In remarks Monday before the Center for American Progress, SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson discussed his recent research on corporate stock buybacks, in the light of the substantial increase in buybacks following the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. His focus: to call on the SEC to update its buyback rules “to limit executives from using stock buybacks to cash out from America’s companies.” If executives are so convinced that “buybacks are best for the company, its workers, and its community,” Jackson suggested, “they should put their money where their mouth is.”
Besides shock and awe, did pay-ratio disclosure have any immediate practical consequences? Well, for one, if a company did business in Portland, Oregon, the answer could well be “yes.” You might remember that, at the end of 2016, the Portland City Council, piggybacking on the pay-ratio data that most public companies were required to begin disclosing this year, adopted a measure adding a 10% surcharge to the city’s existing business tax for each company that exceeded a 100-to-1 pay ratio and a 25% surcharge if the pay ratio exceeded 250 to 1. (See this PubCo post.) According to comp consultant Equilar, the median pay ratio for the Russell 3000 was 70:1 (see this PubCo post). So what were the consequences of the Portland surtax—in Portland and beyond?
While the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which was just signed into law, is focused primarily on providing regulatory relief to banks under Dodd-Frank, there are a few provisions of more general interest in Title V, “Encouraging Capital Formation.”
With over 2,000 companies now having reported pay-ratio information for the 2018 proxy season (through May 10), consultant Equilar says it’s time to take a deep dive into the data to see what trends are discernible. Of course, until we have information for several proxy seasons, we really won’t have a very good handle on best practices or even which standards will ultimately take hold. In the meantime, however, Equilar’s analysis of the first year of reporting is a welcome beginning.
In this snapshot review by Willis Towers Watson of U.S. say-on-pay and other compensation-related votes, WTW found that average support for say on pay remained high at 91%. In addition, where ISS identified “high” levels of concern leading to negative recommendations on say on pay, 84% related to pay-for-performance concerns (compared to 75% in 2017).
In these survey results (courtesy of thecorporatecounsel.net), audit firm Deloitte provides data as of April 10 regarding pay-ratio disclosures for 294 companies in the S&P 500. Interestingly, so far at least, not many of the accommodations that the SEC deliberately included in the rule to provide “flexibility” have found favor with companies. For example, the survey showed that only 8% of companies used statistical sampling, a methodology initially suggested in comments by the AFL-CIO and adopted by the SEC in an effort to make the pay-ratio rule more palatable to companies. However, for this first year of reporting, many companies have opted to take a minimalist approach; whether that changes over time as companies become accustomed to the rule and more adventurous in its implementation remains to be seen.
As a general matter, SEC rules do not mandate companies to disclose details about the composition or location of their workforces; Reg S-K requires disclosure of only the number of employees, but no information about them. And the vast majority of companies provide little detail voluntarily. But now, as this article in the WSJ reports, companies are beginning to disclose more information about their workforces overseas, and the impetus for that disclosure is the new pay-ratio rule—all at a time when issues of overseas versus domestic employment are especially fraught.