Category Archives: Securities Regulation

2016 Proxy Season: Engagement, Transparency, Proxy Access

Howard B. Dicker is a partner in the Public Company Advisory Group of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. This post is based on a Weil publication; the complete publication, including footnotes and appendix, 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).

While shareholders have a wide spectrum of views on corporate objectives, the time horizon for realizing these objectives and environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, there is an emerging consensus that—regardless of size, industry or profitability—public companies must achieve greater accountability to their shareholders, through engagement and transparency, than ever before. Corporate engagement and transparency now take two forms: direct dialogue, increasingly involving directors, and enhanced proxy statement and other public disclosure that sheds light on the company’s strategy and the performance of its board, board committees and management, demonstrates responsiveness to shareholder ESG concerns, and justifies the composition of the board in light of the company’s present needs. Throughout this post, we offer practical suggestions about “what to do now” to meet shareholder expectations about engagement and transparency and to address a host of other new developments for the 2016 proxy season.

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Crowdfunding and the Digital Shareholder

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

After several years of delay, Internet-based securities crowdfunding is finally poised to go live this year thanks to the SEC’s recent issuance of Regulation Crowdfunding. Through crowdfunding, people of modest means will for the first time be legally authorized to make investments that are currently offered exclusively to “accredited” (wealthy) investors. This democratization of entrepreneurial finance sounds great in theory, but will it work in practice? Will non-accredited investors really buy unregistered securities in speculative startups, over the Internet, with only the barest form of disclosure? The conventional wisdom among most legal scholars is, basically, no. In their view, securities crowdfunding is doomed to failure for myriad reasons, including fraud, [1] costs, [2] dilution, [3] adverse selection, [4] opportunism, [5] and more. [6]

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So You’re Thinking of Joining a Public Company Board

David A. Katz is a partner specializing in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and activism, and crisis management at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh that first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

Candidates for directorships on public company boards have much to consider. Potential exposure to legal liability, public criticism, and reputational harm, a complex tangle of applicable regulations and requirements, and a very significant time commitment are facts of life for public company directors in the modern era. The extent to which individuals can effectively manage the risks of directorship often depends on company-specific factors and can be increased through diligence and thoughtful preparation on the part of the director and the company.

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U.S. Uncleared Swap Margin, Capital, and Segregation Rules

Annette Nazareth is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and a former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on a Davis Polk visual memorandum; the complete publication, including charts, is available here.

U.S. prudential regulators (the OCC, Federal Reserve, FDIC, FCA and FHFA) and the CFTC have finalized uncleared swap margin, capital and segregation requirements (the “PR rules,” and “CFTC rules,” respectively, and the “final rules,” collectively).* The PR rules apply to swap entities that are prudentially regulated by a U.S. prudential regulator (“PR CSEs”). The CFTC rules apply to swap entities that are regulated by the CFTC and that are not prudentially regulated (“CFTC CSEs”). In this memorandum, “covered swap entities” refers to PR CSEs and CFTC CSEs, together.

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White Collar and Regulatory Enforcement: What to Expect In 2016

John F. Savarese is a partner in the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum.

One way in which we expect the white-collar/regulatory enforcement regime in 2016 to continue last year’s pattern is that the government’s appetite for extracting enormous fines and penalties from settling companies will likely continue unabated. However, as we discuss below, the manner in which well-advised companies facing criminal or serious regulatory investigations will seek to mitigate such fines and sanctions will likely change in some important respects in 2016. The reason for this expected change is that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced late in 2015 that DOJ was formalizing a requirement that, in order to get “any” cooperation credit, companies must come forward with all available evidence identifying individuals responsible for the underlying misconduct subject to investigation.

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Inversions: Recent Developments

Peter J. Connors is a tax partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. Jason M. Halper is a partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group. This post is based on an article authored by Mr. Connors and Mr. Halper, that was previously published in Law360.

In October 2015, press reports began appearing suggesting that Pfizer Inc., one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and Allergan, an Irish publicly traded pharmaceutical company, were considering entering into the largest inversion in history. Within weeks, the IRS launched its latest missive against inversion transactions. It also put the tax community on notice that more regulatory activity was yet to come.

Companies invert primarily because of perceived disadvantages associated with the U.S. corporate tax system, which has one of the world’s highest tax rates and levies taxes on worldwide income, including income earned by foreign subsidiaries (generally referred to as “controlled foreign corporations”) when repatriated and, at times, prior to repatriation. In its broadest terms, an inversion is the acquisition of substantially all the assets of a U.S. corporation or partnership by a foreign corporation. If a transaction triggers Internal Revenue Code Section 7874, the post-transaction foreign corporation will be treated as a U.S. corporation, and gain that is otherwise recognized on the transaction will not be offset by tax attributes of the U.S. entity, such as net operating losses (NOLs).

