Today, the staff of Corp Fin issued Disclosure Guidance Topic No. 9, which offers the staff’s views regarding disclosure considerations, trading on material inside information and reporting financial results in the context of COVID-19 and related uncertainties. The guidance includes a valuable series of questions designed to help companies assess, and to stimulate effective disclosure regarding, the impact of the coronavirus. As always these days, the guidance makes clear that it represents only the views of the staff, is not binding and has no legal force or effect.
Today, in light of the continuing impact of COVID-19, the SEC issued an order extending the filing periods covered by its previous conditional reporting relief. The order provides public companies with a 45-day extension to file or furnish specified SEC filings that would otherwise have been due between March 1 and July 1, 2020. The order supersedes and extends the SEC’s original order of March 4, 2020, which had applied to filings due between March 1 and April 30, 2020. As SEC Chair Jay Clayton observed, “[h]ealth and safety continue to be our first priority….These actions provide temporary, targeted relief to issuers, investment funds and investment advisers affected by COVID-19. At the same time, we encourage public companies to provide current and forward-looking information to their investors and, in these uncertain times, companies are reminded that they can take steps to avail themselves of the safe harbor in Section 21E of the Exchange Act for forward-looking statements.” At the same time, the staff of Corp Fin issued Disclosure Guidance Topic No. 9, which offers the staff’s views regarding disclosure considerations and other securities law obligations in the context of COVID-19 and related uncertainties (to be covered in a separate post). The SEC encourages companies to contact the SEC staff with questions or matters of particular concern, such as administrative issues related to inability to obtain a required signature due to a quarantine or other issues that may need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
SEC staff offers relief regarding manual signature retention requirements for electronic filings in light of COVID-19
The staff of various SEC divisions, including Corp Fin, has just issued a new Statement Regarding Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T in Light of COVID-19 Concerns. The statement offers some relief in connection with “the authentication document retention requirements under Rule 302(b) [of Reg S-T] in light of health, transportation, and other logistical issues raised by the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
Today, the Co-Directors of the SEC Division of Enforcement, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, issued a brief cautionary statement regarding market integrity in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement acknowledged the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the securities markets and emphasized the importance of “maintaining market integrity and following corporate controls and procedures.”
The SEC has announced that, in light of the challenges associated with COVID-19 and particularly the difficulty associated with submission of comment letters, it will not take formal action before April 24 on a number of different proposed rulemakings with comment periods otherwise set to expire in March. Of course, the SEC has historically been open to consider comments submitted after the deadline but before adoption. The purpose of this extension was to expressly allow commenters additional time to comment if needed. Apparently, however, the SEC’s action was not enough for two Senators on the Senate Banking Committee, ranking member Sherrod Brown and Chris Van Hollen.
Today, in light of the spread of COVID-19, the SEC announced new Corp Fin staff guidance regarding annual meetings. Because of limitations on the ability to hold in-person annual meetings as a result of health and travel concerns, the staff guidance “provides regulatory flexibility to companies seeking to change the date and location of the meetings and use new technologies, such as ‘virtual’ shareholder meetings that avoid the need for in-person shareholder attendance, while at the same time ensuring that shareholders and other market participants are informed of any changes.”
Corp Fin has issued an announcement regarding Corp Fin’s operating status, in light of the impact of the coronavirus. Not to worry—Corp Fin is still open and operating, but many Corp Fin staff members are “teleworking.” (Apparently, according to the WSJ, an employee at the SEC was “referred for novel coronavirus testing.”) Nonetheless, Corp Fin continues “to conduct normal business functions,” including reviewing filings and accelerating registration statements under normal time frames—at least that’s the plan.