Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Iliad and the IPO

Andrew A. Schwartz is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Colorado Law School. This post is based on Professor Schwartz’s recent article published in The Harvard Business Law Review, available here.

Many public companies have shed takeover defenses in recent years, on the theory that such defenses reduce share price. Yet new data presented in my latest article, Corporate Legacy, shows that practically all new public companies—those launching their initial public offering (IPO)—go public with powerful takeover defenses in place, which presumably depresses the price of the shares. This behavior seems strange, as pre-IPO shareholders both have a strong incentive to maximize the value of the shares being sold in the IPO and are in position to control whether to adopt takeover defenses. Why do founders and early investors engage in this seemingly counterproductive behavior? In Corporate Legacy, I look to a surprising place, the ancient Greek epic poem, the Iliad, for a solution to this important puzzle, and claim that pre-IPO shareholders adopt strong takeover defenses, at least in part, so that the company can remain independent indefinitely and thus create a corporate legacy that may last for generations.

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Clarity in Commission Orders

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.

This statement is about the critical importance of clarity in Commission Orders for enforcement actions. One of the Commission’s most effective deterrents against future misconduct is what it says about the enforcement actions it takes. As a result, the Commission must use its position as a regulatory authority to carefully and effectively send clear messages to securities industry participants regarding what is, and what is not, acceptable behavior. For this reason, Commission Orders need to contain sufficiently detailed facts so that there is no doubt as to why the Commission brought an enforcement action, why the respondent deserved to be sanctioned, and why the Commission imposed the sanctions it did.

The Commission and its staff should always be cognizant that there is a broad audience that carefully reads Commission Orders for guidance. This broad audience is usually not familiar with the underlying facts of a particular matter, and is relying on the Order’s description of the misconduct to appreciate why a named respondent ran afoul of the applicable laws. A clear and transparent Commission Order, therefore, is an absolute necessity to ensure public transparency and accountability.

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A Framework for Understanding Financial Institutions

Robert Merton is Professor of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Merton and Richard Thakor, also of the Finance Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Many financial intermediaries provide “credit-sensitive” financial services—the effective delivery of these services depends on the credit-worthiness of the provider. This potential sensitivity of the perceived value of the intermediary’s services to the intermediary’s credit risk has important ramifications. In the paper, Customers and Investors: A Framework for Understanding Financial Institutions, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine how this affects the design of contracts between intermediaries and their customers, and how it illuminates ubiquitous features in a wide variety of contracts, institutions, and regulatory practices.

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Proxy Access Proposals

Avrohom J. Kess is partner and head of the Public Company Advisory Practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum by Mr. Kess, Karen Hsu Kelley, and Yafit Cohn. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

This year was a break-through year for shareholder proposals seeking to implement proxy access, a mechanism allowing shareholders to nominate directors and have those nominees listed in the company’s proxy statement and on the company’s proxy card. It is estimated that over 100 proxy access proposals were submitted to public companies during the 2015 proxy season, 75 of which were submitted by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on behalf of the New York City pension funds he oversees. Stringer’s “2015 Boardroom Accountability Project” affected companies in diverse industries and with a range of market capitalizations, but explicitly targeted companies with purportedly weak track records on board diversity, climate change or say-on-pay. The Comptroller’s proposals, which were precatory and identical regardless of the company’s market capitalization, generally called for the right of shareholders owning three percent of the company’s outstanding shares for at least three years to nominate up to 25% of the board in the company’s proxy materials.
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Comparative Corporate Law Casebook

Marco Ventoruzzo is a comparative business law scholar with a joint appointment with the Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law and Bocconi University.

Comparative Corporate Law is at the center of the scholarly debate, has a growing practical importance, and has become a staple course offered by most law schools and universities around the world, often in English independently of their location. The theoretical and practical reasons for this development are too obvious and well-known to be listed here. Yet there are few teaching resources that offer a systematic, in-depth, but also enjoyable analysis of the subject.

With our new book, Comparative Corporate Law (West Academic Press, 2015), we have tried to fill this gap. The book has been designed to be used in different legal systems and for different courses, primarily for law students, but not only: also students of business administration, economics, political science and international relationships might benefit from it. The book can be used in the basic course on corporations, as a complement to add a comparative and international dimension, and it can—more likely—be used in an upper-division course specifically dedicated to Comparative Corporate Law, or similar courses (Comparative Corporate Governance, Comparative Business Law, Comparative Corporate Finance, etc.).

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Fed’s Final G-SIB Surcharge Rule

Dan Ryan is Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC publication by Roozbeh Alavi, Lance Auer, and Kevin Clarke.

