

In recent years, the number of firms undertaking stock repurchases has increased dramatically, while the proportion of firms distributing value through cash dividends has declined. The popularity of share repurchases has not been mitigated even after the passage of the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Act of 2003. In our paper, The Role of Institutional Investors in Open-Market Share Repurchase Programs, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we empirically analyze whether institutions have the ability to produce information about firms announcing open-market repurchase (OMR) programs, and how their information interacts with the private information held by firm insiders (which they may attempt to convey to the equity market through a repurchase program).


Women on US Boards: What Are We Seeing?

The following post comes to us from Ernst & Young LLP, and is based on a publication by the EY Center for Board Matters.

Despite the value of bringing more women onto corporate boards being increasingly recognized, US companies continue a slow march toward gender diversity. While progress is being made, it is not at the pace needed to compete with public sector approaches being taken in other markets.

This post looks at diversity in US boardrooms at the time of their 2014 annual meetings and, unless otherwise noted, reflects S&P 1500 companies. It is based on the EY Center for Board Matters’ proprietary corporate governance database. It is also part of the Center’s ongoing board diversity series and follows Diversity drives diversity: From the boardroom to the C-suite (2013) and Getting on board: Women join boards at higher rates, though progress comes slowly (2012). For EY’s global perspective, see Women on boards: global approaches to advancing diversity (2014) and Women. Fast forward (2015).


The Impact of Whistleblowers on Financial Misrepresentation Enforcement Actions

The following post comes to us from Andrew Call of the School of Accountancy at Arizona State University, Gerald Martin of the Department of Finance and Real Estate at American University, Nathan Sharp of the Department of Accounting at Texas A&M University, and Jaron Wilde of the Department of Accounting at the University of Iowa.

In our paper, The Impact of Whistleblowers on Financial Misrepresentation Enforcement Actions, which was recently made available on SSRN, we investigate the effect of employee whistleblowers on the consequences of financial misrepresentation enforcement actions by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Justice (DOJ). Whistleblowers are ostensibly a valuable resource to regulators investigating securities violations, but whether whistleblowers have any measurable impact on the outcomes of enforcement actions is unclear. Using the universe of SEC and DOJ enforcement actions for financial misrepresentation between 1978 and 2012 (Karpoff et al., 2008, 2014), we investigate whether whistleblower involvement is associated with more severe enforcement outcomes. Specifically, we examine the effects of whistleblower involvement on: (1) monetary penalties against targeted firms; (2) monetary penalties against culpable employees; and (3) the length of incarceration (prison sentences) imposed against employee respondents. In addition, we investigate the effect of whistleblowers on the duration of the violation, regulatory proceedings, and total enforcement periods. We examine the effects of whistleblowers conditional on the existence of a regulatory enforcement action. This distinction is important because our tests exploit variation in consequences to SEC or DOJ enforcement with and without whistleblower involvement; we do not measure the effects of whistleblower allegations for which there are no regulatory enforcement actions.


Proxy Access—a Decision Framework

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. Margaret E. Tahyar is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

Recent high-profile developments have thrust proxy access back onto the agenda for many U.S. public companies. Here is a framework for how to approach the topic.

Proxy access is back in the news and back on the agenda for many U.S. public companies. Four years after the DC Circuit invalidated the SEC’s proxy-access rule, we are seeing company-by-company private ordering with a vengeance, including a record number of Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposals in the current 2015 proxy season. Events have moved at high speed in the past few weeks, leading many companies to wonder whether they should be initiating their own approach to proxy access.

As we argued in 2009 in response to an earlier SEC proxy-access proposal, we believe that each company’s approach to proxy access should be grounded in a consideration of its particular circumstances. Despite recent high-profile adoptions of proxy-access procedures, we don’t believe that most U.S. public companies should, in knee-jerk fashion, be preparing to revise their bylaws proactively. We do, however, think that boards should be assessing on an ongoing basis the broader issues of board composition, tenure and refreshment, which are not only important in their own right but also relevant to potential vulnerability to proxy-access proposals. We also think that boards should communicate a willingness to exercise their discretion in considering all shareholder suggestions regarding board membership in order to assure shareholders of a means of expressing their views and to create a level playing field for shareholders.


Not Clawing the Hand that Feeds You

The following post comes to us from Sterling Huang, Chee Yeow Lim, and Jeffrey Ng, all of the School of Accountancy at Singapore Management University.

