It’s well known that COVID-19 provided an unanticipated shock to the economy as a consequence of what economist Paul Krugman termed the “economic equivalent of a medically induced coma.” As a result, many companies were compelled to disclose historic performance that was, to put it mildly, at odds with their expectations of a few months prior, with little insight about the shape of future performance. In this paper, The Spread of COVID-19 Disclosure, from the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, the authors looked at how companies responded to this situation, examining the levels of transparency that companies provided in the “widely uncertain” setting of COVID-19.
For those interested in a summary and update of the SEC’s and its staff’s targeted relief to address COVID-19, you may want to look at this updated statement issued today by SEC Chair Jay Clayton and the Directors of Corp Fin, Investment Management and Trading and Markets. The statement summarizes the current temporary relief and indicates the staff’s views on whether the relief should be extended or otherwise adjusted: “It is clear that the need for certain relief remains, such as relief to ensure continued remote operations and to provide flexibility in light of continued market volatility. Other forms of current relief, however, are unlikely to be extended.”
Yesterday, the staff of Corp Fin issued Disclosure Guidance: Topic No. 9A, which supplements CF Topic No. 9 with additional views of the staff regarding disclosures related to operations, liquidity and capital resources that companies should consider as a consequence of business and market disruptions resulting from COVID-19. You might recall that, in March, the staff issued CF Topic No. 9, which offered the staff’s views regarding disclosure considerations, trading on material inside information and reporting financial results in the context of COVID-19 and related uncertainties. (See this PubCo post.) As with the original guidance, the new supplemental guidance includes a valuable series of questions designed to help companies assess, and to stimulate effective disclosure regarding, the impact of COVID-19, in advance of the close of the June quarter. As always these days, the guidance makes clear that it represents only the views of the staff, is not binding and has no legal force or effect.
Is EBITDAC a thing? Yes, according to the FT. This article describes the use of a new non-GAAP metric: “earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation—and coronavirus.” Applying the new metric, a few companies have actually added back profits they contend they would have earned but for the mandatory lockdowns resulting from COVID-19. Hmmm. While, according to the article, the add-back has “bemused some observers,” it does raise the question: how should companies employ non-GAAP financial measures (NGFMs) in the context of COVID-19? How should audit committees conduct oversight of the use of NGFMs that have been adjusted for coronavirus-related effects? Auditors weigh in.
Corp Fin has posted four new COVID-19-related FAQs, most of which concern the interaction of Form S-3 and the SEC’s COVID-19 Order. As you know, in the COVID-19 Order, the SEC provided public companies that are unable to file timely “due to circumstances related to COVID-19” with conditional 45-day extensions to file or furnish specified SEC various reports, schedules and forms that would otherwise have been due between March 1 and July 1, 2020, provided they comply with certain requirements (see this PubCo post). If a company does not file a required report on the original due date in reliance on the COVID-19 Order, what does that mean for its use of Form S-3?
The FT is reporting that the SEC is abandoning a key component of its proposal to add new disclosure and engagement requirements for proxy advisory firms, such as ISS and Glass Lewis. (See this PubCo post.) According to the report, the SEC has “scrapped the portion of the proposal that would have forced proxy advisers—led by Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis—to submit their voting recommendations to companies for checking before distributing them to investors in advance of shareholder meetings.” The proposal had received substantial pushback, including from the Council of Institutional Investors and even the SEC’s own Investor Advisory Committee. However, the FT appears to point the finger, or attribute the victory, depending on your point of view, primarily to hedge fund activists “who court proxy advisers’ support when fighting for board seats.”
Apparently, there are still a number of filings submitted on paper, and the filers are experiencing logistical difficulties submitting them. Once again, in light of health and safety concerns related to COVID-19, the Corp Fin staff is providing relief for specified paper forms submitted for the period from and including April 23, 2020 to June 30, 2020.
The Corp Fin staff is once again addressing logistical difficulties that have cropped up in light of COVID-19—this time it’s the submission of Forms 144 in paper. In this statement, the staff is providing temporary relief with regard to paper Forms 144 submitted during the period from April 10 through June 30, 2020. In the statement, the staff advises that it will not recommend enforcement action if, in lieu of mailing or delivering paper Forms 144 under Rules 101(b)(4) or 101(c)(6) of Reg S-T, the filer (or submitter) attaches a complete Form 144 as a PDF attachment to an email sent to PaperForms144@SEC.gov.
The Corp Fin staff announced that it has updated its Guidance for Conducting Shareholder Meetings in Light of COVID-19 Concerns (see this PubCo post), originally published on March 13. The updated guidance clarifies that the prior guidance regarding changes to the date, time and place of annual meetings of shareholders also applies to special meetings. The update also provides some relief for companies that shift to the “notice-only” method of furnishing proxy materials as a result of COVID-19-related delays in printing and mailing of full sets of proxy materials.
Today, the Corp Fin staff provided some additional relief in the context of incorporation of Part III information (very generally, information about directors and executive officers) into Forms 10-K. As you know, a company is allowed to incorporate into its Form 10-K Part III information from its definitive proxy (or information) statement if filed not later than 120 days after the end of the related ﬁscal year. If the definitive proxy statement is not timely filed, the company must file an amendment to its Form 10-K by the 120-day deadline to provide the omitted Part III information. New Form 10-K CDI 104.18 will allow a company to rely on the conditional relief provided by COVID-19 Order (Release No. 34-88465 (March 25, 2020) for the filing of the Part III information as long as the 120-day deadline falls within the relief period specified in the Order (March 1 and July 1, 2020) and the company meets the conditions of the Order (see this PubCo post).