Monthly Archives: July 2015

Third Circuit Provides Guidance on Excluding Shareholder Proposals

Robert E. Buckholz and Marc Trevino are partners and Heather L. Coleman is an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Buckholz, Mr. Trevino, and Ms. Coleman.

 

 

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit released its opinion in Trinity Wall Street v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. [1] The Court had issued an earlier order, without an opinion, that Wal-Mart could exclude Trinity’s Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposal relating to the sale of firearms with high-capacity magazines from Wal-Mart’s proxy materials because it related to “ordinary business operations.” At the time, the Court stated it would subsequently issue a more detailed opinion explaining its rationale.

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Chamber of Commerce Airs Grievances Related To Internal Controls Inspections

Jason M. Halper is a partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and William J. Foley Jr.

In recent months, issues related to internal control systems and reporting have taken on an increased profile and significance. For example, as previously noted by the authors here and here, the SEC has sought to prioritize compliance with internal controls by initiating a growing number of investigations into companies based on allegations of inadequate internal controls.

By way of background, “internal controls” refers to the procedures and practices that companies use to manage risk, conduct business efficiently, and ensure compliance with the law and company policy. Public companies are required to maintain sufficient internal controls by the securities laws. In particular, Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (as amended by the Dodd-Frank Act) requires, among other things, that: (i) company management assess and report on the effectiveness of the company’s internal control over its financial reporting, and (ii) the company’s independent auditors verify management’s disclosures. Sarbanes-Oxley also created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) to oversee public company audits, including the audits of internal control reporting. The PCAOB, in turn, conducts regular inspections to ensure compliance with laws, rules and professional standards.

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Shareholder Proposal Developments During the 2015 Proxy Season    

Elizabeth Ising is a partner and Co-Chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Ms. Ising, Sarah E. Fortt, Madison A. Jones, Gillian McPhee, Ronald O. Mueller, Kasey Levit Robinson, and Lori Zyskowski. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

This post provides an overview of shareholder proposals submitted to public companies for 2015 shareholder meetings, including statistics, notable decisions from the staff (the “Staff”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on no-action requests, and information about litigation regarding shareholder proposals.

I. Shareholder Proposal Statistics and Voting Results

A. Shareholder Proposals Submitted

According to data from Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”), shareholders have submitted approximately 943 proposals for 2015 shareholder meetings, which surpasses the total of 901 proposals submitted as of a comparable time last year. For 2015, across four broad categories of shareholder proposals—governance and shareholder rights; environmental and social issues; executive compensation; and corporate civic engagement (which includes proposals regarding contributions to or membership in political, lobbying, or charitable organizations)—the most frequently submitted proposals were governance and shareholder rights proposals (with approximately 352 submitted), largely due to the unprecedented number of proxy access proposals (108 proposals). If not for the dramatic rise in the number of proxy access proposals, proposals on environmental and social issues would have again comprised the largest category of proposals (with approximately 324 submitted), continuing a trend that began in 2014.

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SEC Proposes Compensation Clawback Rules

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Excess-Pay Clawbacks by Jesse Fried and Nitzan Shilon (discussed on the Forum here).

On July 1, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), by a 3-2 vote, proposed long-awaited rules [1] mandated by Section 954 of the Dodd-Frank Act that would direct the national securities exchanges and associations to establish listing standards that would require any company to adopt, disclose and comply with a compensation clawback policy as a condition to listing securities on a national securities exchange or association. With the proposal of the clawback rules, the SEC has now proposed or adopted rules to implement all of the Dodd-Frank Act provisions relating to executive compensation.

The clawback policy would be required to provide that, in the event that the company is required to prepare an accounting restatement due to material noncompliance with any financial reporting requirement under the securities laws, the company would recover from any of its current or former executive officers (not just named executive officers) who received incentive-based compensation during the preceding three-year period based on the erroneous data, any such compensation in excess of what would have been paid under the accounting restatement. In addition to requiring that a company file its clawback policy as an exhibit to its annual report on Form 10-K or 20-F, as applicable, the proposed rules would require proxy statement disclosure of certain actions taken pursuant to the clawback policy.
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Revisiting the Regulatory Framework of the US Treasury Market

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Yesterday [July 13, 2015], staff members of the federal agencies that comprise the Interagency Working Group for Treasury Market Surveillance (“Working Group”) issued a joint report concerning the so-called “flash crash” that occurred in the U.S. Treasury market on October 15, 2014 (the “Report”). I commend the staff of all the agencies for their hard work in putting together the Report, which examined the events of that day and the broader forces that have changed the Treasury market in recent years. This was a difficult undertaking, but the report does an excellent job of discussing the known factors, while acknowledging that more work needs to be done.

