The Corp Fin staff is once again addressing logistical difficulties that have cropped up in light of COVID-19—this time it’s the submission of Forms 144 in paper. In this statement, the staff is providing temporary relief with regard to paper Forms 144 submitted during the period from April 10 through June 30, 2020. In the statement, the staff advises that it will not recommend enforcement action if, in lieu of mailing or delivering paper Forms 144 under Rules 101(b)(4) or 101(c)(6) of Reg S-T, the filer (or submitter) attaches a complete Form 144 as a PDF attachment to an email sent to PaperForms144@SEC.gov.
Yesterday, SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Corp Fin Director Bill Hinman issued a statement on the Importance of Disclosure – For Investors, Markets and Our Fight Against COVID-19. The statement urges companies, as they issue earnings releases and conduct analyst and investor calls in the coming weeks, to provide as much information as practicable, focusing their disclosure less on historical information and more on “current financial and operating status, as well as future operational and financial planning” under “various COVID-19-related mitigation conditions.” Among other topics, they encourage companies to address liquidity and resource needs, receipt of financial assistance under government programs, company efforts to protect worker health and customer safety and strategies to incrementally resume regular operations as the crisis resolves.
Today, ISS provided special policy guidance on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, observing that, in light of the current uncertainty, it is appropriate “to provide our stakeholders with some specific guidance on a number of voting policy issues that are likely to be directly implicated over the coming months by the pandemic and the global response to it.” While the guidance suggests that ISS will apply its policies more flexibly under the circumstances, some things never change: option repricings—still disfavored.
The Corp Fin staff announced that it has updated its Guidance for Conducting Shareholder Meetings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (see this PubCo post), originally published on March 13. The updated guidance clarifies that the prior guidance regarding changes to the date, time and place of annual meetings of shareholders also applies to special meetings. The update also provides some relief for companies that shift to the “notice-only” method of furnishing proxy materials as a result of COVID-19-related delays in printing and mailing of full sets of proxy materials.
After the 2008 financial crisis, many companies sought to raise capital by selling equity in private placements, often to existing major shareholders, but faced limitations resulting from the NYSE’s shareholder approval requirements. To address that concern in the Covid-19 crisis, the NYSE has proposed, and the SEC has approved and declared immediately effective, an NYSE rule change to waive, through June 30, 2020 and subject to compliance with conditions, application of certain of the shareholder approval requirements in Section 312.03 of the NYSE Listed Company Manual. That rule requires listed companies to obtain shareholder approval prior to certain types of equity issuances. The general effect of the waivers, according to the NYSE, is to make these NYSE shareholder approval requirements more comparable to the similar Nasdaq requirements on a temporary basis. The waivers are intended to provide temporary relief to listed companies that may have urgent liquidity needs in the coming months as a result of the impact of COVID-19.
You might recall that, in November 2019, the SEC proposed amendments to the proxy rules to add new disclosure and engagement requirements for proxy advisory firms, such as ISS and Glass Lewis. Among the amendments included in that proposal was a new provision that would require proxy advisory firms to allow companies time to review and provide feedback on the advisory firm’s advice in advance of dissemination of the advice to the firm’s clients. (See this PubCo post.) Although there has been a substantial amount of pushback with regard to the SEC proposal and its earlier related guidance, including litigation filed by ISS (see this PubCo post), as noted on thecorporatecousel.net blog, proxy advisor Glass Lewis has announced that it will now include “unedited company feedback on its research…with all its proxy research papers” and will deliver that information “directly to the voting decision makers at every investor client.” Will ISS follow suit?
As you may know, even though Corp Fin staff had provided relief allowing public companies a relatively simple way to advise their shareholders of a change in the date or location of their annual meetings (including a change to a virtual-only format), companies incorporated in Delaware that needed to make those same changes still had to address the complications associated with compliance with Delaware law. Fortunately, tonight, the Governor of Delaware appears to have come to the rescue with an emergency order that may ease many of those complications.