Month: December 2020

Last day for Jay

Today is SEC Chair Jay Clayton’s last day at the office, after almost four years as Chair.

SEC approves NYSE proposal for direct listings (updated)

[This post has been updated to reflect the joint statement of Commissioners Allison Lee and Caroline Crenshaw, posted today.]

On August 26, the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets took action, pursuant to delegated authority, to approve a proposed NYSE rule change that would allow companies going public to raise capital through a primary direct listing. (See this PubCo post.) Five days later, that rule change hit a “snag,” as the WSJ put it—the SEC notified the NYSE that the approval order had been stayed because the SEC had received a notice of intention to petition for review of the approval order. The petition, submitted by the Council of Institutional Investors, was granted in September. Yesterday, after cancelling the open meeting scheduled to address the NYSE rule, the SEC approved, by a vote of three to two, the NYSE’s proposed rule change, as amended. According to the NYSE President, the approval “is a game changer for our capital markets, leveling the playing field for everyday investors and providing companies with another path to go public.” Will primary direct listings now replace SPACs as the favored alternative offering format? Some have even suggested that the approval “will ‘unquestionably’ usher in the end of traditional initial public offerings.” That remains to be seen.
Happy holidays! Happy new year!

SEC proposes changes to Rule 144

Surprise! Yesterday, the SEC announced that it had voted, without an open meeting, to propose amendments to Rule 144 to revise the method for determining the holding period—essentially eliminating tacking—for securities “acquired upon the conversion or exchange of certain ‘market-adjustable securities.’ The proposed amendment is intended to reduce the risk of unregistered distributions in connection with sales of those securities.” It is worth emphasizing that the proposed amendment “would not affect the use of Rule 144 for most convertible or variable-rate securities transactions.” Essentially, the amendment is intended to apply to “floating priced” or “floating rate” convertibles, often referred to as “death-spiral” converts, issued by companies that do not have securities listed, or approved for listing, on a national securities exchange. The proposed amendments would also:
~mandate the electronic filing of all Form 144 notices related to the resale of securities of Exchange Act reporting companies;
~eliminate the Form 144 filing requirement for non-reporting companies;
~change the filing deadline for Form 144 to coincide with the filing deadline for Form 4;
~amend Forms 4 and 5 to add a check box to permit filers to indicate that a sale or purchase reported on the form was made pursuant to a transaction that satisfied Rule 10b5-1(c); and
~make minor changes to Form 144, including eliminating certain personally identifiable information.
The SEC also indicated that it intends to create an “online fillable” document for entering the information required by Form 144 and, where applicable, Form 4. According to SEC Chair Jay Clayton, the “proposed amendments modernize, clarify and strengthen Rule 144, including to ensure that holders of market-adjustable securities are assuming the economic risks of their investment rather than acting as a conduit for an unregistered sale of securities to the public on behalf of an issuer….In addition, the proposed shift to electronic filing of Form 144 provides a necessary update to reflect today’s markets, particularly given the benefits—and the feasibility—of electronic filing our experience over the past nine months has demonstrated.”

Happy holidays! Happy new year!

SEC approves NYSE proposal for direct listings

On August 26, the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets took action, pursuant to delegated authority, to approve a proposed NYSE rule change that would allow companies going public to raise capital through a primary direct listing. (See this PubCo post.) Five days later, that rule change hit a “snag,” as the WSJ put it—the SEC notified the NYSE that the approval order had been stayed because the SEC had received a notice of intention to petition for review of the approval order. The petition, submitted by the Council of Institutional Investors, was granted in September. Yesterday, after cancelling the open meeting scheduled to address the NYSE rule, the SEC approved the NYSE’s proposed rule change, as amended. According to the NYSE President, the approval “is a game changer for our capital markets, leveling the playing field for everyday investors and providing companies with another path to go public.” Will primary direct listings now replace SPACs as the favored alternative offering format? Some have even suggested that the approval “will ‘unquestionably’ usher in the end of traditional initial public offerings.” That remains to be seen.
Happy holidays! Happy new year!