The remarkable events of that day, which cannot yet be fully explained, have dispelled any lingering notion that the Treasury market is the staid marketplace it was once thought to be. The transformative changes that swept through the equities and options markets in the past decade have vastly reshaped the landscape of the Treasury market, as well. As a result, the structure, participants, and technological underpinnings of today’s Treasury market are far different than they were just a few years ago.

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SEC Seeks Input on Enhanced Disclosures for Audit Committees

Michael J. Scanlon is a partner and member of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn alert.

At an open meeting held on July 1, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a concept release addressing the prospect of enhanced disclosures for audit committees. The much-publicized concept release is available here and requests comment on a number of possible changes to existing SEC disclosure requirements about the work of audit committees, focusing in particular on audit committees’ selection and oversight of independent auditors. The SEC said that it has issued the release in response to views expressed by some that current disclosures may not provide investors with sufficient information about what audit committees do and how they perform their duties. The release seeks feedback on whether certain audit committee disclosures should be added, removed or modified to provide additional meaningful disclosures to investors.

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Responding to Institutional Investor Requests for Access to Independent Directors

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton and Karessa L. Cain.

Recent statements by BlackRock, State Street, Vanguard and other institutional investors clearly articulate their expectation that companies should provide access to independent directors and should adopt a structure for regular investor/director communications. In responding to these requests, there is a range of approaches that companies could adopt which, in each case, should be tailored to the specific circumstances of the company. Indeed, institutional investors have specifically stated that they do not seek any particular method to ensure access to, and relationships with, directors. However, they have made it clear that it will color their attitude toward the company if the company first begins to provide access to directors only after the company has been attacked by an activist.

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Custodial Bank’s Technical Failure Results in Dell Stockholders Losing Appraisal Rights

Steven Epstein is a partner and Co-Head of the Mergers & Acquisitions practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Epstein, Robert C. Schwenkel, John E. Sorkin, and Gail Weinstein. 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 In re Appraisal of Dell (July 13, 2015), Vice Chancellor Laster, stating that he was compelled by Delaware Supreme Court precedent, applied a “strict” interpretation of the “Continuous Holder Requirement” of the Delaware appraisal statute. The Vice Chancellor, granting summary judgment in favor of Dell, Inc., held that the funds seeking appraisal of almost one million Dell shares (acquired by them after announcement of the Dell going-private transaction) had not met the Continuous Holder Requirement and so had lost their right to appraisal.

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Four Takeaways from Proxy Season 2015

Ann Yerger is an executive director at the EY Center for Board Matters at Ernst & Young LLP. The following post is based on a report from the EY Center for Board Matters.

As the 2015 proxy season concludes, some key developments stand out. Most significantly, a widespread investor campaign for proxy access ignited the season, making proxy access the defining governance topic of 2015.

The campaign for proxy access is closely tied to the increasing investor scrutiny of board composition and accountability, and yet—at the same time—the number of votes opposing director nominees is the lowest in recent years.

Also, the number of shareholder proposal submissions remains high, despite the fact that ongoing dialogue between large companies and their shareholders on governance topics is now mainstream. These developments are occurring against a backdrop of increased hedge fund activism, which continues to keep boards on alert.

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Money Market Mutual Funds: Stress Testing & New Regulatory Requirements

Jeremy Berkowitz is Vice President in NERA’s Global Securities and Finance Practice. This post is based on a NERA publication authored by Dr. Berkowitz, Patrick E. Conroy, and Jordan Milev.

In July 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted a package of reforms to the regulatory framework governing money market mutual funds. The SEC believes the new rules will enhance the safety and soundness of the money market fund industry during periods of market distress, when redemptions in some funds may increase substantially. [1]

The new rules require institutional prime (general purpose) and institutional municipal money market mutual funds to price and transact at a “floating” net asset value (NAV), permit certain money market mutual funds to charge liquidity fees, and allow the use of redemption gates to temporarily halt withdrawals during periods of stress.
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