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Category Archives: Disclosure Guidance

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The third horseman leaves the paddock

Posted in Bob's Upticks, Compensation, Disclosure Guidance

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone nerdy enough to be reading this blog that the Dodd-Frank Act mandated SEC rulemaking in four areas relating to the disclosure of executive compensation:

  • pay ratio,
  • hedging,
  • clawbacks, and
  • pay-for performance.

These items have been variously referred to as the “four horsemen” (as in apocalypse) or the “gang of four” (as in Chairman Mao’s evil wife and her evil friends).

Up until now, the SEC has been moving at a rather leisurely pace to get the horsemen – er, rules – out. In fact, the SEC’s failure to adopt final pay ratio disclosure rules has generated some criticism (see my recent UpTick). Perhaps for that reason, the SEC seems to be moving forward to propose the remaining rules at a somewhat faster pace. Just about 10 weeks ago, the SEC proposed rules on hedging.

And now the SEC has scheduled an open meeting on April 29 at which it will consider proposing rules for pay-for-performance disclosure. You can find the SEC’s Sunshine Act notice of this meeting here. It’s anyone’s guess what the proposed rules will look like, but the proposals will definitely generate lots of interest. So, for the time being, all I can suggest is “watch this space.” We’ll let you know once we have a chance to see what emerges from the open meeting.

Bob

CEO pay ratios: ineffective disclosure on steroids

Posted in Bob's Upticks, Compensation, Disclosure Guidance

On Sunday, April 12, the Business section of the New York Times led with an article by Gretchen Morgenson taking the SEC to task for not having adopted rules requiring disclosure of CEO pay ratios. This follows similar complaints by members of Congress, most recently in the form of a March letter by 58 Democratic congressmen to Chair White. And going further back – specifically, to Chair White’s Senate confirmation hearing in March 2013 – Senator Warren told Chair-Designate White that SEC action on this rule “should be near the top of your list.”

Really?

I’ve given this a great deal of thought since Congress mandated pay ratio disclosure in the Dodd-Frank Act, and I’ve yet to figure out why – aside from political considerations – so many people think this disclosure is so important or what it will achieve. In fact, when I coordinated a comment letter on the rule proposal as Chair of the Securities Law Committee of the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals, I told a number of people that it was the hardest comment letter I’d ever worked on, and I believe that was the case because it was hard to comment on a proposal that struck and continues to strike me as ill-advised and unnecessary in its entirety.

Ms. Morgenson’s article proves my point. It provides pay ratio data for a number of companies, as determined by a Washington think tank. But at the end of the article, all the data demonstrate is that the CEOs of the companies in question make a ton of money. The ratios don’t tell us anything more than that; Disney had the highest ratio, but does anyone need a ratio to know that its CEO makes lots of money? Ditto Oracle, Starbucks and the others – in all cases, the ratio is far less informative than the dollar amounts, which of course are and have for many years been disclosable.

The ratios might – but only might – be more meaningful if we knew what the underlying facts are; for example, what is the mix of US to non-US employees? To what extent are the employees part-time or seasonal? But of course the article doesn’t reveal this information, and neither would the proposed SEC rules. And the SEC Staff has indicated the final rules are not likely to allow companies to exclude non-US, part-time or seasonal employees. In other words, we won’t be able to distinguish between two companies with the same pay ratios regardless of the fact that one may have vast numbers of employees in the third world while the other’s employees are located in major industrialized countries.

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Bob

Ineffective disclosure

Posted in Bob's Upticks, Disclosure Guidance

It’s not for nothing that I’m a securities lawyer.  I sincerely believe in the need for and efficacy of full and fair disclosure, both professionally and personally.  That’s one of the many reasons why I have been advocating disclosure reform – or, as we now call it, “effective disclosure” – to assure that important matters are disclosed, and that unimportant matters need not be.

So it’s not surprising that I’m upset about something that happened recently.  I attended a program at which a representative of a major institutional investor said that his firm just doesn’t have time to read the proxy statements of the companies in which the firm has invested.  I’ve heard this song before in various guises – for example, one major institution told me a few years ago that the most they’d ever spend reading a 100-page proxy statement was 15-20 minutes – but for some reason the statement I heard recently really bothered me.

Why do securities lawyers spend most of their waking hours, and many of the hours when they should be sleeping, trying to provide investors with the information they need to make important decisions?  (And, for the cynics out there, I’ve never heard a securities lawyer say anything like “How can we hide this?”)  Why do companies spend untold amounts of money paying their lawyers to do that?  More important, why is it acceptable for major investors to say that they don’t read their investees’ disclosures?  Does it ever occur to them that they may be in violation of their legal and ethical obligations to their clients by blowing off the obligation to read those disclosures and voting on significant matters without reading those disclosures?

