Seven Myths of Boards of Directors

David Larcker is Professor of Accounting at Stanford University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Larcker and Brian Tayan, Researcher with the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at Stanford University. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Costs of Entrenched Boards by Lucian Bebchuk and Alma Cohen, and How Do Staggered Boards Affect Shareholder Value? Evidence from a Natural Experiment by Alma Cohen and Charles C. Y. Wang.

Corporate governance experts pay considerable attention to issues involving the board of directors. Because of the scope of the board’s role and the vast responsibilities that come with directorship, companies are expected to adhere to common best practices in board structure, composition, and procedures. Our paper, Seven Myths of Boards of Directors, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, reviews seven commonly accepted beliefs about boards of directors that are not substantiated by empirical evidence.


NYSE Expands Rules on Material News and Trading Halts

Stuart H. Gelfond is a partner in the Corporate Department at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Gelfond, Victoria D. Laubach, and Hayley S. Cohen.

Recently, the New York Stock Exchange LLC (“NYSE” or “Exchange”) filed a proposed rule change with the Securities and Exchange Commission to amend the NYSE Listed Company Manual (the “Manual”), effective September 28, 2015. [1] The proposed amendments (i) expand the pre-market hours during which companies with listed securities are required to notify the Exchange prior to disseminating material news, (ii) provide guidance related to the release of material news after the close of trading on the Exchange and (iii) permit the Exchange to halt trading in certain additional circumstances, including when it needs to obtain more information about a listed company’s news release.


Understanding the US Listing Gap

René Stulz is Professor of Finance at Ohio State University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Stulz; Craig Doidge, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Toronto; and Andrew Karolyi, Professor of Finance at Cornell University.

The number of publicly-listed firms in the U.S. peaked in 1996 at 8,025. In that year, the U.S. had 30 listings per million inhabitants. By 2012, it had only 13, or 56% less. Importantly, the decrease in listings occurred in all industries and across both the NYSE and Nasdaq. In our new working paper, entitled The U.S. Listing Gap, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we show that this evolution is specific to the U.S. Listings in the rest of the world, in fact, increased over the same period. The U.S. has developed a “listing gap” relative to other countries with similar investor protection, economic growth, and overall wealth. The listing gap arises in the late 1990s and widens over time. It is statistically significant, economically large, and robust to different measurement approaches. We also find that the U.S. has a listing gap when compared to its own recent history and after controlling for changing capital market conditions.


Putting Technology and Competition to Work for Investors

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s remarks to the Economic Club of New York, 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.

Today [June 20, 2014], I want to speak to you about the current state of our securities markets—an issue that I know is on your minds and one that is well-suited for the financial capital of the world.

The U.S. securities markets are the largest and most robust in the world, and they are fundamental to the global economy. They transform the savings of investors into capital for thousands of companies, add to nest eggs, send our children to college, turn American ingenuity into tomorrow’s innovation, finance critical public infrastructure, and help transfer unwanted financial risks.

The state and quality of our equity markets in particular have received a great deal of attention lately, with a discussion that has expanded well beyond those who regularly think and write about these markets to include every day investors concerned about the investments they make and the savings they depend on. I have been closely focused on these issues since I joined the SEC about a year ago, and I welcome this broader dialogue.


The 2014 Board Practices Survey

Matteo Tonello is Managing Director at The Conference Board. This post relates to The 2014 Board Practices Survey being led by Dr. Tonello; Bruce Aust, Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Client Group at NASDAQ OMX; and Scott Cutler, Executive Vice President and Head of Global Listings at NYSE Euronext. Board members, general counsel, corporate secretaries and corporate governance officers, and investor relations officers of U.S. public companies are invited to participate in the survey; the survey can be completed online by clicking here.

The Conference Board, NASDAQ OMX and NYSE Euronext announced last week the renewal of their research collaboration to document the state of corporate governance practices among publicly listed corporations in the United States.

The centerpiece of the collaboration is The 2014 Board Practice Survey, which the three organizations are disseminating to their respective memberships. Findings will constitute the basis for a benchmarking tool searchable by market index, company size (measured by revenue and asset value) and industry sectors. In addition, they will be described in Director Compensation and Board Practices: 2014 Edition, scheduled to be released jointly in the fall.


NYSE Eliminates 50% Quorum Requirement

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a publication by Robert W. Reeder III, Glen T. Schleyer and Kathryn C. Plunkett.

On July 11, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission published a proposal by the New York Stock Exchange to amend Section 312.07 of the Listed Company Manual, which became effective immediately. Section 312.07 has been revised to remove the requirement that the total votes cast on proposals requiring shareholder approval under the NYSE rules must represent over 50% in interest of all securities entitled to vote on the proposal. The release notes that listed companies are subject to quorum requirements under the laws of their states of incorporation and their governing documents and that requiring companies to comply with a separate NYSE quorum requirement causes confusion and is not necessary for investor protection. In addition, neither NASDAQ nor NYSE MKT has a similar quorum requirement and the removal eliminates a long-standing difference in the treatment of broker non-votes for quorum purposes.

