Monthly Archives: December 2015

Ten Trends in SEC Enforcement Actions

Jonathan N. Eisenberg is partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As 2015 winds down, we offer the following observations about ten important trends in SEC enforcement actions.

1. Increased Number of Enforcement Actions

The number of SEC enforcement actions continues to grow. In FY 2015, the SEC filed 807 enforcement actions, of which 507 were independent actions for violations of the securities laws and 300 were either follow-on actions (e.g., seeking bars against individuals based on prior orders) or actions against issuers who were delinquent in making required filings. This was up from 755 enforcement actions in 2014, of which 413 were independent actions, and that in turn was up from 676 enforcement actions in 2013, of which 341 were independent actions. Total monetary relief ordered rose from $3.4 billion in 2013 to $4.16 billion in 2014 to $4.19 billion in 2015.
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United States v. Litvak: Materiality of Pricing Misstatements

This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell LLP publication by Adam S. ParisSteven R. PeikinMichael H. Steinberg and Alexander B. Gura. Mr. Paris and Mr. Steinberg are partners in the Litigation Group; Mr. Peikin is partner in the Criminal Defense and Investigations Group; and Mr. Gura is a firm associate.

On December 8, 2015, the Second Circuit issued its decision in United States v. Litvak, which reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. Notwithstanding the reversal, the Court reaffirmed the “longstanding principle” that Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is to be construed “flexibly,” and held that misstatements that might otherwise be considered “seller’s talk,” when viewed through the lens of the federal securities laws, may be material and can result in criminal liability.

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Trends in S&P 500 CEO Compensation

Aubrey E. Bout is a Partner in the Boston office of Pay Governance LLP. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Bout, Brian Wilby, and Steve Friedman.

Executive pay continues to be a hotly debated topic in the boardroom among investors and proxy advisors, and it routinely makes headlines in the media. As the U.S. was in the heart of the financial crisis in 2008-2009, CEO total direct compensation (TDC = base salary + actual bonus paid + grant value of long-term incentives) dropped for two consecutive years. As the U.S. stock market sharply rebounded and economy stabilized and started to slowly grow again, CEO TDC also rebounded. Large pay increases occurred in 2010 and they were primarily in the form of larger LTI grants. Since then, year-over-year increases have been fairly moderate—in the 3% to 6% range. While CEO pay increases have been higher than seen for the average employee population, they are well aligned with company stock price performance.

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SEC Guidance on Unbundling in M&A Context

Nicholas O’Keefe is a partner in the Corporate Department at Kaye Scholer LLP. This post is based on a Kaye Scholer memorandum authored by Mr. O’Keefe. The complete publication, including Annex, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about bundling includes Bundling and Entrenchment by Lucian Bebchuk and Ehud Kamar (discussed on the Forum here).

On October 27, 2015, the SEC issued new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (the 2015 C&DIs) regarding unbundling of votes in the M&A context. The 2015 C&DIs address the circumstances under which either a target or an acquiror in an M&A transaction must present unbundled shareholder proposals in its proxy statement relating to provisions in the organizational documents of the public company that results from the deal. The 2015 C&DIs replace SEC guidance given in the September 2004 Interim Supplement to Publicly Available Telephone Interpretations (the 2004 Guidance). According to public statements of the SEC, and contrary to perceptions created by the news media, [1] the 2015 C&DIs represent a slight change from, and clarification to, the 2004 Guidance. The following is a brief overview of the unbundling rules, a summary of key differences between the 2015 C&DIs and the 2004 Guidance, and some observations about the practical implications of the changes.

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FAST Act: Capital Formation Changes and Reduced Disclosure Burdens

Stacy J. Kanter is co-head of the global Corporate Finance practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. This post is based on a Skadden alert by Ms. Kanter, David J. Goldschmidt, Michael J. Zeidel, and Brian V. Breheny.

