Does hedge-fund activism really increase shareholder value?

The public debate about hedge-fund activism has long been informed by academic literature that found increases in shareholder value and operating performance after activist interventions.  But do hedge-fund activists actually do any long-term good for the companies that they target? Long-Term Economic Consequences of Hedge Fund Activist Interventions, from the Rock Center for Corporate Governance, examines just that question. The answer?  Not so much. But not so much harm either.

Trends in SOX 404 reporting on ICFR

You probably recall that, under SOX 404(b), all public reporting companies, other than non-accelerated filers and EGCs, are required to obtain an auditor attestation regarding the effectiveness of their internal control over financial reporting. SOX 404(a) requires all public reporting companies, including non-accelerated filers, to provide an assessment of ICFR by management. An analysis by Audit Analytics of SOX 404 reporting on ICFR over 14 years showed that the number of adverse auditor attestations—auditor attestations indicating ineffective ICFR— followed different trend lines than management-only assessments.

Heat’s on for climate change disclosure rules

A new rulemaking petition advocating that the SEC mandate environmental, social and governance disclosure under a standardized comprehensive framework has just been submitted by two academics and multiple institutional investors, representing over $5 trillion in assets. Not only is ESG disclosure material and relevant to understanding long-term risks, the petition contends, but the variety of approaches currently employed highlight the need for a more coherent standard that will provide clarity, completeness and comparability. In the past, concerns have been raised about whether uniform disclosure rules could really be effective for ESG.  Can those concerns be overcome?  

Why do auditors so rarely find fraud?

Are we just reading the wrong newspapers and reports or does it seem that auditors—although they spend hours and hours performing audits—rarely identify instances of fraud? Most companies rely on their auditors to uncover irregularities and breathe a sigh of relief when the audit comes up “clean.”  Is that reliance misplaced? Probably so, according to this article from CFO.com. “Audits almost never find fraud,” the author writes; the data shows that “external audits find it 4% of the time, and internal 15%.”  Instead, the author suggests, to detect fraud, management should look in a different direction.

California mandates quotas for board gender diversity—will it fuel a movement?

As discussed in this PubCo post from February, a California bill, SB 826, addressing the issue of board gender diversity,  has been making its way through the California legislature. On Sunday, Governor Jerry Brown signed that bill into law.  Interestingly, one factor apparently influential in his decision to sign the bill was the recent hearing in Washington. As you may have heard, the legislation requires, as Brown phrases it, a “representative number” of women on boards of public companies, including foreign corporations with principal executive offices located in California. Will other states now follow suit?  Will corporations incorporated in other states observe its provisions or challenge the application of this California law?

SEC approves amendments to Nasdaq Rule 5635(d), shareholder approval of certain private issuances

In January, as discussed in this PubCo post, Nasdaq proposed to modify the listing requirements in Rule 5635(d) to

(i) change the definition of market value for purposes of the shareholder approval rule and
(ii) eliminate the requirement for shareholder approval of issuances at a price less than book value but greater than market value. 
In August, Nasdaq filed Amendment No. 1, which clarified certain terms.  The SEC has just approved the proposed rule change, as amended, on an accelerated basis.

Staff provides a bit of relief regarding compliance with Disclosure Update and Simplification

You may have noticed that there’s still no effective date for the new Disclosure Update and Simplification, which was adopted in August. (See this Cooley Alert.) The new amendments are scheduled to become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, but at this point, the release has not been published. The reason for the delay is anyone’s guess.  In the meantime, however, questions have arisen about when filers may be expected to comply with certain financial statement requirements in the new amendments for purposes of upcoming Forms 10-Q.