Which brings me back to “effective disclosure.”  I’m passionate about the topic, and I’ve put my time (which is, after all, money) where my mouth is.  But I’d be crazy not to think about whether it’s really worth the time and effort it will take to overhaul our approach to disclosure if, at the end of the proverbial day, few if any people will benefit from it or even care about it.

Years ago I commented on an SEC rule proposal by saying, among other things, that it would result in more disclosure that no one would read.  I was told by the then-Director of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance that rulemaking isn’t based on whether anyone reads the disclosures in question.  At the time, I thought he was probably right, but now I’m not so sure.

Your thoughts?

Bob

In sickness and in health

Posted in Bob's Upticks, Disclosure Guidance

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is reputed to be a decisive person with a strong personality.  Of course, that shouldn’t be news to anyone who follows business or who knows what it takes to be CEO of a major company.  So it’s interesting that he recently said that he struggled with whether JPM should disclose that he was battling cancer.  (For the record, he seems to have won the battle.)

I’m not the only securities lawyer who’s had similar struggles when the CEO of a client has become seriously ill.  It’s a very challenging issue for several reasons.  First, there isn’t any rule – or even any literature (at least to my knowledge) – that tells us whether and what to disclose in this situation.  So when a client says, “show me the rule that says we have to disclose this,” there’s nothing to show.  Second, and more important, the issue pits the need to disclose against information that is quintessentially personal.  It’s also not just an issue between the executive and the company; often, the executive’s family and, possibly, his/her medical team and others are equally involved.  And even when there’s agreement to disclose, it’s very difficult to know what to say about the prognosis, if and when the executive can return to work, and so on.

I think JPM’s decision to disclose was the right one.  Among other things, JPM and Mr. Dimon are inextricably linked with each other; he is the public face of the company, and it’s hard to imagine mentioning one without the other.  In fact, it’s arguably this linkage that led to the defeat of shareholder proposals seeking to deprive Mr. Dimon of his title as Chairman of the Board; no one wanted to see if he would carry out his threat to leave the company if the proposals passed.  Second, his illness was grave and could have killed him.  In other words, it seems pretty clear that the information was market-moving – a factor that must be considered in making the disclosure decision.  (That said, contrast this with Apple’s treatment of Steve Jobs’s illness.)  Also, according to Mr. Dimon, he lost 35 pounds in his battle, making it painfully obvious that something was up.  So why hesitate to disclose something that everyone could see?

Another way of evaluating the matter is to consider whether there are any meritorious reasons not to disclose.  When I had to grapple with a similar decision, the facts were different; among other things, the CEO wasn’t the company’s alter ego, and it was questionable whether the stock would tank if we disclosed.  On the other hand, the company had just gotten past a nasty scandal and a period of intense upheaval in which two senior people had left and the company’s credibility had been shattered.  In these circumstances I couldn’t see a significant reason not to disclose.  I took some heat from the CEO’s family, but I had no doubt that I made the right decision.

Your thoughts?

Bob

Update to the JOBS Act? Probably not…

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

On January 14th, the House passed H.R. 37 “Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act.”  Although passed with some support from the Democrats (29 votes, which in these days of hyper-partisanship is practically a bipartisan bill), the White House issued a veto threat on January 12th because the bill also delays part of… Continue Reading

Wrong turn?: Is the SEC looking to further expand its regulatory jurisdiction through the disclosure process?

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

In the wake of the recent financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act created the SEC Investor Advisory Committee with the stated purpose of advising the SEC on (i) regulatory priorities of the SEC; (ii) issues relating to the regulation of securities products, trading strategies, and fee structures, and the effectiveness of disclosure; (iii) initiatives to protect… Continue Reading

Despite First Amendment concerns, the conflict minerals rule is here to stay

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

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… Continue Reading

Institutional investor organization asks the SEC to require disclosure of "golden leashes"

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

The compensation disclosure rules contained in Regulation S-K are intended to provide meaningful disclosure regarding an issuer’s executive and director compensation practices such that the investing public is provided with full and fair disclosure of material information on which to base informed investment and voting decisions. However, as we pointed out in a blog from last… Continue Reading

Institutional investor organization asks the SEC to require disclosure of “golden leashes”

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

The compensation disclosure rules contained in Regulation S-K are intended to provide meaningful disclosure regarding an issuer’s executive and director compensation practices such that the investing public is provided with full and fair disclosure of material information on which to base informed investment and voting decisions. However, as we pointed out in a blog from last… Continue Reading

4th and 108, SEC elects to punt on Regulation S-K disclosure reform

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

Section 108 of the Jump Start Our Business Startups Actrequired the SEC to undertake a study of the disclosure requirements of Regulation S-K. Specifically, the statute mandated that the SEC shall: conduct a review of its Regulation S-K to— comprehensively analyze the current registration requirements of such regulation; and determine how such requirements can be… Continue Reading

Government mandated pay ratio disclosure will fail to achieve its intended objectives

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

Compensation 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… Continue Reading

Hurricanes, flash freezes and other disasters – plan and disclose accordingly or you may be hearing from the SEC

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

Almost 10 months since Superstorm Sandy caused widespread destruction to the northeastern U.S., an area not known for frequent hurricane activity, the people and businesses affected have still not fully recovered. As we now reenter the peak of hurricane season, businesses along the eastern seaboard are probably taking a closer look now than in years… Continue Reading

Time to throw XBRL in the trash bin?

