In 2016, the AFL-CIO submitted several shareholder proposals designed to curb the impact of stock buybacks on executive compensation. (See this PubCo post.) The question at the time was whether we would see many more of these proposals. However, amid significant media and academic criticism, as well as relatively high stock valuations, the levels of stock buybacks declined, and the anticipated wave of proposals on buybacks did not materialize. However, the new tax act is expected to trigger a new spike in the levels of stock buybacks. (See this MarketWatch article.) Perhaps with that in mind, one of the most prolific proponents of shareholder proposals has submitted a proposal to eliminate the impact of stock buybacks in determining executive compensation. Will these proposals now become a thing?
In a speech delivered by video to the Securities Regulation Institute in San Diego, SEC Chair Jay Clayton shed some light (but just a little) on the anticipated completion of the rulemaking mandates under Dodd-Frank.
As has been widely reported, there are currently two nominees to fill the two empty slots at the SEC—from the Democratic side, Robert Jackson, a professor at Columbia Law School, and from the Republican side, Hester Peirce, a fellow at George Mason University. However, Senator Tammy Baldwin had put a “hold” on the nominees back in November, as reported in the WSJ, until they provided “their views on whether regulators should rein in activist investors, stock buybacks and executive pay.” Now that they have both responded to her questions, Baldwin has lifted her hold on the nominees, according to Law360, “clearing a hurdle for confirmation.” Their responses, although not exactly surprising, provide some insight into their views on these key issues.
Assessing impact of major tax law change, if enacted, on financial statements on a timely basis would present huge challenge
The potential passage of the new tax bill is giving some finance departments conniptions, according to Bloomberg BNA, and they’re hoping that the SEC will address the problem. The SEC? Yes. While companies are happy to see the tax breaks, some companies, especially large multinational companies, are anxious about whether they will be able to accurately determine the impact of the tax changes on their financial statements in time to file their annual and quarterly reports with the SEC. The obvious concern is that, if the SEC doesn’t extend the filing deadline, companies could risk making material misstatements.
SEC Chair Jay Clayton has repeatedly made a point of his intent to take the Regulatory Flexibility Act Agenda ”seriously,” streamlining it to show what the SEC actually expected to take up in the subsequent period. (See this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) The agenda has just been released, and it certainly appears that Clayton has been true to his word: several items that had taken up long-term residency on numerous prior agendas seem to be absent from this one.
According to a 2017 report from Equilar, an executive compensation data firm, “relative total shareholder return” continues to be the most common performance measure used in long-term incentive plans for CEOs among S&P 500 companies. (See this PubCo post.) But this article in CFO.com contends that, with a metric of rTSR, the “pay for performance linkage” is “weak”; rather than rewarding long-term performance, use of rTSR is tantamount to giving “management a lottery ticket.”