Did the SEC’s rule changes succeed in transforming the risk factors section? What about climate risk?
Remember back in 2020, when the SEC adopted major amendments to Reg S-K designed to modernize the descriptions of business, legal proceedings and risk factors? You might recall that the SEC had long grumbled about “the lengthy and generic nature of the risk factor disclosure presented by many registrants”; to address that concern, the SEC instituted a number of requirements and “incentives” to encourage companies to be, um, more succinct. (See this PubCo post.) Among these changes were a new requirement to include a risk factor summary if the risk factor section exceeded 15 pages and changing the disclosure standard from “most significant” factors to “material” factors. In addition, because the SEC considered untailored, generic risks to be less informative and to contribute to increased length, it sought to discourage their use by requiring companies to organize the risk factors under relevant headings, with generic risk factors located at the end under a separate caption, “General Risk Factors.” So how’d that go? Did the rule changes achieve their purpose? Apparently, not so much—at least not at the largest public companies—according to this paper, published on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, from a group of authors from Deloitte and the USC Marshall School of Business. The authors also drilled down more specifically on risk factors related to climate change, where the increase in prevalence was dramatic (and probably also contributed to the increased length of risk factor sections in general).
On Friday, the President signed an Executive Order designed to promote competition in the American economy. Here is the Fact Sheet. The Order, which, in addition to corporate consolidation, relates to barriers to competition and the impact on the workforce and consumers of the lack of competition, includes “72 initiatives by more than a dozen federal agencies to promptly tackle some of the most pressing competition problems across our economy.” The Order addresses several industries specifically, such as tech, financial services, telecom, agriculture, transportation and shipping, and pharma and healthcare. The Order could also broadly impact a number of other industries, for example, through efforts to curtail the use of “non-compete and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility” or efforts to limit “manufacturers from barring self-repairs or third-party repairs of their products.” For the most part, the Order does not change the law or even any regulations at this point, and some of the agencies identified, such as the FTC, are independent and not subject to Presidential directives. Congress and the courts are likely to have a say as well. Nevertheless, companies may want to assess whether the initiatives and shift in regulatory emphasis may have some impact on their businesses that could warrant disclosure.
Cooley Alert: SEC Adopts Amendments to Regulation S-K to Modernize Descriptions of Business, Legal Proceedings and Risk Factors
The SEC’s new amendments to Reg S-K will become effective November 9, 2020. With that in mind, check out this Cooley Alert: SEC Adopts Amendments to Regulation S-K to Modernize Descriptions of Business, Legal Proceedings and Risk Factors. Fascinating story arc that builds to an emotional conclusion!
SEC adopts amendments to modernize Reg S-K requirements for business, legal proceedings and risk factor disclosures (UPDATED)
[This post revises and updates my earlier post primarily to reflect the contents of the adopting release.]
By a vote of three to two, on Wednesday, the SEC voted to adopt amendments, substantially as proposed with some modifications, to modernize the Reg S-K disclosure requirements related to the descriptions of business, legal proceedings and risk factors. As Chair Jay Clayton observed in his Statement, these Reg S-K disclosure items “essentially have not changed in over 30 years,” but much has changed in our economy since that time, making these updates well warranted. The changes are a component of the SEC’s Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative and reflect public comments on the SEC’s 2016 Concept Release (see this PubCo post) and the 2019 Reg S-K proposal (see this PubCo post), as well as experience from the staff’s disclosure review process. In devising the final amendments, the SEC considered the “many changes that have occurred in our capital markets and the domestic and global economy” since the requirements were adopted. The amendments largely reflect the SEC’s historic “commitment to a principles-based, registrant-specific approach to disclosure” that, although “prescriptive in some respects,” is “rooted in materiality” and designed to provide an understanding of a company’s business through the lens that management and the board apply in managing and assessing the company’s performance. While there are changes throughout, the most significant change is the enhancement of the disclosure requirement for human capital, a topic that has been front-burnered by the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce. How substantially disclosure changes as a result of these amendments remains to be seen. The amendments will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
At the end of last week, the SEC voted, without an open meeting, to propose amendments to modernize the descriptions of business, legal proceedings and risk factors in Reg S-K. The proposal is another component of the SEC’s “Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative.” In crafting the proposal, the SEC took into account comments received on the 2016 Concept Release on disclosure simplification and modernization (see this PubCo post), as well as Corp Fin staff experience in review of disclosures. The changes to the rules were proposed “in light of the many changes that have occurred in our capital markets and the domestic and global economy in the more than 30 years since their adoption, including changes in the mix of businesses that participate in our public markets, changes in the way businesses operate, which may affect the relevance of current disclosure requirements, changes in technology (in particular the availability of information), and changes such as inflation that have occurred simply with the passage of time.” There is a 60-day comment period.
As previously discussed in this PubCo post, one of the risk areas that SEC staff have advised they will be monitoring and have urged companies to address—and soon—is the effect of the LIBOR phase-out. LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate, is calculated based on estimates submitted by banks of their own borrowing costs. In 2012, the revelation of LIBOR rigging scandals made clear that the benchmark was susceptible to manipulation, and British regulators decided to phase it out by 2021. LIBOR has been used extensively as a benchmark reference for short-term interest rates for various commercial and financial contracts—including interest rate swaps and other derivatives, as well as floating rate mortgages and corporate debt. As cited by SEC Chair Jay Clayton, according to the Fed, “in the cash and derivatives markets, there are approximately $200 trillion in notional transactions referencing U.S Dollar LIBOR and…more than $35 trillion will not mature by the end of 2021.” (See also this PubCo post.)
by Cydney Posner An analysis by audit firm BDO of the incidence of disclosure of various risk factors among tech companies over five years reflects increased emphasis on security breaches, the impact of M&A (including goodwill impairment) and accounting and internal control compliance as key issues affecting the industry. Regulatory […]
by Cydney Posner I loved this column from Compliance Week by Scott Taub, former deputy chief accountant and former acting chief accountant at the SEC. It’s full of common sense ideas about how to shorten 10-Ks and 10-Qs, both of which seem to grow exponentially longer every year. Making them shorter […]