For those of you who have been waiting for those big changes to Dodd-Frank to materialize, don’t hold your breath; at least as far as the SEC is concerned, the vast majority of those rules are expected to remain in place. In case you missed it, SEC Chair Jay Clayton, speaking at the annual meeting of the WSJ’s CFO Network, said that “regulators are evaluating how postcrisis rules have performed in practice, and that he had concerns about some of the unintended side effects from some regulations. But any changes will be around the edges, keeping the core of postcrisis overhauls in place, he added. ‘I don’t think Dodd-Frank is changing a great deal, just to put a pin in it,’ he said.” And that tinkering may well be focused primarily on bank-related rules. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Congress may act, but so far it’s been all hat and no cattle. Case in point: the much ballyhooed Financial Choice Act of 2017, which passed the House, but went nowhere in the Senate. (See this PubCo post.)
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.
Not really, according to this study by academics from the University of Pennsylvania Law, Rutgers Business and Berkeley Law Schools to be published in the Harvard Business Law Review. Say on pay was initiated under a Dodd-Frank mandate adopted against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, largely in reaction to the public’s railing against the levels of compensation paid to some corporate executives despite poor performance by their companies, especially where those firms were viewed as contributors to the crisis itself. Say on pay was expected to help rein in excessive levels of compensation and, even though the vote was advisory only, ascribe some level of accountability to boards and compensation committees that set executive compensation levels. So far, however, say-on-pay votes have served largely as confirmations of board decisions regarding executive compensation and not, in most cases, as the kind of rock-throwing exercises that many companies had feared and some governance activists had hoped. The study reported that, since 2011, the average annual percentage of say-on-pay votes in favor has exceeded 90%, while “the percentage of issuers with a failed say on pay vote has never exceeded 3% and, in 2016, that number dropped to just 1.7%.” The study examined what the few failed (or low) votes really meant.
A frequent lament these days is the decline in the number of IPOs and public companies generally, with much of the discussion—particularly at the agency and Congressional levels—focused on the adverse impact of increased regulatory burden. (See this PubCo post.) In December 2015, Congress directed the SEC’s Division of Economic and Risk Analysis to assess the impact of Dodd-Frank and other financial regulations on access to capital for consumers, investors and businesses and market liquidity, including U.S. Treasury and corporate debt markets. The staff of DERA has now issued its report to Congress on Access to Capital and Market Liquidity. The report begins with a gigantic caveat: it’s really challenging to determine the effects of changes in regulations. At the end of the day, DERA did not pinpoint any “causal relationship” between Dodd-Frank and developments in the capital markets, emphasizing instead that the volume of IPOs has historically ebbed and flowed, with many contributing factors influencing IPO dynamics.
Development International has posted its most recent Conflict Minerals Benchmarking Study, analyzing the results of filings for the 2016 filing period. The study looked at filings submitted by the 1,153 issuers that had filed conflict minerals disclosures as of July 10, 2017. The number of issuers filing disclosures for 2016 reflected a decline of 5.6% compared to 2015. Most interesting, however, is that, notwithstanding statements from Corp Fin, echoed by the Acting SEC Chair at the time, advising companies that they would not face enforcement if they filed only a Form SD and did not include a conflict minerals report, the vast majority of companies continued to file conflict minerals reports.
What’s happening with those SEC proposals for Dodd-Frank clawbacks and disclosure of pay for performance and hedging? Apparently, not much.
As noted in this article from Law360, the SEC’s latest Regulatory Flexibility Agenda, which identifies those regs that the SEC intends to propose or adopt in the coming year— and those deferred for a later time—has now been posted. The Agenda shifts to the category of long-term actions most of the Dodd-Frank compensation-related items that had previously been on the short-term agenda—not really a big surprise given the deregulatory bent of the new administration. Keep in mind, however, that the Agenda has no binding effect and, in this case, could be even less prophetic than usual; the Preamble to the SEC’s Agenda indicates that it reflects “only the priorities of the Acting Chairman [Michael Piwowar], and [does] not necessarily reflect the view and priorities of any individual Commissioner.” It also indicates that information in the Agenda was accurate as of March 29, 2017. As a result, it does not necessarily reflect the views of the new SEC Chair, Jay Clayton, who was not confirmed in that post until May.
by Cydney Posner The Financial Choice Act of 2017 has been passed by the House (almost surreptitiously, given the unwavering focus on the Senate hearing today). According to the WSJ, the House vote was 233 to 186. The bill, sponsored by Jeb Hensarling, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, […]