Tag: Reg FD

SEC v. AT&T headed to trial—is Reg FD constitutional?

Reg FD cases rarely get to court, but here’s one that, barring a settlement, appears to be headed to trial. In a 129-page opinion in SEC v. AT&T, 9/08/22, the federal district court for the SDNY denied summary judgment for both sides in a case the SEC brought in March of 2021 against AT&T and three members of its Investor Relations Department for violations of Reg FD. (See this PubCo post.) The SEC alleged that, in March 2016, AT&T learned that, as a result of a “steeper-than-expected decline in smartphone sales,” AT&T’s first quarter revenues would fall short of analysts’ estimates by over a $1 billion.  Given that AT&T had missed consensus revenue estimates in two of the three preceding quarters, AT&T, it was alleged, embarked on a “campaign” to beat consensus revenue estimates for Q1: the three defendant IR employees were asked by the CFO and IR Director to contact the analysts whose estimates were too high to “walk” them down. As part of that campaign, the SEC alleged, they selectively disclosed the  company’s “projected or actual total revenue, and internal metrics bearing on total revenue, including wireless equipment revenue and wireless equipment upgrade rates.” The campaign worked.  But—and it’s a big but—it also led the SEC to bring claims against AT&T for violating Reg FD, and against the three IR employees for aiding and abetting that violation. As to AT&T and the other defendants, the Court was not persuaded by their arguments that there was insufficient evidence to support the SEC’s claims of a Reg FD violation, nor did the Court agree that Reg FD was “invalid” under the First Amendment. And, as to the SEC, while the Court viewed as “formidable” the evidence showing that the information at issue was material, nonpublic and selectively disclosed, the question of scienter was a closer one, and a reasonable jury could find for the defendants on that point.  

It’s been eons since the SEC last did this—brought a Reg FD enforcement action, that is

Reg FD prohibits selective disclosure of material, nonpublic information by public companies (or by its senior officials or specified other employees) to securities market professionals and shareholders reasonably likely to trade on the information.  If a public company does make a disclosure of that kind, the company is required under Reg FD to disclose the information to the public. Information is considered “material” if there is “a substantial likelihood that a reasonable investor would consider the information important in making an investment decision or if the information would significantly alter the total mix of available information.”  And that’s where the thorny part comes in. Judgments about materiality of disclosures are often complicated and muddy and frequently made in real time.

NYSE proposes changes regarding delivery to NYSE of proxy materials; SEC approves NYSE restriction on timing of issuance of material news after NYSE close

Two changes—one proposed, one approved—in the NYSE Manual: first, the NYSE is proposing to modify its requirements with respect to delivery to the NYSE of hard copies of proxy materials. Second, the SEC has approved the NYSE’s proposal, as amended, related to a limitation on the issuance of material news in the period immediately after the NYSE close.