SEC proposes new accredited investor definition and new rules for disclosure of payments by resource extraction issuers
At an open meeting this morning, the SEC proposed changes to the definition of “accredited investor,” as well as new rules relating to disclosure of payments by resource extraction issuers. As discussed below, Commissioners Robert Jackson and Allison Lee dissented on both of these proposals. Notably, the responses of all the Commissioners to these proposals highlighted their sharply divergent views on the role of government and the fundamental purposes of the securities laws. Both proposals will be open for comment for 60 days.
In late November, the NYSE filed with the SEC a proposed rule change that would have allowed companies going public to raise capital through a primary direct listing. Under current NYSE rules, only secondary sales are permitted in a direct listing. As a result, thus far, companies that have embarked on direct listings have been more of the unicorn variety, where the company was not necessarily in need of additional capital. The new proposal looked like it could be a game changer for the traditional underwritten IPO. (See this PubCo post.) But then, as reported by CNBC and Reuters, a little over a week later, the SEC rejected the NYSE’s proposal, and it was removed from the NYSE website, causing a lot of speculation about the nature of the SEC’s objection and whether the proposal could be resurrected. At the time, an NYSE spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that the proposal had been rejected, but said that the NYSE remained “‘committed to evolving the direct listing product…This sort of action is not unusual in the filing process and we will continue to work with the SEC on this initiative.’” (See this PubCo post.) Apparently, the NYSE meant what it said: the proposal was just refiled with some clarifications and corrections, and then, on Friday afternoon, the NYSE filed an amendment to the refiled proposal, which supersedes the earlier filing in its entirety. So now we’re back at the starting gate.
Earlier this year, the SEC approved a Nasdaq proposal to revise its initial listing standards to improve liquidity in the market. (See this PubCo post.) As amended, the initial criteria for listing on any Nasdaq tier were revised to exclude “restricted securities” from the calculations of the required minimum number of publicly held shares, market value of publicly held shares and round lot holders, given that restricted securities are not freely transferable and are generally illiquid. Nasdaq also added new definitions for “restricted securities,” “unrestricted publicly held shares” and “unrestricted securities.” As a result of these changes, only securities that are “freely transferable” are included as publicly held shares for purposes of satisfying the initial listing criteria. No changes were proposed to the continued listing requirements at that time. Now, however, Nasdaq has proposed to address the comparable liquidity issue for listed companies.
SEC Chair Jay Clayton has streamlined the Regulatory Flexibility Act Agenda to limit it to the rulemakings that the SEC actually expects to take up in the subsequent period. Clayton has previously said that the short-term agenda signifies rulemakings that the SEC actually plans to pursue in the following 12 months. (See this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) The SEC’s Fall 2019 short-term and long-term agendas have now been posted, reflecting priorities as of August 7, the date on which the SEC’s staff completed compilation of the data. Items on the short- and long-term agendas are discussed below.
In November, the SEC voted to propose amendments to add new disclosure and engagement requirements for proxy advisory firms and to “modernize” the shareholder proposal rules by increasing the eligibility and resubmission thresholds. (See this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) At the SEC open meeting, in explaining his perspective on the proposals, SEC Chair Jay Clayton indicated that, following the SEC’s proxy process roundtable (see this PubCo post), the SEC had received hundreds of comment letters, but there were seven letters that were most striking to him. Clayton seemed to be genuinely moved by these letters, ostensibly submitted by various Main Street investors, a group that Clayton considers to be core to the SEC’s protective mission. (See this PubCo post.) But, according to Bloomberg, there was something not quite right—something “fishy”—about those letters. (See this PubCo post.) Now, Bloomberg reports, a Democratic watchdog group is calling for an investigation into what is behind the “fishy” letters. And, as reported in this Bloomberg article, Clayton has said that the SEC is investigating.
You’d have to assume that the SEC didn’t spend a whole lot of time agonizing over the rule proposal—as reported by CNBC and Reuters, it took only a little over a week for the SEC to reject the NYSE’s proposed rule change that would have allowed companies going public to raise capital through primary direct listings. (See this PubCo post.) It remains to be seen whether the SEC is opposed to the concept in general, making rehabilitation of the proposal unlikely, at least in the near term, or whether the proposal could be quickly resurrected after some fixes to the proposal (or to other rules to accommodate the proposal).
How many people have strong opinions about most hot topics in corporate governance— staggered boards, proxy advisory firms or dual-class share structure? In Pay for Performance… But Not Too Much Pay: The American Public’s View of CEO Pay, from the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford, the authors take a look at a corporate governance subject on which everyone seems to have an opinion—CEO pay—and the public’s perceptions about it. While academics may be arguing about labor market efficiency, much of the public takes a more intuitive or pragmatic approach: “the issue of CEO pay boils down to a personal assessment of whether any executive deserves to be paid so much money.” The authors’ conclusion from the survey: “the disconnect between observed pay levels and the public’s view of pay is stark.” Overall, the survey results were quite fascinating.