September 2013

CEO pay ratio disclosure will not have the intended effectCompensation of public company executives re-emerged back into the public limelight after the recent financial crisis which began in late 2007. The public perception was one of outrage in large part due to the fact that many investors in public companies were experiencing significant losses in their investment portfolios while CEOs and other executives were still being paid record levels of compensation and bonuses.

As a direct result, Congress enacted a number of new laws intended to fix these perceived social injustices, most of which were included in the Dodd-Frank Act. Section 953(b) of Dodd-Frank, for example, was a highly controversial part of Dodd-Frank which directed the SEC to adopt rules requiring  public companies to disclose the ratio of the CEO’s total compensation to that of its median employee. The crux of the controversy surrounding this rule related to how companies should determine median employee salary. Should part-time employees be included or just full-time employees? How should companies treat international employees in countries that have significantly lower relative wages as compared to the U.S.? Another concern of critics was whether the pay ratio metric was useful for investors.

On September 18, 2013, the SEC promulgated proposed rules regarding CEO pay ratio disclosures. As required by the Dodd-Frank Act, the proposal would amend existing executive compensation disclosure rules to require companies to disclose:

  • The median of the annual total compensation of all its employees except the CEO.
  • The annual total compensation of its CEO.
  • The ratio of the two amounts.

The proposed rule would not specify any required calculation methodologies for identifying the median employee in terms of total compensation for all employees.  Instead, it would allow companies to select a methodology that is appropriate to the size and structure of their own businesses and the way they compensate employees.

Like the other SEC disclosure rules mandated by Dodd-Frank, it seems that Congress is attempting to indirectly fix situations it views as problematic for one reason or another by mandating that public companies disclose certain things in their public filings. I presume the thought is that companies will be incentivized to change their practices so as not to be publicly shamed through these disclosures in their public filings. My presumption is supported, to some extent, by Continue Reading Government mandated pay ratio disclosure will fail to achieve its intended objectives

The next big tech IPO is in the works. Twitter, the hugely popular short message social media site, announced last week that it has filed a Form S-1 registration statement with the SEC in connection with the company’s proposed initial public offering. This IPO has been rumored and anticipated for some time, and it will generate substantial interest among members of the tech and investment communities. This offering may not have the impact of last year’s Facebook IPO, but it will be close.

Twitter appropriately announced its planned IPO in a tweet on September 12:

Twitter announces IPO in tweet

(followed by a “get back to work” tweet):

Twitter IPO

This offering should proceed more smoothly and productively than the ill-fated Facebook IPO. The various participants in the IPO process learned a lot from the significant problems that the Facebook IPO encountered, and in some cases these lessons were driven home by significant monetary penalties (See my prior blog post regarding the Facebook IPO and its problems). No one wants a repeat of that situation, especially with such a high profile IPO. Twitter has also always impressed me as a more thoughtful and rational company than some in the tech space, and this should carry through in their IPO.

In its IPO filing process Twitter took advantage of one of the key available provisions of the JOBS Act. Section 6(e) of the Securities Act allows an “emerging growth company” to file an IPO registration statement on a confidential basis. This provision is designed to give the company and the SEC time to identify and work through potential problem areas or issues before investors see any information. It also allows companies to keep material nonpublic information confidential until late in the SEC review process. If the company decides not to proceed with its IPO, it has avoided the public disclosure of this information. If the company and the SEC can work out these problems and issues satisfactorily, the registration statement (amended as necessary) eventually becomes available to the public and the IPO process goes forward. This should make the registration process very quick and efficient after it emerges from the initial SEC review.

This confidential filing opportunity has been popular with emerging growth companies. According to an Ernst & Young JOBS Act study, approximately 63% of eligible companies used this process during the first year of its availability under the JOBS Act. The SEC has published a set of helpful FAQ’s which clarify many components of this confidential filing process.

Twitter added one interesting change to this Continue Reading Twitter announces its IPO in a tweet

SEC wants you to confessSEC Chair Mary Jo White has indicated that the SEC will require that, in certain cases, admissions be made as a condition of settling rather than permitting the defendant to “neither admit nor deny” the allegations in the complaint of its enforcement action.  The move marks a departure from the typical practice at the SEC and many other civil federal regulatory agencies of allowing defendants to settle cases without admitting or denying the charges.  The policy of allowing defendants to neither admit nor deny the allegations has been increasingly criticized for its inherent lack of transparency regarding both the alleged wrongdoing and the corresponding disgorgement and forfeiture penalties.

According to White, the new policy will apply only in select cases, such as those where there is egregious conduct and/or wide spread public interest. While the precise parameters of the new policy have not been specified, White did note that the new policy would be applied on a case by case basis and that for most cases currently settling, the old policy would still apply.

Debate about the old policy began about two years ago, when Judge Jed S. Rakoff rejected a $285 million settlement that the SEC negotiated with Citigroup, in part because the deal included “neither admit nor deny” language.  The SEC has appealed, and the case is pending before a panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Since then, a handful of other judges have voiced their discomfort with allowing defendants to pay fines without admitting liability.

In previously defending the old policy, the SEC has argued that most defendants would refuse to settle if they had to admit wrongdoing.  Essentially, companies and executives would rather fight in court than admit liability and face additional liability in parallel civil lawsuits, as well as the added difficulty of losing director and officer indemnification coverage which often pays the legal fees for corporate officers (a benefit which can be lost if Continue Reading It was me! SEC to toss “neither admit nor deny” policy in certain cases

SEC wants you to confessSEC Chair Mary Jo White has indicated that the SEC will require that, in certain cases, admissions be made as a condition of settling rather than permitting the defendant to “neither admit nor deny” the allegations in the complaint of its enforcement action.  The move marks a departure from the typical practice at the SEC and many other civil federal regulatory agencies of allowing defendants to settle cases without admitting or denying the charges.  The policy of allowing defendants to neither admit nor deny the allegations has been increasingly criticized for its inherent lack of transparency regarding both the alleged wrongdoing and the corresponding disgorgement and forfeiture penalties.

According to White, the new policy will apply only in select cases, such as those where there is egregious conduct and/or wide spread public interest. While the precise parameters of the new policy have not been specified, White did note that the new policy would be applied on a case by case basis and that for most cases currently settling, the old policy would still apply.

Debate about the old policy began about two years ago, when Judge Jed S. Rakoff rejected a $285 million settlement that the SEC negotiated with Citigroup, in part because the deal included “neither admit nor deny” language.  The SEC has appealed, and the case is pending before a panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Since then, a handful of other judges have voiced their discomfort with allowing defendants to pay fines without admitting liability.

In previously defending the old policy, the SEC has argued that most defendants would refuse to settle if they had to admit wrongdoing.  Essentially, companies and executives would rather fight in court than admit liability and face additional liability in parallel civil lawsuits, as well as the added difficulty of losing director and officer indemnification coverage which often pays the legal fees for corporate officers (a benefit which can be lost if Continue Reading It was me! SEC to toss "neither admit nor deny" policy in certain cases