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A few years ago, a wonderfully outspoken member of the institutional investor community congratulated me on a corporate governance award I’d received.  She apologized for not being able to make it to the awards ceremony, referring to it – very aptly, IMHO – as the “nerd prom.”

Well, we’ve progressed from the nerd prom to a nerd war – specifically, the nasty fight over the August 19 Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation, signed by 181 CEO members of The Business Roundtable.  The Statement suggested that the shareholder-centric model of the modern American corporation needs to be changed and that “we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.”  The stakeholders listed in the Statement were customers, employees, suppliers, and the communities in which the companies operate; however, other stakeholders were referred or alluded to, such as the environment.  And the final bullet point in the list stated that the signers were committed to:

“Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.”


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Pay ratio disclosures
Photo by Brian Talbot

After much foot dragging, I have finished reading the adopting release for the new pay ratio disclosure rules.  Yes, the release is long (300 pages or so), but adopting releases are always long.  The real reason why it took so long is that the whole concept of pay ratio disclosure just seems silly to me (and apparently to Bob Lamm as well) so I just hoped it would go away.

I am not against finding ways to strengthen the middle class.  Just like I am not against ending the sale of certain minerals in Central Africa that end up funding deadly conflict.  The problem I have is that public companies should not have to bear the complete burden of fixing social ills.  Less than 1% of the 27 million companies in the United States are publicly traded.  And there are plenty of private companies that are larger than most publicly traded companies.  Thus, while we may not agree whether the social goals are worth achieving, I think we can all agree that there are better ways to achieve them than selective enforcement (particularly since the SEC itself has said that the pay ratio will not be comparable from one company to another).  The Securities Edge  has been criticizing the social disclosure movement for some time, but we haven’t yet seemed to have stopped Congress from continuing to go down that path.

So, unless Congress acts to reverse its mandate for public companies to disclose their pay ratios before 2018 (the first year of required disclosure), I suppose we should all start learning how to comply.  Leading practices for calculating the ratio and providing narrative disclosure will develop over the next couple of years, but I have summarized the important parts of the rules in this post:

What is the required disclosure?

Registrants must disclose:

  • The median of the annual total compensation of all employees of the registrant (excluding the CEO)
  • The annual total compensation of the CEO; and
  • The ratio of the median to the CEO’s compensation.

The ratio needs to be expressed as X:1 or X to 1 where “X” represents the CEO’s total compensation and “1” represents the median employee’s salary.  The ratio can also be expressed in narrative form such as: “The CEO’s annual total compensation is X times the median employee’s annual total compensation.”  You can’t
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Is the SEC making a wrong turn by regulating corporate governance?
Photo by doncarlo

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 investor interest; and (iv) initiatives to promote investor confidence and the integrity of the securities marketplace. In other words, the committee is to advise on matters historically within the purview of federal securities laws. While this is fine and good, there is some indication that the SEC may again be considering the use of disclosure rules to indirectly regulate matters that are not federal securities law matters (see, e.g., conflict mineral rules, Iran-related disclosure rules, CEO pay ratio disclosure rules, etc.).

The new potential area of regulation for the SEC may be internal corporate affairs. The committee’s agenda for the October 9, 2014 meeting of the SEC Investor Advisory Committee will include a discussion of
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How Congo Became a Corporate Governance IssueA 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
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New social disclosures are designed to make issuers tattletalesIn 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 third party private hotel company in its public filings? The answer is because the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (ITRA) now requires it. 

The ITRA recently added new Iran-related disclosure requirements for public reporting companies under new Section 13(r) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which became effective for SEC periodic reports due on or after February 6, 2013. Among other things, public companies are required to disclose in their periodic reports whether they knowingly engaged in (or any of their affiliates knowingly engaged in) certain “Iran-related activities, ” which generally include dealings involving: 

  • the Iranian government;
  • entities owned or controlled by the Iranian government;
  • persons designated on the OFAC Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list as representatives of the Iranian government;
  • persons and entities identified on the SDN list as supporters of terrorism or proliferators of weapons of mass destruction;
  • financial institutions that facilitated a transaction for any person or on the SDN list whose property is blocked in connection with certain terrorist-related activities; or
  • Iranian oil resources. 

At first glance, many reporting companies may believe that the new requirements of Section 13(r) would be inapplicable to their business and operations. However, a significant number of public companies are taking a conservative approach with their Iran-related disclosures and are reporting almost anything that is potentially covered by the ITRA. The reason for this conservatism is likely due to two key aspects of the ITRA requirements. 

First, Section 13(r) requires reporting of activity of both the issuer and its affiliates. The term “affiliate” is
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