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The Biases of an “Unbiased” Optional Takeover Regime

Marco Ventoruzzo is a comparative business law scholar with a joint appointment with the Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law and Bocconi University. This post is based on a recent article authored by Prof. Ventoruzzo and Johannes Fedderke, Professor of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University School of International Affairs.

The conundrum of the perfect balance between mandatory and enabling rules and the role of private ordering in takeover regulation is one of the most relevant and interesting issues regarding the optimal regime for acquisitions of listed corporations. The issue is rife with complex questions and implications, both from a more technical legal perspective and in terms of public choice.

In a recent and compelling article (available here and published in the Harvard Business Law Review in 2014, and discussed on the Forum here), Luca Enriques, Ron Gilson and Alessio Pacces have argued the desirability of an optional, default regime to regulate takeovers particularly in the European Union. According to this approach, which the proponents call “unbiased,” listed corporations should be allowed to opt out of the default regime and use private ordering to tailor more desirable rules on the “pillars” of the European approach: mandatory bid, board neutrality, and breakthrough. More precisely, they suggest a dichotomy, distinguishing already listed corporations and new IPOs: for the former, the default regime should be the one currently in place; for the latter, a regime crafted against the interests of the existing incumbents should be introduced. With adequate protections and procedural rules, the theory goes, it would be easier to achieve a more efficient regulatory structure.

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Corporate Control and Idiosyncratic Vision

Zohar Goshen is the Alfred W. Bressler Professor of Law, Columbia Law School and Professor of Law at Ono Academic College. Assaf Hamdani is the Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz Professor of Corporate Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Goshen and Professor Hamdani.

Prominent technology firms such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon, Yelp, and Alibaba have gone public with the controversial dual-class structure to allow their controlling shareholders to preserve their indefinite, uncontestable control over the corporation. Similarly, in the concentrated ownership structure, a person or entity—the controlling shareholder—holds an effective majority of the firm’s voting and equity rights to preserve control. Indeed, most public corporations around the world have controlling shareholders, and concentrated ownership has a significant presence in the United States as well. Unlike diversified minority shareholders, a controlling shareholder bears the extra costs of being largely undiversified and illiquid. Why, then, does she insist on holding a control block?

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2015 Securities Law Developments

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, Paul F. RuganiKatherine L. Maco, Katie Lieberg Stowe, and Suzette Pringle.

On balance, the securities litigation landscape in 2015 offered a glass half-full/glass half-empty perspective for issuers and their officers, directors and advisors. Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, 135 S. Ct. 1318 (2015), the major securities law decision of the 2015 Supreme Court term, afforded defendants relatively greater protection from liability based on public statements of opinion, as long as those opinions are honestly held and have a reasonable factual basis. The SEC suffered several notable setbacks, with some federal courts striking as unconstitutional the highly debated conflict minerals rule and the SEC’s method of appointing administrative law judges. The Second Circuit significantly restricted federal prosecutors’ ability to pursue downstream recipients of non-public information, resulting in a spate of overturned convictions and withdrawn guilty pleas. And although decisions from lower courts within the Second Circuit dismissing derivative lawsuits will be subject to less deferential review, both the Second Circuit and the Delaware Supreme Court reaffirmed that decisions of independent and disinterested boards to reject stockholder demands are entitled to business judgment rule protection, thereby precluding minority shareholder second guessing in private lawsuits. Yet the results were not uniformly favorable to the defense. The SEC took an expansive view of Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower anti-retaliation provision, formalizing its view that such protections apply to whistleblowers who allege retaliation for reporting internally (as opposed to reporting to the SEC). The Second Circuit endorsed the SEC’s view shortly thereafter. And, the early returns from last year’s second Supreme Court decision in Halliburton suggest that rebutting the Basic presumption of reliance through price impact evidence will be a lofty hurdle for defendants at the class certification stage. Below is a roundup of key securities law developments in 2015 and trends for 2016.

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Calculating SEC Civil Money Penalties

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.

In addition to going to court to seek sanctions, the Securities and Exchange Commission may impose civil money penalties in its own administrative proceedings on any person who violates or causes a violation of the securities laws. [1] Unlike district courts, administrative law judges do not have authority to base penalties on respondents’ pecuniary gains resulting from violations. [2] Instead, under the various penalty statutes, maximum penalties in administrative proceedings are based on “each act or omission” violating or causing a violation of the securities laws. Currently, the maximum penalties for each act or omission violating the securities laws are:
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