You may recall that, at the end of last year, SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Corp Fin Chief Accountant Kyle Moffatt were warning at various conferences about some of the risks the SEC was monitoring, among them the LIBOR phase-out, which is expected to occur in 2021. LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate, is calculated based on estimates submitted by banks of their own borrowing costs. In 2012, the revelation of LIBOR rigging scandals made clear that the benchmark was susceptible to manipulation, and British regulators decided to phase it out. In one speech, Clayton reported that, according to the Fed, “in the cash and derivatives markets, there are approximately $200 trillion in notional transactions referencing U.S. Dollar LIBOR and… more than $35 trillion will not mature by the end of 2021.” Clayton indicated that an alternative reference rate, the Secured Overnight Financing Rate, or “SOFR,” has been proposed by the Alternative Reference Rates Committee; nevertheless, there remain significant uncertainties surrounding the transition. (See this PubCo post.) And those uncertainties surrounding LIBOR and SOFR may be leading companies and others to delay addressing the issue until everything is finally settled. Perhaps with that in mind, on Friday evening, the SEC staff published a Statement that “encourages market participants to proactively manage their transition away from LIBOR.” And, in the press release announcing the publication, Clayton drew “particular attention to the staff’s observation: ‘For many market participants, waiting until all open questions have been answered to begin this important work likely could prove to be too late to accomplish the challenging task required.’”
The PCAOB has just released a new resource for audit committees about critical audit matters, designed to “inform audit committees as they engage with their auditors on the new CAM requirements.” The new auditing standard for the auditor’s report (AS 3101), which requires CAM disclosure, will be effective for audits of large accelerated filers for fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019. For audits of all other companies to which they apply (e.g., not EGCs), CAM requirements will be effective for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2020. The resource document provides information about CAM basics, as well as PCAOB staff guidance through responses to FAQs and, importantly, questions audit committees could consider asking their auditors. At the same time, the PCAOB also issued a new resource about CAMs for investors.
An article in the Federal Securities Law Reporter reports on some tips gleaned from a discussion of, what else, “critical audit matters” on a PCAOB panel at PLI’s 34th Midyear SEC Reporting and FASB Forum. The new auditing standard for the auditor’s report (AS 3101), which requires CAM disclosure, will be effective for audits of large accelerated filers for fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019.
As reported in Bloomberg, FASB will soon be considering whether the mandatory adoption dates for major new accounting standards should be delayed for small public companies and privately held businesses. According to the article, testimony from some small business finance professionals at a recent meeting of the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council indicated that, while they may be comfortable following the same rules as bigger companies, smaller companies “don’t have the same resources as large public companies so they need extra time to implement significant new accounting rules.” However, there seemed to be a fair amount of pushback from some commentators at the meeting, which could impact FASB’s decision.
You might recall that, in April of this year, SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson co-authored an op-ed (with Robert Pozen, MIT senior lecturer and former president of Fidelity) that lambasted the use of non-GAAP financial metrics in determining executive pay, absent more transparent disclosure. The pair argued that, although historically, performance targets were based on GAAP, in recent years, there has been a shift to using non-GAAP pay targets, sometimes involving significant adjustments that can “be used to justify outsize compensation for disappointing results.” On the heels of that op-ed came a rulemaking petition submitted by the Council of Institutional Investors requesting, in light of this increased prevalence, that the SEC amend the rules and guidance to provide that all non-GAAP financial measures (NGFMs) used in the CD&A of proxy statements be subject to the reconciliation and other requirements of Reg G and Item 10(e) of Reg S-K. But how pervasive is the use of NGFMs in executive comp? This article from Audit Analytics puts some additional data behind the brewing controversy about the use of non-GAAP financial measures in executive comp—and the level of increase is substantial.
The SEC has adopted final amendments to the auditor independence rules relating to lending relationships between the auditor and an audit client or certain shareholders of the audit client. As noted in the press release, the SEC had become aware of circumstances where the existing rules captured attenuated “relationships that otherwise do not bear on the impartiality or objectivity of the auditor. The amendments are intended to focus the rules on those lending relationships that reasonably may bear on external auditors’ impartiality or objectivity and, in so doing, improve the application of the Loan Provision for the benefit of investors while reducing compliance burdens.” Although the issues associated with this independence rule have created the severest compliance challenges for companies in the investment management industry, the final amendments will apply to entities beyond that industry, including operating companies and registered broker-dealers. The final amendments will become effective 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Under PCAOB Rule 3520, the auditor “must be independent of the firm’s audit client throughout the audit and professional engagement period,” which includes satisfying the independence criteria of the SEC and the PCAOB. But what happens when the auditor violates one of the independence rules—let’s say one of the specific prohibitions under Rule 2-01(c) of Reg S-X? Can the auditor’s violation be “cured”? Can the auditor still affirm its independence? How is that determined?