On July 20th, the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) finalized its capital surcharge rule for the eight US global systemically important banks (G-SIBs). [1] The rule (which was proposed last December), implements the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s (BCBS) related standard in the US, but adds a second US-specific methodology that incorporates a charge against a G-SIB’s reliance on short-term wholesale funding (STWF). Under the final rule, a US G-SIB’s surcharge would be set as the higher number calculated under the BCBS methodology and under the US-specific methodology incorporating STWF. The surcharge will be phased in over three years (in 25% increments) beginning January 1, 2016. Along with the capital conservation buffer, the G-SIB surcharge sets a new risk-based capital bar for US G-SIBs. [2]

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Proposed Regulations May Affect Fee Waivers

David I. Shapiro is a is a tax partner resident at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Shapiro, Michelle GoldBrian Kniesly, and Christopher Roman.

The Department of the Treasury and the IRS have issued proposed regulations regarding “disguised payments for services” under Section 707(a)(2)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code. The proposed regulations appear to be primarily focused on management fee waivers (and similar arrangements), but could also affect certain aspects of the tax treatment of carried interest.

Management fee waivers are a planning technique seen mostly in the private equity fund industry, where a fund manager waives a share of its management fee in exchange for a share of future profits (that is separate from any carried interest otherwise payable), often in amounts that are intended to replicate the foregone management fees. Management fee waivers are generally intended to achieve certain benefits, including deferring the receipt of taxable income by the fund sponsor, allowing the fund sponsor to meet its capital commitment to a fund on a non-cash basis, and providing for potentially more favorable tax rates applicable to individuals (i.e., if the underlying share of profits is comprised of long-term capital gain). Management fee waivers have been utilized in different forms, over many years, including arrangements which effectively amount to a package of a higher carried interest and a lower management fee, as well as arrangements which are structured as annual elective waivers. Different arrangements vary in the manner and priority in which waived amounts are paid out of future partnership profit.

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Court Rules on Halliburton II

Jonathan C. Dickey is partner and Co-Chair of the National Securities Litigation Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn publication. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Rethinking Basic by Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell (discussed on the Forum here).

On July 27, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued its anticipated decision on remand from Halliburton, Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2398 (2014) (“Halliburton II“), where the United States Supreme Court held that a defendant in a securities fraud class action could introduce evidence of a lack of price impact at the class certification stage to show the absence of predominance. Although the case involved facts that arguably are unique to Halliburton’s particular public disclosures, the plaintiffs’ bar may look to the decision as a roadmap for how to meet the Supreme Court’s price impact test in future cases.

Based on the expert evidence presented on remand, the District Court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification as to one alleged corrective disclosure but denied the motion as to the other five alleged corrective disclosures. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co., No. 3:02-CV-1152-M, slip op. at 1 (N.D. Tex. July 25, 2015). And as to that one disclosure, the court declined to entertain at the class certification stage Halliburton’s argument that the disclosure was not corrective of the alleged misrepresentation. While there may be continued debate regarding certain of the court’s legal conclusions—including whether a court may properly consider at class certification whether a disclosure was even corrective—the opinion demonstrates what most defendants argue Halliburton II requires: a careful and thorough analysis of defendant’s evidence of a lack of price impact. Beyond that, the court’s ruling may raise more questions than it answered.

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SEC Adopts Pay Ratio Disclosure Rules

Michael J. Segal is partner in the Executive Compensation and Benefits Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Segal and Michael J. Schobel. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

The SEC yesterday [August 5, 2015] voted 3-2 to adopt the long-awaited final pay ratio disclosure rules under the Dodd-Frank Act. The rules add new Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K, which will require SEC reporting companies to disclose annually (1) the median of the annual total compensation of all of their employees, excluding the CEO, (2) the annual total compensation of the CEO and (3) the ratio of the annual total compensation of the median employee to the CEO’s annual total compensation. Below is a brief summary of the final rules.

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SEC Chair’s Statement on Pay Ratio

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. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

To say that the views on the pay ratio disclosure requirement are divided is an obvious understatement. Since it was mandated by Congress, the pay ratio rule has been controversial, spurring a contentious and, at times, heated dialogue. The Commission has received more than 287,400 comment letters, including over 1,500 unique letters, with some asserting the importance of the rule to shareholders as they consider the issue of appropriate CEO compensation and investment decisions, and others asserting that the rule has no benefits and will needlessly cause issuers to incur significant costs.

These differences in views were evident at the time the Commission voted to propose the pay ratio rule. That the Commission was even considering the rule proposal was, for example, criticized as contrary to our mission. We may hear similar thoughts today [August 5, 2015].

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