March 2016

Two news items from the front lines:

First, you may recall my mentioning that the Council of Institutional Investors was considering adopting a new policy that would limit newly public companies’ ability to include “shareholder-unfriendly” provisions in their organizational documents (see “Caveat Issuer“, posted on February 13).  I just came back from Washington, DC, where I attended the Council’s Spring Meeting, and the new policy appears to have been adopted as proposed.  While the text of the new policy was not made available at the meeting, and has yet to be posted on the Council’s website, it appears to provide that while some of these provisions can be in place when a company goes public, others — such as plurality voting for directors in uncontested elections — should be absent from the get-go.

By the way, my hotel room had a lovely view of the Jefferson Memorial, and the cherry blossoms were about to pop.

In other news, the SEC has announced, by way of a Sunshine Act Notice, that at an open meeting to be held on March 30 it “will consider whether to issue a concept release seeking comment on modernizing certain business and financial disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K”.  Looks like the disclosure effectiveness program may be moving forward.  Watch this space for details.

Bob

According to SEC Chair White, regulators are looking – and not happily – at companies’ increasing use of customized financial disclosures.  In fact, her recent remarks suggest that additional regulation is not being ruled out to curb the use of such “bespoke” data.

For some of us it may seem like only yesterday – though it was actually in 2003 – that the SEC adopted Regulation G to address the then-growing concern that companies were developing odd ways of communicating financial information to make their numbers look better.   In general, Reg G says that companies

  1. cannot make non-GAAP disclosures more prominent than GAAP disclosures;
  2. need to explain why they use non-GAAP disclosures; and
  3. must provide a reconciliation showing how each non-GAAP measure derives from the GAAP financial statements.

So far, so good.  However, some companies give little more than lip service to these requirements.  For example, it’s not unusual to see Item 2 addressed by a statement along the lines of “investors who follow the company use this measure to assess its performance.”  And, more recently, companies seem to be developing more peculiar ways of showing performance, such as excluding the effects of some taxes but not others.  This creativity may not be as arch as excluding recurring items or turning losses into gains, but it still makes regulators uneasy.

Continue Reading Bespoke financial data?

We are pleased to provide a posting from our colleagues, William K. Hill, a shareholder in Gunster’s Business Litigation practice group, and Joshua A. Levine, an associate in that practice group.

On January 22, 2016, as part of the Delaware Court of Chancery’s decision concerning the stockholder class action challenging Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia, see In re Trulia, Inc. Stockholder Litig., CV 10020-CB, 2016 WL 325008 (Del. Ch. 2016), the Delaware Court extensively discussed the phenomenon of “disclosure settlements” and the Court’s attitude and approach to them.

Courtesy md-signs.com
Courtesy md-signs.com

The Court wrote that, in today’s environment, a public announcement of virtually every transaction involving the acquisition of a public corporation provokes a “flurry” of class action lawsuits alleging that the target’s directors breached their fiduciary duties by agreeing to sell the corporation for an unfair price. The Court explained that the percentage of transactions of $100 million or more that have triggered stockholder litigation in the United States has gone from 39.3% in 2005 to a peak of 94.9% in 2014.

Far too often, the Court explained, such litigation serves no useful purpose for shareholders and only generates fees for “certain lawyers who are regular players in the enterprise of routinely filing hastily drafted complaints on behalf of stockholders.” The plaintiff leverages its threat of an injunction to prevent a transaction from closing, and defendants are incentivized to quickly settle in order to avoid the expense and distraction of litigation and to obtain comprehensive releases as a form of “deal insurance.” Defendants procure settlements by issuing supplemental disclosures to the target’s stockholders before they are asked to vote on the proposed transaction, under the theory that, by having this additional information, stockholders will be better informed when exercising their franchise rights. Once an agreement in principle is reached to settle for supplemental disclosures, the Court must evaluate the fairness of the proposed settlement.

Continue Reading Putting the Brakes on Disclosure Only Settlements