In our paper, Not Clawing the Hand that Feeds You: The Case of Co-opted Boards and Clawbacks, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine the impact of beholdenness of the directors to the CEO on the adoption and enforcement of clawbacks.

Clawbacks have been increasingly prevalent in recent years, and the aim of such provisions is to provide a punishment mechanism that links an executive’s compensation more closely to his or her financial reporting behavior. Clawbacks typically allow firms to recoup compensation from executives upon the occurrence of accounting restatements. Perhaps not surprisingly, the implementation and enforcement of clawbacks by companies is likely to create tensions between boards and executives because executives are unlikely to want to have a “Sword of Damocles” hanging over the compensation that is already in their pocket and are likely to resist attempts by boards to claw at this compensation when accounting restatements trigger a clawback. Hence, to better understand the use of clawbacks by firms, it is important to understand the type of boards that are more likely to implement clawbacks.


2015 US Compensation Policies FAQ

Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to ISS compensation policy guidelines for 2015. The complete publication is available here.

US Executive Pay Overview

1. Which named executive officers’ total compensation data are shown in the Executive Pay Overview section?

The executive compensation section will generally reflect the same number of named executive officer’s total compensation as disclosed in a company’s proxy statement. However, if more than five named executive officers’ total compensation has been disclosed, only five will be represented in the section. The order will be CEO, then the second, third, fourth and fifth highest paid executive by total compensation. Current executives will be selected first, followed by terminated executives (except that a terminated CEO whose total pay is within the top five will be included, since he/she was an within the past complete fiscal year).

2. A company’s CEO has resigned and there is a new CEO in place. Which CEO is shown in the report?

Our report generally displays the CEO in office on the last day of the fiscal year; however, the longer tenured CEO may be displayed in some cases where the transition occurs very late in the year.


Information Networks: Evidence from Illegal Insider Trading Tips

The following post comes to us from Kenneth Ahern of the Finance & Business Economics Unit at the University of Southern California.

Illegal insider trading has become front-page news in recent years. High profile court cases have brought to light the extensive networks of insiders surrounding well-known hedge funds, such as the Galleon Group and SAC Capital. Yet, we have little systematic knowledge about these networks. Who are inside traders? How do they know each other? What type of information do they share, and how much money do they make? Answering these questions is important. Augustin, Brenner, and Subrahmanyam (2014) suggest that 25% of M&A announcements are preceded by illegal insider trading. Similarly, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York believes that insider trading is “rampant.”

In my paper, Information Network: Evidence from Illegal Insider Trading Tips, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I analyze 183 insider trading networks to provide answers to these basic questions. I identify networks using hand-collected data from all of the insider trading cases filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) between 2009 and 2013. The case documents include biographical information on the insiders, descriptions of their social relationships, data on the information that is shared, and the amount and timing of insider trades. The data cover 1,139 insider tips shared by 622 insiders who made an aggregated $928 million in illegal profits. In sum, the data assembled for this paper provide an unprecedented view of how investors share material, nonpublic information through word-of-mouth communication.


SEC’s Swaps Reporting and Disclosure Final Rules

The following post comes to us from Dan Ryan, Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and is based on a PwC publication by Troy Paredes, Samuel Crystal, and David Kim.

On February 11, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released two final rules toward establishing a reporting and public disclosure framework for security-based swap (SBS) transaction data. The SEC’s Commissioners had voted in January to approve the rules, 3 to 2. [1] These rules are the SEC’s first substantive SBS requirements since the SEC began laying out its cross-border position through final rules in June 2014. [2] Chair White has consistently stressed the need to complete substantive SBS requirements and now appears willing to do so even when the SEC Commissioners are divided.

The SEC rules diverge from existing Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) requirements in some key ways. These divergences will create technical complexity for dealers who have built systems and processes to meet already live CFTC regulations. For example, the SEC’s broader, more exhaustive, and possibly repetitive scope of “Unique Identifier Codes” (UIC) will be problematic for market participants. A less obvious problem will be the SEC’s requirement to report SBS data within 24 hours (until modified by the SEC as the rule suggests), as dealers will likely want to delay public dissemination for as long as possible which will run counter to their existing set-ups for the CFTC requirement to report to a swap data repository (SDR) “as soon as technologically practicable.”


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