On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), which, despite its name, contains several new provisions designed to facilitate capital formation and reduce disclosure burdens imposed on companies under the federal securities laws. The provisions build upon the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), which created a new category of issuers called “emerging growth companies” (EGCs) [1] and sought to encourage EGCs to go public in the United States. [2] The FAST Act provisions, which were first introduced in a package of bills often called “JOBS Act 2.0,” are the culmination of a continuing congressional effort to increase initial public offerings (IPOs) by EGCs, reduce the burdens on smaller companies seeking to conduct registered offerings and provide trading liquidity for securities of private companies.

While some of the new provisions require rulemaking by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) before they are effective, other provisions of the FAST Act amend the Securities Act itself and therefore are effective, with an immediate effect on current offerings.

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Public Audit Oversight and Reporting Credibility

Christian Leuz is the Sondheimer Professor of International Economics, Finance and Accounting at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is also an Economic Advisor to the PCAOB. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Leuz; Brandon Gipper, Ph.D. Candidate in Accounting at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Economic Research Fellow at the PCAOB; and Mark Maffett, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

As the accounting scandals in the early 2000s illustrated, reliable financial reporting is a cornerstone of trust in the stock market, which in turn plays a key role for investor participation (Guiso et al., 2008). In an effort to restore trust in financial reporting after the scandals, the U.S. Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (hereafter, “SOX”). One of its core provisions was the creation of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (hereafter, the “PCAOB”) and the requirement that the PCAOB inspect all audit firms (hereafter, “auditors”) of SEC-registered public companies (hereafter, “firms” or “issuers”). The introduction of the PCAOB represents a major regime shift, replacing self-regulation with public oversight.

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A Busy Year in U.S. M&A Antitrust Enforcement

Ilene Knable Gotts is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum authored by Ms. Gotts and Franco Castelli.

As M&A activity reached an unprecedented level in 2015, the U.S. antitrust agencies continued to actively investigate and pursue enforcement actions impacting transactions in many sectors of the economy. The overall level of merger enforcement was roughly in line with the aggressive levels of the past few years, with the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice on a combined basis initiating court challenges to block seven proposed deals and requiring remedies in 23 more. In addition, companies abandoned four transactions due to opposition from the antitrust agencies.

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Regulatory Competition and the Market for Corporate Law

Ofer Eldar is a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Management. This post is based on an article authored by Mr. Eldar and Lorenzo Magnolfi, a doctoral candidate at Yale Economics Department. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

There is a longstanding debate in corporate law and governance over the merit of competition for corporate laws. “Race to the top” scholars point to the fact that Delaware, the state where most public firms are incorporated, has laws that are highly responsive to business and has been a laggard in enacting anti-takeover statutes. Proponents of the “race to the bottom” have shown that firms are more likely to incorporate in their home state when that state has adopted more anti-takeover statutes. More recently, they have highlighted the recent rise of firm incorporations in Nevada, following a 2001 Nevada law, which exempts managers from liability for breaching their fiduciary duties. Finally, skeptics of competition argue that it is impossible for states to compete with Delaware by simply replicating its laws, and that relatively few firms reincorporate from one state to another.

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The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Amendment and Privacy Disclosure

David  M. Geffen is a Senior Attorney at Ropes & Gray LLP. This post is based on a Ropes & Gray Alert.

On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law the nearly 500-page Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which included an amendment of the consumer privacy provisions within the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (the “Amendment”). The Amendment, which went into effect immediately, significantly reduces the need for financial institutions to provide an annual privacy disclosure to consumers that describes the financial institution’s privacy policies and practices. If a financial institution satisfies certain conditions (described below), it need not provide an annual privacy disclosure.
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SEC Enforcement Actions Against Broker-Dealers

Jon N. Eisenberg is partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

In its 2015 Financial Report, the SEC repeated its view that one of the two principal purposes of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is to ensure that “people who sell and trade securities—brokers, dealers and exchanges—must treat investors fairly and honestly, putting investors’ interests first.” Broker-dealers have been and remain a critical focus of the Commission’s enforcement program. In the first 11 months of 2015, the SEC brought enforcement actions against broker-dealers in approximately two dozen distinct areas, with sanctions ranging from less than $100,000 to nearly $180 million.

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