Photo by Gueorgui Tcherednitchenko
President Obama signed the JOBS Act into law on April 5, 2012 amid much fanfare and optimism. Small and medium sized fast-growing technology companies and their executives were especially sanguine about this new act as it appeared that it would provide access to much-needed additional expansion capital. These companies were still reeling from the recession and the substantial reduction in available venture capital financing, and they saw the JOBS Act as a potentially positive event. A little more than two years later, has this initial optimism proved to be warranted? Let’s take a look at some of the provisions of the Act.
A new regulatory structure for crowdfunding was initially the most anticipated provision of the JOBS Act. I never believed that crowdfunding would be as beneficial as some people did, but I hoped that it could provide some additional access to capital for smaller companies which were starved for funds. Unfortunately we are still waiting for the SEC’s final crowdfunding regulations. The SEC appears to be caught between two complaining factions here – one which thinks the proposed rules are too restrictive and won’t work, and one which thinks Continue Reading
In late August, Nasdaq announced changes to their annual listing fees. Generally, the fees will increase effective January 1, 2015, but Nasdaq is also adopting an all-inclusive annual fee and eliminating its quarterly fees. The new annual fee will now include fees related to listing additional shares, record-keeping changes, and substitution listing events. The all-inclusive fee is optional for issuers until January 1, 2018 at which point it becomes mandatory.
Issuers have a choice to make. Option #1 – An issuer can do nothing and continue to pay an annual fee as well as pay the quarterly fees to list additional shares. Under this method, an issuer will experience increased 2015 fees ranging from 0% to 40% depending on how many shares an issuer has outstanding. Generally, the largest increases are for issuers with less than 10 million shares outstanding (14% increase) and for issuers with more than 100 million shares outstanding (40% if there are between 100 and 125 million shares outstanding and 25% if there are more than 150 million shares outstanding). Think of this option as the same as flying on an airplane. You get a seat (usually), but if you want anything else you need to pay.
Option #2 – Elect to Continue Reading
A few months ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld portions of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, known as the “conflicts mineral rule.” The rule, enacted by Congress in July of 2010,requires certain public companies to provide disclosures about the use of specific conflict minerals supplied by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and nine neighboring countries. In the D.C. Circuit case, the National Association of Manufacturers, or NAM, challenged the SECs final rule implementing the conflicts mineral rule, raising Administrative Procedure Act, Exchange Act, and First Amendment claims. The D.C. Circuit agreed with NAM on its third claim and held that the final rule violates the First Amendment to the extent the rule requires regulated companies to report to the SEC and to post on their publically available websites information on any of their products that have not been found to be “DRC conflict free.” Despite this adverse ruling, the SEC made it clear that the conflicts minerals rule is here to stay: in a statement on the effect of the D.C. Circuit’s decision, the SEC communicated its expectation that public companies continue to comply with those deadlines and substantive requirements of the rule that the D.C. Circuit’s decision did not affect. So, what is the conflicts mineral rule, how far does it reach, and what are public companies doing to comply?
In an unusual attempt to curtail human rights abuses in Africa through regulation of U.S. public companies, the conflicts mineral rule requires companies to trace the origins of gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten used in manufacturing and to Continue Reading
Interest in corporate governance has increased exponentially over the last several years, as has shareholder and governmental pressure – often successful – for companies to change how they are governed. Since 2002, we’ve seen Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, higher and sometimes passing votes on a wide variety of shareholder proposals, and rapid growth in corporate efforts to speak with investors. And that’s just for starters.
These developments represent the latest iteration of what has become part of our normal business cycle – scandals (e.g., Enron, WorldCom, Madoff, derivatives), followed by significant declines in stock prices, resulting in public outrage, reform, litigation, and shareholder activism. Now that the economy is rebounding, should we anticipate a return to “normalcy” (whatever that may be)? Are we back to “business as usual”?
