Happy holidays and happy new year everyone!
Here’s the latest from the SEC:
In the event of a federal government shutdown, the SEC will follow the agency’s plan, which contemplates focusing on “market integrity and investor protection.” Starting Thursday, December 27, the SEC “will have only an extremely limited number of staff members available to respond to emergency situations involving market integrity and investor protection, including law enforcement. In addition, certain Commission systems, including EDGAR, will be operating. Additional information is available from the Division of Corporation Finance and the Division of Investment Management.” Corp Fin has provided some FAQs (summarized below) that may be helpful for those in the registration process or contemplating offerings.
On Tuesday, the SEC finally dredged up the 2015 proposal to implement section 955 of Dodd-Frank regarding hedging disclosure in proxy statements and, without an open meeting, voted—yes finally—to adopt it. Section 955 mandated disclosure about the ability of a company’s employees or directors to hedge or offset any decrease in the market value of equity securities granted as compensation to, or held directly or indirectly by, an employee or director. According to the legislative history, the purpose was to “allow shareholders to know if executives are allowed to purchase financial instruments to effectively avoid compensation restrictions that they hold stock long-term, so that they will receive their compensation even in the case that their firm does not perform.” The final rules were adopted “along the lines proposed,” but with some modifications.
In March 2018, in Cyan Inc. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund, SCOTUS held that state courts continue to have concurrent jurisdiction over class actions alleging only ’33 Act violations by private plaintiffs and that defendants cannot remove actions filed in state court to federal court. (See this PubCo post.) Both before and especially after Cyan, to avoid state court litigation of ’33 Act claims (and forum shopping by plaintiffs for the most favorable state court forum), many companies adopted “exclusive forum” provisions in their charters or bylaws that designated the federal courts as the exclusive forum for litigation under the ’33 Act. Delaware law expressly permits the adoption of charter or bylaw provisions that designate Delaware as the exclusive forum for adjudicating “internal corporate claims,” i.e., claims, including derivative claims, that are based on a violation of a duty by a current or former director or officer or stockholder or as to which the corporation law confers jurisdiction on the Court of Chancery. However, federal securities class actions are not expressly included. (See this PubCo post.)
The enforceability of “exclusive federal forum” provisions was then challenged in the Delaware courts in a case seeking a declaratory judgment to invalidate the provisions included in the Delaware Certificates of Incorporation of three companies. And, after Cyan, that Delaware case took on much greater significance. A decision in that case, Sciabacucchi v. Salzberg, has now been rendered by the Delaware Chancery Court. On cross-motions for summary judgment, Vice Chancellor Laster held that all three of the exclusive federal forum provisions at issue in that case were invalid.
By executive order, the federal government will be closed on Monday, December 24, and December 24 will be treated as a federal holiday for filing purposes. In addition, the SEC has finally posted a notice about its operating status in the event of a federal government shutdown.
Today, as required by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, the SEC adopted final rules to allow public reporting companies to rely on the Reg A exemption from registration for their securities offerings.
Right before the SEC open meeting originally scheduled to discuss the issue, the SEC has posted a “request for comment soliciting input on the nature, content, and timing of earnings releases and quarterly reports made by reporting companies.” (The matter has been deleted from tomorrow’s agenda.) According to the press release, the request for comment solicits “public input on how the Commission can reduce burdens on reporting companies associated with quarterly reporting while maintaining, and in some cases enhancing, disclosure effectiveness and investor protections. In addition, the Commission is seeking comment on how the existing periodic reporting system, earnings releases, and earnings guidance, alone or in combination with other factors, may foster an overly short-term focus by managers and other market participants.” The public comment period will be open for 90 days following publication of the Request in the Federal Register.
(Note that the SEC also adopted hedging policy disclosure rules and likewise removed that from tomorrow’s agenda, but more on that tomorrow.)
As discussed in this PubCo post, human capital management has become a significant concern of institutional investors. For example, for 2018, asset manager BlackRock 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.) Some institutional investors have also encouraged companies to provide more transparency on HCM practices. But what exactly should they disclose?