In November 2021, Audit Analytics posted its 20-year review of restatements, showing that the number of “Big R” reissuance restatements in 2020, the last year of the review, was at a record low. According to the report, there were “81% fewer restatements in 2020 than the high in 2006 and 26% fewer than 2019.” Notably, however, while in 2005 reissuance restatements represented the majority of restatements, in 2020, reissuance restatements represented only 24.3% of restatements; revision restatements represented 75.7% of all restatements. At yesterday’s Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Annual Securities Regulation Institute, Lindsay McCord, Corp Fin Chief Accountant, raised a question: were companies being properly “objective” in assessing whether a restatement should be a “Big R” or “little r” restatement?
In remarks yesterday before the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Annual Securities Regulation Institute, SEC Chair Gary Gensler addressed cybersecurity under the securities laws. Gensler suggests that the economic cost of cyberattacks could possibly be in the trillions of dollars, taking many forms, including denials-of-service, malware and ransomware. It’s also a national security issue. He reminds us that “cybersecurity is a team sport,” and that the private sector is often on the front lines. Given the frequency of cybersecurity incidents, the SEC is “working to improve the overall cybersecurity posture and resiliency of the financial sector.” To Gensler, the SEC’s cybersecurity policy has three components: “cyber hygiene and preparedness; cyber incident reporting to the government; and in certain circumstances, disclosure to the public.” In his remarks, Gensler considered cybersecurity in a variety of contexts, including SEC registrants in the financial sector, such as broker-dealers, investment companies, registered investment advisers and other market intermediaries; service providers and the SEC itself, but his discussion of cybersecurity in the context of public companies is of most interest here.
Although there is an SEC open meeting scheduled for this week, the commissioners won’t be taking up any proposals from Corp Fin at that meeting (see the agenda). That’s a little puzzling given that the SEC’s agenda for Corp Fin was near to bursting, especially for highly anticipated disclosure proposals on climate and human capital, among other things. Those two topics, for example, had appeared on the two most recent SEC reg-flex agendas with proposal target dates of October 2021, then delayed to December 2021, with expectations later vaguely conveyed for January 2022, unlikely now to be met. [UPDATE: At the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Annual Securities Regulation Institute on Tuesday, Corp Fin Director Renee Jones indicated that said that they expect to have a proposal on climate disclosure before the SEC this quarter.] However, according to Bloomberg, the SEC does have Corp Fin-related plans for this week: to reopen the public comment period on the 2015 pay-versus-performance proposal “after a vote taken behind closed doors.”
For all who admired her greatly—I think that’s just about everyone—and miss seeing her on the Court, especially now with SCOTUS so prominent in our lives, you might want to take a long look through Bonham’s online auction of The Library of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s wonderful and moving just to look through the catalogue, which has lots of photos and text with personal stories accompanying some of the lot descriptions.
Corp Fin staff updates annual meeting guidance for presentation of shareholder proposals in light of continuation of COVID-19
Back in March 2020, before we could even imagine that we would still be struggling with COVID-19 in 2022, the SEC announced Corp Fin staff guidance regarding annual meetings. Because of limitations on the ability to hold in-person annual meetings as a result of health and travel concerns, the staff guidance provided “regulatory flexibility to companies seeking to change the date and location of the meetings and use new technologies, such as ‘virtual’ shareholder meetings that avoid the need for in-person shareholder attendance, while at the same time ensuring that shareholders and other market participants are informed of any changes.” (See this PubCo post.) That guidance was then updated in April 2020 and April 2021. (See this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) Now, the Corp Fin staff has once again updated that guidance for this year, tweaking the advice related to presentation of shareholder proposals to extend its application to the 2022 proxy season.
In August last year, the SEC announced that it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court charging Matthew Panuwat, a former employee of Medivation Inc., an oncology-focused biopharma, with insider trading in advance of Medivation’s announcement that it would be acquired by a big pharma company. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill insider trading case. Panuwat didn’t trade in shares of Medivation or shares of the acquiror, nor did he tip anyone about the transaction. No, according to the SEC, he engaged in what has been referred to as “shadow trading”; he used the information about his employer’s acquisition to purchase call options on a separate biopharma company, Incyte Corporation, which the SEC claimed was comparable to Medivation. According to the SEC, Panuwat made that purchase based on an assumption that the acquisition of Medivation at a healthy premium would probably boost the share price of Incyte. Incyte’s stock price increased after the sale of Medivation was announced. The SEC charged that Panuwat committed fraud against Medivation in connection with the purchase or sale of securities, with scienter, in violation of Rule 10b-5; he had, the SEC charged, breached his “duty to refrain from using Medivation’s proprietary information for his own personal gain” and traded ahead of the announcement. The SEC sought an injunction and civil penalties. (See this PubCo post.) In November, Panuwat filed a motion to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), calling it “an unprecedented expansion” of the Exchange Act. Last week, the Court denied the motion.
Emphatically yes, says the highly influential CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, in his latest annual letter to CEOs. BlackRock, according to the NYT, now manages $10 trillion in assets, so the company would be persuasive even if its CEO never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), but for a number of years, Fink has staked out positions in his annual letters on a variety of social and environmental issues that made companies (and media) pay attention. At the Northwestern Law Securities Regulation Institute in 2021, former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro said that, at companies where she was on the board, Fink’s 2020 statement (which announced a number of initiatives designed to put “sustainability at the center of [BlackRock’s] investment approach”) had had “an enormous impact last year.” However, he has also had his denigrators, and this year’s letter allocates a lot of terrain to deflecting criticism that his positions are more aligned with “woke” politics than with making money for shareholders. Not so, he contends, stakeholder capitalism is capitalism: BlackRock’s conviction “is that companies perform better when they are deliberate about their role in society and act in the interests of their employees, customers, communities, and their shareholders.” Ultimately, he asserts, cultivating these beneficial relationships will drive long-term value. How will this year’s letter land?
For over two years, the SEC staff and advisory committees, credit rating agencies, investors, the Big Four accounting firms and other interested parties have been making noise about a popular financing technique called “supply chain financing.” It can be a perfectly useful financing tool in the right hands—companies with healthy balance sheets. But it can also disguise shaky credit situations and allow companies to go deeper into debt, often unbeknownst to investors and analysts, with sometimes disastrous ends. Currently, there are no explicit GAAP disclosure requirements to provide transparency about a company’s use of supply chain financing. That may be why Bloomberg has referred to supply chain financing as “hidden debt.” Late last month, the FASB announced that it had issued a proposed Accounting Standards Update intended to help investors and others “better consider the effect of supplier finance programs on a buyer’s working capital, liquidity, and cash flows.” The proposed ASU would require the buyer in a supply chain financing program to “disclose sufficient information about the program to allow an investor to understand the program’s nature, activity during the period, changes from period to period, and potential magnitude.” The comment period will be open until March 21, 2022.
SEC charges company for alleged misstatements regarding director independence and disclosure control failures
As we head into a new proxy season, this SEC order involving settled charges against Leaf Group Ltd. might be a good case to keep in mind. In this case, the SEC charged that Leaf did not adequately identify and analyze—and did not maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures to identify and analyze— whether some of its directors were “independent” and whether there were “interlocking relationships between its directors and executive officers,” which led to “material misstatements and omissions in certain of its public filings,” including its proxy statement. As part of the settlement, Leaf was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $325,000. The company’s alleged failings as outlined in the order might serve to augment your seasonal checklist for examining issues of director independence.