Gazing into a crystal ball can be risky, but I’m going to take a chance and say “no.” While our economic problems have abated, I believe that the past is prologue – in other words, we’re going to continue to see more of the same: investor pressure on companies, legislation and regulation seeking a wide variety of corporate reforms, and the like. Some more specific predictions follow:
- Increased Focus on Small- and Mid-Cap Companies: Investors have picked most if not all of the low-hanging governance fruit from large-cap companies. Sure, there are some issues that may generate heat and some corporate “outliers” that investors will continue to attack. However, most big companies have long since adopted such reforms as majority voting in uncontested director elections, elimination of supermajority votes and other anti-takeover provisions, and shareholder ability to call special meetings, to name just a few. If investors (and their partners, the proxy advisory firms) are to continue to grow, Continue Reading
The Securities Edge is excited to announce a new blogger to the fold: Bob Lamm! After a 12-year “hiatus”, Bob has rejoined Gunster.
Bob is widely considered a national expert in the securities and corporate governance space and frequently speaks and writes on securities law, corporate governance, and related topics. Bob’s unparalleled depth of experience will prove to be a great addition to The Securities Edge and Gunster.
Bob has over four decades of in-house experience. His most recent experience was as Assistant General Counsel and Assistant Secretary with Pfizer. In addition to Pfizer, Bob’s previous experience includes service as Vice President and Secretary of W. R. Grace & Co., Senior Vice President – Corporate Governance and Secretary of CA, Inc., and Managing Director, Secretary and Associate General Counsel of FGIC Corporation/Financial Guaranty Insurance Company. Bob also has extensive experience with small- and mid-cap public companies as well as non-profit entities.
At Gunster, Bob will co-chair the Securities and Corporate Governance Practice Group, where his deep expertise will be welcomed in the Florida market.
Bob is a long-term member of the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals. He is the immediate past Chair of the Society’s Securities Law Committee and has served on the Society’s Corporate Practices, Finance and National Conference Committees, and as a member of its Board of Directors. He is also a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board Governance Center.
Bob is a member of the New York State Bar, The Florida Bar, and the American Bar Association (including its Business Law Section and Committees on Corporate Governance and Federal Regulation of Securities). He received a Bachelor of Arts from Brandeis University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.
We are all looking forward to reading some great posts from Bob!
On Thursday, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) announced the launch of a new data verification portal to be used for equity-based compensation plans that U.S. companies submit for approval by their shareholders. This is a welcome change to ISS policy; although call me a cynic, but I believe this new policy has more to do with the SEC Staff’s recent interpretive guidance and less to do with actually improving their product.
Criticism of ISS (and the other proxy advisors) is nothing new. Public companies have long complained about ISS’s conflicts of interest (ISS “grading” issuers’ corporate governance policies and then charging companies a subscription fee to learn how to improve their “grades”). Further, ISS constantly churns their corporate governance policies (presumably) to keep their services relevant. But, the biggest complaint from public companies occurs when ISS makes a recommendation based on erroneous data. In fact, in a study from the Center on Executive Compensation, 17% of respondents reported erroneous analysis of long-term incentive plans and 15% of respondents reported that Continue Reading
There is an attraction for companies to incorporate in Delaware, likely due to the abundance of well-known publicly traded corporations that have chosen to incorporate there. However, it is not necessarily true that the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) is better than corporate laws of other states; it is just more developed due to the abundance of case law interpreting it. This usually provides for greater certainty, which is often looked upon favorably by not only directors and management, but investors as well. On the other hand, it is generally more expensive to incorporate and maintain a Delaware corporation. Unless your company has a physical presence in Delaware, you’ll need to pay for a registered agent who is physically located in the state and who can accept service of process on behalf of your company. Delaware also imposes a franchise tax based on a corporation’s capitalization, which is generally higher than similar fees and taxes imposed by other states (for example, Florida’s annual report fee, the only corporate fee that is required to be paid to the state each year to maintain corporate status, is only $150).
Thus, while there may be good reasons for incorporating or reincorporating in Delaware (e.g., because a private equity investor requires it as a condition for investment), the costs of using a Delaware corporation are probably not justified Continue Reading
Illustration by Royce Bair
Accredited investors have long been critical participants in private financing transactions, and the success of most private financings is largely determined by the participation of these investors and the availability of their capital. State and Federal securities laws have been written or amended to foster and facilitate investment by these accredited investors. Based on recent developments, the standards for qualification as an accredited investor may be changing, and these changes could pose problems for companies seeking financing.
