For 2018, BlackRock has identified human capital management as one of its engagement priorities, echoing the exhortation from BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink in his 2018 annual letter to public companies: with governments seeming to fall short, it is up to the private sector to “respond to broader societal challenges”; companies must look to benefit their broader communities and all of their stakeholders, including employees, and that involves investment in efforts to create a diverse workforce, to develop retraining programs for employees in an increasingly automated world and to help prepare workers for retirement. (See this PubCo post.) With that mission in mind, in this post on The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, Michelle Edkins, Managing Director and Global Head of Investment Stewardship at BlackRock, discusses Blackrock’s approach to engagement with companies on the topic of HCM. While, as an investor concern, HCM may not have the high profile of board diversity, climate change or executive comp, it may well be on its way.
This article in Bloomberg BNA reports that FASB is expected to issue new rules this year that will require public companies to disclose the amount of their government subsidies. Government support would include, for example, cash and non-cash economic incentives such as grants to assist in buying a building, land grants, low-interest loans, interest expense subsidies, tax abatements providing relief from property tax, sales and use tax or payroll tax, and other legally enforceable government incentives. It remains to be seen whether—and how—the public might react to this information.
The Center for Audit Quality has issued a new guide for audit committees related to non-GAAP financial measures. Based on information gained from a series of roundtables held in 2017, Non-GAAP Measures: A Roadmap for Audit Committees identifies common themes and key considerations for audit committees, including leading practices to help assess whether a company’s non-GAAP measures present “high-quality non-GAAP measures.” And what exactly is a “high-quality non-GAAP measure”? According to the CAQ, a non-GAAP measure is high-quality if it provides a “balanced representation of the company’s performance.”
This study conducted by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants reports on the results of a year of international reporting of “key audit matters,” the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board’s analog to “critical audit matters” in the U.S. The study looked at 560 audit reports across 11 countries. These types of studies may provide some useful insights for companies in the U.S.: disclosure of “critical audit matters” will be required as part of the auditor’s report in the U.S. for audits of fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019 (for large accelerated filers) and December 15, 2020 (for all other companies to which the requirements apply). According to the study, financial reporting improved following the adoption of KAMs in 2016. Not only did the disclosures themselves provide better information, but the study saw improvements in governance, audit quality and corporate reporting.
As I noted in this recent blogpost, a survey conducted by Compensation Advisory Partners LLC of pay-ratio disclosures from 150 companies with a median revenue of $2.1 billion showed that, as of March 9, 2018, the lowest ratio was 1:1 and the highest was 1465:1. What? 1:1? How did that happen? For one explanation, I refer you to this column from Bloomberg’s hilarious Matt Levine, part of which I quote below:
Today, SCOTUS issued its opinion in Cyan Inc. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund. The opinion by Justice Kagan for a unanimous Court answered two questions: Did the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 eliminate state court jurisdiction over class actions alleging only ’33 Act violations, and, even if not, under SLUSA, can defendants remove these state court actions to federal court? SCOTUS said no in both cases: “SLUSA did nothing to strip state courts of their longstanding jurisdiction to adjudicate class actions alleging only 1933 Act violations. Neither did SLUSA authorize removing such suits from state to federal court.”