Yesterday, the SEC released for public comment a draft of its proposed strategic plan, which outlines the SEC’s priorities through FY 2022. The plan identifies three strategic goals related to investors, innovation and SEC performance. According to the press release, the plan “highlights the SEC’s commitment to serving the long-term interests of Main Street investors; becoming more innovative, responsive, and resilient to market developments and trends; and leveraging staff expertise, data and analytics to bolster performance.” While not exactly long on detail, the plan does provide a general idea of SEC priorities.
You, like me, may have been the recipient of many, many, many calls from various persons claiming to be from the IRS and threatening you with imprisonment. We all know that the IRS doesn’t make those types of calls and we ignore them. Apparently, some of those folks have now shifted agencies claiming to represent the SEC. This could be a little trickier.
SEC approves amendments to NYSE Manual largely eliminating requirement to deliver to NYSE hard copies of proxy materials
On March 1, the SEC approved the NYSE’s proposal to largely eliminate the requirement to provide hard copies of proxy materials to the NYSE. Prior to approval of the amendment, listed companies were required to provide hard copies of proxy materials to the NYSE under Section 204.00(B) and Section 402.01 of the NYSE Manual. Notwithstanding the requirements of Rule 14a-6(b) to deliver hard copies to the applicable exchange (from which the NYSE has obtained no-action relief), the amendment to Section 402.01 provides that listed companies will not be required to provide hard copies of proxy materials to the NYSE, so long as they are included in their entirety in an SEC filing available on EDGAR.
Yesterday, the SEC announced that it had adopted—without the scheduled open meeting, which was abruptly cancelled with only a cryptic statement—long-awaited new guidance on cybersecurity disclosure. The guidance addresses disclosure obligations under existing laws and regulations, cybersecurity policies and procedures, disclosure controls and procedures, insider trading prohibitions and Reg FD and selective disclosure prohibitions in the context of cybersecurity. The new guidance builds on Corp Fin’s 2011 guidance on this topic (see this Cooley News Brief), adding in particular new discussions of policies and insider trading. While the guidance was adopted unanimously, some of the Commissioners were not exactly enthused about it, viewing it as largely repetitive of the 2011 guidance—and hardly more compelling. Anticlimactic? See if you agree.
Depending on your point of view, you may have experienced either heart palpitations or increased serotonin levels when you heard, back in July 2017, that SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar had, in a speech before the Heritage Foundation, advised that the SEC was open to the idea of allowing companies contemplating IPOs to include mandatory shareholder arbitration provisions in corporate charters. As reported, Piwowar “encouraged” companies undertaking IPOs to “come to us to ask for relief to put in mandatory arbitration into their charters.” (See this PubCo post.) As discussed in this PubCo post, at the same time, in Senate testimony, SEC Chair Jay Clayton, asked by Senator Sherrod Brown about Piwowar’s comments, responded that, while he recognized the importance of the ability of shareholders to go to court, he would not “prejudge” the issue. According to some commentators at the time, to the extent that these views appeared to indicate a significant shift in SEC policy on mandatory arbitration, they could portend “the beginning of the end of securities fraud class actions.” Then, in January of this year, the rumors about mandatory arbitration resurfaced in a Bloomberg article, which cited “three people familiar with the matter” for the proposition that the SEC is “laying the groundwork” for this “possible policy shift.” But in recent Senate testimony, Clayton reportedly put the kibosh on these signals.
Equilar has just released the results of an anonymous survey of public companies, with 356 respondents, which asked these companies to indicate the CEO-employee pay ratios they anticipated reporting in their 2018 proxy statements. As you would expect, there was a lot of variation among companies based on industry, market cap, revenue, workforce size and geography. In addition, because the rule provided significant flexibility in how companies could identify the median employee and in how they calculate his or her total annual compensation, variations in company methodology likely had a significant impact on the results. These variations in the data underscore the soundness of the SEC’s view, expressed at the time it adopted the pay-ratio rule, that the rule was “designed to allow shareholders to better understand and assess a particular [company’s] compensation practices and pay ratio disclosures rather than to facilitate a comparison of this information from one [company] to another”; “the primary benefit” of the pay-ratio disclosure, according to the SEC, was to provide shareholders with a “company-specific metric” that can be used to evaluate CEO compensation within the context of that company.