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

It has been four years since XBRL became a four letter word to issuers and nearly eight years since the SEC introduced the concept to issuers, yet XBRL hasn’t fulfilled the SEC’s prediction of XBRL increasing the “speed, accuracy and usability of financial disclosure.”  Largely, the reason for the failed prediction is that many potential… Continue Reading

New SEC Chair: Mary Jo White

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. This sounds great, but how does the SEC actually carry out its mission? The answer lies in the SEC’s oversight and regulation function of the key participants in the securities world,… Continue Reading

Recent meeting between the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals and SEC Staff provides insight

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

On Tuesday, the Securities Law Committee of the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals met with officials from the Divisions of Corporation Finance, Investment Management, and Trading and Markets and the Office of the Whistleblower.  While neither new Chair Mary Jo White (confirmed in April) nor new Director of Corporation Finance Keith Higgins (starts… Continue Reading

Are new Iran-related disclosure requirements turning public companies into tattletales?

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

In other breaking news that many may have missed, Orbitz Worldwide, Inc. recently reported in its most recent 10-Q that a handful of employees of a Hilton-branded hotel were paid wages via direct deposit into bank accounts maintained with Bank Melli. The obvious question is why is Orbitz reporting on seemingly immaterial activities of a… Continue Reading

Social media as a disclosure channel – slow but steady

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

Public companies are beginning to cautiously adopt social media as a disclosure channel. This area has experienced substantial changes lately as the SEC moved from a posture of threatening action against Netflix’s CEO for a post he made on his personal Facebook page to adopting a more relaxed and expansive position. This was really just… Continue Reading

SEC relaxes restrictions on social media postings (but Regulation FD still applies)

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

The SEC tiptoed into the twenty-first century as the agency validated the use of social media sites in certain situations for disclosure of information by publicly traded companies. This social media disclosure is subject to some constraints, but it is a positive move for public companies, shareholders and potential investors who are social media users. … Continue Reading

Cybersecurity legislation continues to move forward

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D., West Virginia), the most vocal proponent of cybersecurity legislation, has renewed his focus on cybersecurity legislation. He has sponsored previous cybersecurity-related legislation, but has been unable to implement any meaningful legislation in this area. His prior sponsorship of the proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2012 initially seemed to draw support in the… Continue Reading

Securities Law 101 (Part III): Watch your mouth! Regulation FD’s impact on (selective) disclosure

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

This is the third part of our Securities Law 101 series.  Because capital raising is such a critical function for middle market companies, we designed this series to introduce their management teams to some of the fundamental concepts in securities law.  We hope that this series will prevent some of the most common mistakes management… Continue Reading

Proposed campaign contribution disclosure rules may be coming as early as April (but not likely)

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

As first reported by Professors  Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson, Jr. in their recent posting on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, the SEC may take action to issue proposed rules on corporate political spending disclosures by public companies as early as the second quarter of this year. This… Continue Reading

Video Interview: Discussing the Regulation FD concern with Netflix over Facebook post on LXBN TV

Posted in Disclosure Guidance, Technology Company Issues

Following up on my post on the subject, I had the chance to speak with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN regarding the SEC sending a Wells notice to Netflix and its CEO over a Facebook post the latter made. In the interview, I explain what happened, why the SEC is displeased and why it needs to… Continue Reading

Netflix CEO’s Facebook post leads to possible Regulation FD action by SEC – Time for some changes

Posted in Disclosure Guidance, Technology Company Issues

The use of social media as a public company information channel encountered a roadblock on December 5, 2012 as Netflix, Inc. and its CEO, Reed Hastings, both received Wells notices from the SEC regarding a prior Facebook post that Mr. Hastings had made. A Wells notice is a notification from the SEC that it intends… Continue Reading

Are political contribution disclosure rules for public companies coming in the near future?

Posted in Disclosure Guidance

Petition and comment letters urging the SEC to create rules requiring public companies to disclose their political contributions may finally be gaining some traction.  We previously blogged about this petition, which was submitted by a group of ten law professors in response to the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission… Continue Reading