Tag: Misreporting

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:

Omnicare in Action: City of Westland Decision

Aric H. Wu is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Mr. Wu and Michael J. Kahn.

When the Supreme Court issued its decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund, 135 S. Ct. 1318 (2015), plaintiff and defense counsel had warring views on what its practical impact would be, particularly at the motion to dismiss stage of securities class actions brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. A recent decision from the Southern District of New York, City of Westland Police and Fire Retirement System v. MetLife, Inc., 2015 WL 5311196 (S.D.N.Y Sept. 11, 2015) (Kaplan, J.), shows that Omnicare will serve as a meaningful bar to plaintiffs who seek to base federal securities law claims on statements of opinion, but cannot plead sufficient underlying facts.


Materiality as Pleading Obstacle

Brad S. Karp is chairman and partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. This post is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

Claims brought under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Act”) are typically challenging for defendants to dismiss. Some defendants may have affirmative defenses, but most of the Act’s provisions impose strict liability for alleged misstatements—meaning that a plaintiff need not plead scienter—and claims brought under the Act are subject to the relatively low pleading standard imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Further, although plaintiffs suing under the Act must allege facts sufficient to show that the purported misstatements were material, courts are generally reluctant to dismiss for failure to plead this element because materiality is an inherently fact-bound inquiry.

Notwithstanding these principles, on September 29, 2015, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Oetken, J.) dismissed a putative class action brought under the Act on the ground that the complaint’s materiality allegations failed as a matter of law. The opinion provides valuable insights on how to defeat other Act claims on similar grounds. [1]


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.


SEC Enforcement Actions Over Stock Transaction Reporting Obligations

The following post comes to us from Ronald O. Mueller, partner in the securities regulation and corporate governance practice area of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn alert.

On September 10, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced an unprecedented enforcement sweep against 34 companies and individuals for alleged failures to timely file with the SEC various Section 16(a) filings (Forms 3, 4 and 5) and Schedules 13D and 13G (the “September 10 actions”). [1] The September 10 actions named 13 corporate officers or directors, five individuals and 10 investment firms with beneficial ownership of publicly traded companies, and six public companies; all but one settled the claims without admitting or denying the allegations. The SEC emphasized that the filing requirements may be violated even inadvertently, without any showing of scienter. Notably, among the executives targeted by the SEC were some who had provided their employers with trading information and relied on the company to make the requisite SEC filings on their behalf.


Window Dressing in Mutual Funds

The following post comes to us from Vikas Agarwal and Gerald Gay, both of the Department of Finance at Georgia State University, and Leng Ling of the College of Business at Georgia College & State University.

In our paper, Window Dressing in Mutual Funds, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we investigate an alleged agency problem in the mutual fund industry. This problem involves fund managers attempting to mislead investors about their true ability by trading in such a manner that they disclose at quarter ends disproportionately higher (lower) holdings in stocks that have recently done well (poorly). The portfolio churning associated with this practice of window dressing has potentially damaging effects on both fund value and performance.


The Misrepresentation of Earnings

The following post comes to us from Ilia Dichev, Professor of Accounting at Emory University; John Graham, Professor of Finance at Duke University; Campbell Harvey, Professor of Finance at Duke University; and Shivaram Rajgopal, Professor of Accounting at Emory University.

While hundreds of research papers discuss earnings quality, there is no agreed-upon definition. We take a unique perspective on the topic by focusing our efforts on the producers of earnings quality: Chief Financial Officers. In our paper, The Misrepresentation of Earnings, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we explore the definition, characteristics, and determinants of earnings quality, including the prevalence and identification of earnings misrepresentation. To do so, we conduct a large-scale survey of 375 CFOs on earnings quality. We supplement the survey with 12 in-depth interviews with CFOs from prominent firms.


Executives’ ‘Off-the-Job’ Behavior, Corporate Culture, and Financial Reporting Risk

The following post comes to us from Robert Davidson of the Accounting Area at Georgetown University, Aiyesha Dey of the Department of Accounting at the University of Minnesota, and Abbie Smith, Professor of Accounting at the University of Chicago.

In our paper, Executives’ ‘Off-the-Job’ Behavior, Corporate Culture, and Financial Reporting Risk, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we examine how and why two aspects of top executives’ behavior outside the workplace, as measured by their legal infractions and ownership of luxury goods, are related to the likelihood of future misstated financial statements, including fraud and unintentional material reporting errors. We investigate two potential channels through which executives’ outside behavior is linked to the probability of future misstatements: (1) the executive’s propensity to misreport (hereafter “propensity channel”); and (2) changes in corporate culture (hereafter “culture channel”).


Are Hedge Fund Managers Systematically Misreporting? Or Not?

The following post comes to us from Philippe Jorion and Christopher Schwarz, both of the Finance Area at the University of California at Irvine.

The hedge fund industry has grown tremendously over the last two decades. While this growth is due to a number of factors, one explanation is that its performance-based compensation system creates incentives for managers to generate alpha. This incentive system, however, could also motivate some managers to manipulate net asset values or commit outright fraud. Due to the light regulatory environment hedge funds operate in and their secretive nature, monitoring managers is generally difficult for investors and regulators.

In response, recent research has attempted to infer malfeasance directly from the distribution of hedge fund returns. In particular, the finding of a pervasive discontinuity in the distribution of net returns around zero has been interpreted as evidence that hedge fund managers systematically manipulate the reporting of NAVs to minimize the frequency of losses. This literature, however, has not recognized that performance fees distort the pattern of net returns.

In our paper, Are Hedge Fund Managers Systematically Misreporting? Or Not?, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we show that inferring misreporting based on a kink at zero can be misleading when ignoring incentive fees. Because these fees are applied asymmetrically to positive and negative returns, the distribution of net returns should display a natural discontinuity around zero. In other words, there is a mechanical explanation for the observed kink in the distribution of net returns. We demonstrate this effect by showing that funds without incentive fees have no discontinuity at zero until we add hypothetical incentive fees to their returns.


Regulating the Timing of Disclosure

The following post comes to us from Lisa Bryant-Kutcher of the Department of Accounting at Colorado State University, Emma Peng of the Accounting Area at Fordham, and David Weber of the Department of Accounting at the University of Connecticut.

In our paper, Regulating the Timing of Disclosure: Insights from the Acceleration of 10-K Filing Deadlines, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, we examine how regulatory reforms that accelerate 10-K filing deadlines in 2003 affect the reliability of accounting information. The intended purpose of the new deadlines is to improve the efficiency of capital markets by making accounting information available to market participants more quickly. However, accelerating filing deadlines compresses the time available for firms and their auditors to prepare, review, and audit accounting reports, suggesting potential costs in the form of increased misstatements and lower reliability. We provide empirical evidence on the effects of accelerating deadlines by comparing the likelihood of restatement of 10-K filings before and after the rule change.