The NYSE rules continue to provide that matters requiring shareholder approval under NYSE rules must receive the support of a majority of votes cast (that is, votes cast “for” must exceed votes cast “against” plus abstentions); the recent change eliminates only the separate quorum requirement.


Court of Chancery Criticizes Recommendation Provision in Merger Agreement

Allen M. Terrell, Jr. is a director at Richards, Layton & Finger. This post is based on a Richards, Layton & Finger publication, and is part of the Delaware law series, which is co-sponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In In re NYSE Euronext Shareholders Litigation, C.A. No. 8136-CS (Del. Ch. May 10, 2013) (TRANSCRIPT), Chancellor Strine of the Court of Chancery, ruling from the bench following oral argument, declined to enjoin preliminarily a stockholder vote on the proposed merger between NYSE Euronext (“NYSE”) and IntercontinentalExchange, Inc. (“ICE”). The Court found that plaintiffs had not established any of the necessary elements for injunctive relief, but nonetheless criticized a provision in the merger agreement that restricted the NYSE board’s ability to change its recommendation when faced with a partial-company competing bid.

The proposed $9.5 billion merger between NYSE and ICE offered NYSE stockholders a mix of cash and stock valued at $33.12 per share. The stock portion of the consideration represented 67 percent of the total consideration offered to NYSE’s stockholders. Based on the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision in In re Santa Fe Pacific Corp. Shareholder Litigation, 669 A.2d 59 (Del. 1995), the Court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that Revlon applied to the mixed-consideration deal. After concluding that Revlon did not apply, the Court considered the reasonableness of the board’s process and concluded that plaintiffs did not have a reasonable probability of success on the merits.


Delaware Court Ruling Raises Questions About Informal NYSE Interpretations

The following post comes to us from Robert Buckholz, partner and co-coordinator of the Corporate and Finance Group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication, and 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.

Louisiana Municipal Police Employees Retirement System v. Bergstein [1] concerns a $120 million equity grant to the Chief Executive Officer of Simon Property Group, Inc. (“SPG”) and a related amendment to SPG’s stock incentive plan that was required to make the grant. The shareholder plaintiff alleges that the board of directors’ amendment of the plan was a breach of fiduciary duty because the plan mandated shareholder approval of amendments where required by law, regulation or applicable stock exchange rules. The defendants moved to dismiss, noting that SPG had received email confirmation from New York Stock Exchange staff that shareholder approval of the amendment was not required under NYSE rules. Ruling from the bench, Chancellor Leo E. Strine, Jr. denied SPG’s motion to dismiss, citing concerns that a staff email did not serve as a definitive interpretation of NYSE rules – particularly where, in Chancellor Stine’s view, the email to the NYSE did not adequately describe the broader circumstances.

The process SPG used is the customary one by which listed companies receive interpretations from the NYSE staff on governance matters, and Chancellor Strine’s ruling is at an early stage of the case. However, until there is more definitive guidance as to the weight that courts will give NYSE staff interpretations, listed companies should bear in mind the Chancery Court’s ruling when evaluating the weight that a court will give an NYSE email interpretation on a governance matter, particularly when evaluating whether a proposed change to an equity compensation plan would require shareholder


NYSE Proposes to Streamline Listing Application Materials and Processes

James C. Morphy is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP specializing in mergers & acquisitions and corporate governance. The following post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication.

On May 13, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission published proposed changes to the New York Stock Exchange Listed Company Manual and listing application materials. The NYSE is proposing to remove the forms of listing agreements and listing applications from the Manual, adopt simplified listing application materials that will be posted on the NYSE’s website and adopt new rules that will codify existing NYSE policies. The proposed changes are an effort to streamline the NYSE’s existing listing application process, remove requirements that are duplicative of NYSE and SEC rules and remove obsolete provisions from the Manual.

Comments on the proposal were due by June 7, 2013. The proposing release does not mention a transition period, and it is possible that the changes will take effect immediately upon SEC approval. Companies that are planning to list securities on the NYSE should monitor the status of this proposal to ensure that they are using the listing materials and processes that are in effect at the time of listing.


Compensation Committee and Adviser Implementation Begins July 1, 2013

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group, and David L. Caplan is a partner and global co-head of the firm’s mergers and acquisitions practice. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

As discussed in our previous memo, in January 2013, the SEC approved amendments to the NYSE and Nasdaq listing standards relating to compensation committees and their advisers. Unless they have already done so, companies should begin implementing the new requirements with respect to compensation committees and their advisers that take effect on July 1, 2013. Compensation committee action is required in order to comply with these requirements.

Companies should note that, while the new rules require compensation committees to consider the independence of their advisers, the rules do not require that such advisers be independent, nor is any aspect of the mandated independence review required to be disclosed publicly (other than proxy disclosure concerning compensation consultants to a company or its compensation committee).

Companies should also note that this independent assessment applies only to advisers; there will be a separate independence assessment of directors required later, as noted below.