Yesterday, the SEC posted, and declared immediately effective, a Nasdaq rule proposal that would modify the requirements related to waiver of the code of conduct in Listing Rules 5610 and IM-5610. Under current listing rules, all listed companies must adopt a code of conduct (which must meet the definition of a “code of ethics” in SOX 406(c)), applicable to all directors, officers and employees, and make that code publicly available. Each code of conduct must also contain an enforcement mechanism that ensures prompt and consistent enforcement of the code, protection for persons reporting questionable behavior, clear and objective standards for compliance, and a fair process by which to determine violations. Under current listing rules, waivers of the code for directors or executive officers must be approved by the Board and must be publicly disclosed. The proposal expands the approval authority for code waivers and adds new time deadlines for disclosure of code waivers by foreign private issuers. Companies may want to review their codes of conduct to make changes as appropriate.
Nasdaq has filed with the SEC a proposed rule change to establish listing standards related to notification and disclosure of reverse stock splits. According to Nasdaq, the volume of reverse splits has increased substantially from 94 in 2020 and 31 in 2021 to 164 reverse stock splits—just as of June 23, 2023. In most cases, Nasdaq observes, the purpose of the reverse splits is to comply with Nasdaq’s $1 minimum bid price requirement to remain on the Capital Market tier. In light of this increased volume, Nasdaq is proposing amendments to its listing rules to “enhance the ability for market participants to accurately process these events, and thereby maintain fair and orderly markets.” Failure to comply could result in a trading halt.
Last week, both the NYSE and Nasdaq filed with the SEC amendments delaying until October 2 the effective dates of their proposed listing standards requiring listed issuers to develop and implement clawback policies. On Friday afternoon, the SEC approved the proposed rule changes, as modified by the respective Amendments No. 1, on an accelerated basis. What does that time delay mean for companies? Under the SEC final rules and the proposed listing standards, each listed issuer is required to adopt the mandated clawback policy no later than 60 days following the effective date of the rule. Prior to the amendments, the effective dates were designated by both exchanges as the SEC approval dates, which the SEC had just extended to June 11. (See this PubCo post.) Now, with October 2 as the effective date for both proposals, companies will have until December 1 to put their clawback policies in place.
In May, the Senate passed the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which would amend SOX to impose certain requirements on a public company that is audited by a registered public accounting firm with a branch or office located in a foreign jurisdiction that the PCAOB is “unable to inspect or investigate completely because of a position taken by an authority in the foreign jurisdiction.” And, as previously discussed, Nasdaq has also proposed rule changes aimed at addressing the same issue. (See this PubCo post.) A number of key players are speaking up to endorse these actions.
Nasdaq proposes new rules to address emerging market listings; Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act
Yesterday, the SEC formally announced its July 9 roundtable on emerging markets. In the announcement, the SEC observed that, “while the U.S. securities laws and regulations applicable to emerging market companies listed on U.S. exchanges are the same as (or comparable to) the laws and regulations applicable to U.S. public companies, the practical effects often are substantially different, based on the inability of U.S. regulators to inspect for compliance and enforce these rules and regulations.” In the meantime, Nasdaq appears to have taken the matter to the next level. Nasdaq’s three new proposals haven’t been posted by the SEC yet—so there may still be a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiation before they see the light of day on the SEC’s website—but they are clearly designed to address these concerns about emerging market issuers, especially lack of accounting controls and transparency. Not to be outdone, the Senate yesterday passed a bill that could bar from listing on U.S. exchanges companies audited by firms that the PCAOB is prohibited by foreign authorities from inspecting.