The current requirements for accredited investor status are contained in Rule 501(a) of the 1933 Act. The most commonly used standards for individual investors are a $200,000 annual income (or $300,000 combined income with a spouse) or a $1,000,000 net worth (excluding the value of the investor’s primary residence). Other than the exclusion of the investor’s primary residence (which became effective in 2012), these standards have been in place since 1982 without any changes to reflect the effects of inflation during that period.
Based on these current standards, observers estimate that there are approximately 8.5 million accredited investors in the United States. Some critics have asserted that this number is far higher than it should be, and that many of these people only qualify as accredited investors because Continue Reading
Who says Congress isn’t popular? Well, Congress may become much more popular with public company executives if Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) can make good on his recent promise to challenge the power of proxy advisory firms if the SEC doesn’t act. In a recent keynote speech at an American Enterprise Institute conference on the role of proxy advisory firms in corporate governance, Rep. McHenry stated that proxy advisory firms are a significant issue on Capitol Hill.
As I have blogged about before, there are some real questions as to whether proxy advisory firms actually serve investors’ interests. While ISS and Glass Lewis are entitled to create a business model based on providing services to institutional investors, there has been either a market or regulatory failure that has forced public companies to consider corporate governance policies promulgated by two unregulated proxy advisory firms before making business decisions. Public companies should be making decisions based on what makes sense for their company and their shareholders and not based on trying to meet arbitrary policies of ISS or Glass Lewis (policies that seem to be continuously tweaked to keep the proxy advisory firms services relevant). To be fair, ISS and Glass Lewis claim that their policies aren’t arbitrary at all, but rather their policies reflect their clients’ views. Of course, for that to be the case, all of their institutional investor clients would need to have a monolithic view toward corporate governance.
Because institutional investors may own hundreds or even thousands of positions in public companies, institutional investors do not have the ability or the resources to research all of the issues facing each of those holdings. That is where ISS and Glass Lewis step in to provide guidance to these institutional investors. While some institutional investors have robust voting policies and attempt to make educated and informed voting decisions, Continue Reading
Photo by Sharon Drummond
In a case of first impression, the Delaware Supreme Court held that provisions contained in a nonstock corporation’s bylaws, requiring a plaintiff stockholder to reimburse the corporation’s legal expenses if the plaintiff loses on a claim it has brought against the corporation, are facially valid if adopted properly and for a proper purpose (i.e., not for the purpose of deterring meritorious litigation). The court reached its conclusion in its May 8, 2014 decision based on the following factors and analysis:
- the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) and other Delaware statutes did not forbid the enactment of fee-shifting bylaws;
- the fee-shifting bylaw related to the business of the corporation, the conduct of its affairs, and its rights or powers or the rights or powers of its stockholders, directors, officers or employees because it related to the allocation of risk in connection with intra-corporation litigation (DGCL § 109(b));
- a provision for fee-shifting was not required to be included in the charter and could therefore be adopted in the bylaws (DGCL § 102(a)); and
- because the Delaware Supreme Court has held that bylaws are treated as contracts among a corporation’s stockholders, it was permissible to modify the American attorney’s fees rule (i.e., that each party in litigation bears its own costs and expenses) by adopting a fee-shifting bylaw.
Because of the statutory basis of the court’s decision, the holding was presumed to also apply to ordinary stock corporations. Thus, a fee-shifting bylaw would likely allow Delaware corporations to require the loser of an intra-corporate lawsuit to pay the corporation’s attorney expenses.
In response to the Delaware Supreme Court’s ruling, the Delaware State Bar Association (with significant plaintiff’s attorney membership) was considering a proposed amendment to the DGCL would amend Section 102(b)(6) and add a new Section 331 to clarify that these costs cannot be borne by stockholders of stock corporations. The proposed legislation was expected to be presented to the Delaware General Assembly before the end of the current session and, if passed, would have become effective on August 1, 2014.
However, in a recent development, Continue Reading