SEC Chair directs staff to consolidate rulemaking in light of the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act

On December 18, the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act was signed into law. The HFCAA, co-sponsored by Senators John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, and Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, amends SOX to prohibit trading on U.S. exchanges of public reporting companies audited by registered public accounting firms that the PCAOB has been unable to inspect for three sequential years. The HFCAA also requires substantial action by the SEC to implement it. As I noted in my previous post about the bill (see this PubCo post), it was unclear how the bill would affect or interact with the proposal on this same topic that the SEC staff have been working on, which had been expected this month (see this PubCo post and this PubCo post). Now, SEC Chair Jay Clayton has issued a statement clarifying the situation.
Happy holidays everyone! Happy 2021!

2020 Working Group identifies best practices for virtual shareholder meetings

Just in time for the new proxy season comes this Report of the 2020 Multi-Stakeholder Working Group on Practices for Virtual Shareholder Meetings from the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance, the Council of Institutional Investors and the Society for Corporate Governance. The report is replete with helpful guidance, detailing best and emerging practices for virtual shareholder meetings. The Working Group updates its 2018 report (see this PubCo post) in light of the deluge of pandemic-induced VSMs that were convened during the 2020 proxy season. Sorry to say, but it seems likely that this new proxy season will see a repeat for the same reason—at least in the first part of the season—so this report should be especially useful.
Happy holidays everyone! Good riddance to 2020! Hooray for science and scientists!

SEC adopts final resource extraction disclosure rules

At an open meeting yesterday, the SEC adopted, by the usual three to two, final Rule 13q-1 and an amendment to Form SD to implement Section 1504 of Dodd-Frank, which relates to disclosure of payments by resource extraction issuers. These rules, last proposed almost exactly a year ago (see this PubCo post), have had a long and troubled history. This effort at new resource extraction disclosure rules represents the SEC’s third attempt at these rules—making their consideration a holiday tradition, according to SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce—and today is almost on target as the tenth anniversary of the original proposal. Will the third time be the charm? Even if you’re not remotely drawn to the subject matter of these rules, you might nevertheless find worthwhile the debate at the meeting about whether this rulemaking was appropriately within the remit of the SEC: was the mandate about informing and protecting investors, maintaining orderly markets or facilitating capital formation or was it rather about social policy unrelated—or at most distantly related—to the SEC’s core mission? Will the majority view on that question have any influence on future legislation?

EDGAR closed Christmas eve and Christmas day

The SEC has announced that, just like last year, the SEC’s EDGAR system will be closed on both Christmas eve, Thursday, December 24, 2020, and Christmas day, Friday, December 25, 2020.

SEC charges Sequential Brands with failure to take goodwill impairment charges

The SEC has just filed a complaint against Sequential Brands Group, Inc., a brand management company, for failing to take timely and appropriate goodwill impairment charges as required by GAAP and the federal securities laws, despite “clear evidence of goodwill impairment” (according to the press release). As a result, the SEC alleges, the company “materially understated its operating expenses and net loss and materially overstated its income from operations, goodwill, and total assets” in its SEC filings, turning “a net loss into income” for financial statement purposes.

SEC brings settled charges against GE for disclosure violations and inadequate accounting and disclosure controls

Right on the heels of the SEC’s action against Cheesecake Factory for misleading public statements regarding its financial performance (see this PubCo post) comes this settled action against General Electric Company—also for misleading public statements about its financial performance. In this action, the SEC alleged that GE failed to provide material information that would have allowed investors to understand how it was generating profits and cash flow in two key segments, power and insurance, the quality of those earnings and the underlying risks. And, as challenges in these segments were later disclosed, the company’s stock price fell almost 75%. As reported in the WSJ, the SEC and DOJ were “investigating GE’s accounting for about two years after the company disclosed large write-downs tied to its insurance business and its power business. The SEC had warned GE in September that it was preparing civil charges, and GE said it had set aside $100 million to resolve the matter.” That reserve turned out to be somewhat optimistic—a bit like some of GE’s insurance reserves—as the final civil penalty was actually $200 million. It’s worth noting here that, as stated in GE’s 8-K regarding the settlement, in its Order, the SEC “makes no allegation that prior period financial statements were misstated. This settlement does not require corrections or restatements of GE’s previously reported financial statements, and GE stands behind its financial reporting.” That is, in the end, the charges were not about funny accounting—even though some might question certain of the judgments—they were about the disclosures about the accounting, the controls over the accounting and the controls over the disclosures.