Those who want to see what the large-company mainstream is doing on comp disclosure might be interested in a recent report, Observations from S&P 500 Pay-Versus-Performance Disclosures, from comp consultant FW Cook & Co. Cook provides analysis of how the 403 companies in the S&P 500 that filed 2023 proxy statements as of June 1, 2023, responded to the SEC’s new rule amendments on pay versus performance.
In August last year—12 years after the Dodd-Frank mandate— the SEC finally adopted a new rule that requires disclosure of information reflecting the relationship between executive compensation actually paid by a company and the company’s financial performance: the pay-versus-performance rules. To a significant extent, the approach taken by the SEC in this rulemaking was prescriptive and some of the prescriptive aspects of the rules were quite complex; the SEC opted not to take a “wholly principles-based approach because, among other reasons, such a route would limit comparability across issuers and within issuers’ filings over time, as well as increasing the possibility that some issuers would choose to report only the most favorable information.” But there was some flexibility built into the new rules. How would companies implement the more flexible disclosure requirements? That was the question considered by Compensation Advisory Partners, which published a report on the versions of pay-versus-performance disclosure from the earliest filers among the S&P 500. A similar study of a slightly larger group was conducted by equitymethods. The goal in each case was to try to get a sense of how companies were responding to the new disclosure requirements. What choices were companies making on peer groups, financial measures or “Company-Selected Measures”? How were companies describing the relationship between pay and performance? Just what did the new disclosure look like?
It’s been 12 years since Dodd-Frank mandated, in Section 953(a), so-called pay-versus-performance disclosure, and amazingly, no rules had been adopted to implement that mandate…until yesterday, when adoption of the final rule crept in “on little cat feet.” Well, ok, there was a press release, but it was still quite a surprise. Yesterday, without an open meeting, the SEC finally adopted a new rule that would require disclosure of information reflecting the relationship between executive compensation actually paid by a company and the company’s financial performance. The SEC proposed a rule on pay versus performance in 2015 (see this PubCo post and this Cooley Alert), but it fell onto the long-term, maybe-never agenda until, that is, the SEC reopened the comment period in January (see this PubCo post). According to SEC Chair Gary Gensler, “[t]oday’s rule makes it easier for shareholders to assess a public company’s decision-making with respect to its executive compensation policies. I am pleased that the final rule provides for new, more flexible disclosures that allow companies to describe the performance measures it deems most important when determining what it pays executives. I think that this rule will help investors receive the consistent, comparable, and decision-useful information they need to evaluate executive compensation policies.” Commissioners Hester Peirce and Mark Uyeda dissented.
Although there is an SEC open meeting scheduled for this week, the commissioners won’t be taking up any proposals from Corp Fin at that meeting (see the agenda). That’s a little puzzling given that the SEC’s agenda for Corp Fin was near to bursting, especially for highly anticipated disclosure proposals on climate and human capital, among other things. Those two topics, for example, had appeared on the two most recent SEC reg-flex agendas with proposal target dates of October 2021, then delayed to December 2021, with expectations later vaguely conveyed for January 2022, unlikely now to be met. [UPDATE: At the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Annual Securities Regulation Institute on Tuesday, Corp Fin Director Renee Jones indicated that said that they expect to have a proposal on climate disclosure before the SEC this quarter.] However, according to Bloomberg, the SEC does have Corp Fin-related plans for this week: to reopen the public comment period on the 2015 pay-versus-performance proposal “after a vote taken behind closed doors.”
by Cydney Posner According to this article in the WSJ, SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar, who will probably become acting Chair when current Chair Mary Jo White steps down this month, has agreed with fellow Commissioner Kara Stein about various rulemakings that they might pursue in the interim until nominee Jay […]