Category: Securities

NYC Comptroller goes straight to court to compel inclusion of shareholder proposal—is this the Comptroller’s new normal?

Post-shutdown, the SEC is starting to catch up on no-action requests to exclude shareholder proposals, posting several new entries at the end of last week. While most of the responses reflected withdrawals of requests in light of withdrawal of the subject proposal, one of the more interesting withdrawal letters relates to a decision to include a shareholder proposal.  The proposal, submitted by the New York City Employees’ Retirement System and other pension funds overseen by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, sought to have TransDigm Group Incorporated, a manufacturer of aerospace components, adopt a policy related to climate change. After the company sought no-action relief from the SEC staff—and notably well before the government shutdown and before the SEC had even responded to the company’s request—the proponent pension funds filed suit in the SDNY seeking to enjoin the company from soliciting proxies without including the shareholder proposal and declaratory relief that the exclusion of the proposal violated Section l4(a) and Rule l4a-8.  Will the Comptroller use the same tactic of circumventing the traditional SEC process and commencing litigation for any proposal the pension funds submit in the future?  Will going straight to court be the new normal?

Have we reached an inflection point on environmental and social shareholder proposals?

In this thoughtful article from the Managing Editor at ISS Analytics, The Long View: US Proxy Voting Trends on E&S Issues from 2000 to 2018, the author contends that, notwithstanding high-level data showing relatively static median vote support for shareholder proposals over the last 19 years, that data is deceptive:  “the reality is that investor voting behavior among owners of U.S. companies has changed significantly—perhaps almost revolutionarily—over the past two decades.” What’s more, “the most significant change in investors’ voting behavior pertains to environmental and social issues, as these proposals are earning record levels of support in recent years.”

When it comes to ICFR, the SEC will not tolerate if you do not remediate

Now back to work, SEC Enforcement once again takes up the issue of internal control over financial reporting.  In this instance, the SEC announced settled charges against four public companies for failing to remediate internal control weaknesses—for years! We’re talking seven to ten years. The companies seemed to be under the misimpression that, as long as they disclosed the material weaknesses, they were in the clear.  But they learned the hard way that that was not the case.   According to Melissa Hodgman, an Associate Director in Enforcement, “Companies cannot hide behind disclosures as a way to meet their ICFR obligations. Disclosure of material weaknesses is not enough without meaningful remediation. We are committed to holding corporations accountable for failing to timely remediate material weaknesses.”

Corp Fin reopens for business

Today, Corp Fin posted a statement regarding its return to normal operations. For the most part, “absent compelling circumstances,” Corp Fin expects to address filings, submissions and requests in the order submitted. The message is this: expect everything to take longer than usual as the staff plays catch-up.

SEC back to normal?

Unless you’ve been unplugged and hiding under a rock recently, you’ve heard that the federal government shutdown has ended—at least for the next three weeks.  In a statement today, SEC Chair Jay Clayton said that the SEC has “resumed normal staffing levels and is returning to normal operations.”  What that will mean in practice, we don’t really know yet, given the likelihood of significant backlogs that accumulated over the past month. Clayton advised that the leaders of  Divisions, such as Corp Fin, are consulting with the staff and “are continuing to assess how to most effectively transition to normal operations.”  Corp Fin is expected to publish a statement (as are other offices) “in the coming days regarding their transition plans,” which will be available on the SEC website.

New House bill to curb potential abuse of 10b5-1 plans

As noted in thecorporatecounsel.net blog, the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters, has introduced H.R. 624, the “Promoting Transparent Standards for Corporate Insiders Act,” which could require some significant tweaks to Rule 10b5-1 plans and disclosure about them. Co-sponsored by the Ranking Republican Member on the Committee, Patrick McHenry, the legislation would require the SEC to conduct a study of whether specified amendments to the rules governing 10b5-1 plans should be adopted, report back within a year and then adopt rule amendments consistent with the findings of the study. The high-level bipartisan sponsorship of the legislation suggests that there is a reasonable chance that it could move forward, but certainly does not guarantee that it will survive in the Senate.  You might recall that the JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018 (the erstwhile JOBS Act 3.0), which included similar provisions regarding Rule 10b5-1, passed the House by a vote of 406 to 4, but made no progress in the Senate. (See this PubCo post.) The new leadership must think that the chances for enactment are better with a standalone bill.

LIBOR phase-out—issues to consider

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. As reported by the WSJ,  Moffatt indicated that “to the extent that the phaseout of Libor is material to a company,…we would definitely expect a company to disclose that fact and describe the implications of the phaseout, including any associated risks, to investors.’” (See this PubCo post.) But, in making that assessment and any related disclosure, what should companies consider?