The newest SEC Commissioner, Elad Roisman, who has reportedly gotten the nod to head up the SEC’s efforts regarding proxy advisory firms, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in late March that he expects the SEC to issue new guidance, sometime after proxy season this year, regarding the use by institutional investors of proxy advisory firm recommendations, as reported in The Deal. And, according to the WSJ, Roisman has “also questioned whether it was appropriate for the SEC to exempt proxy advisers from some regulations on investment advice, including whether they can both advise a company and make recommendations to its shareholders at the same time.” However, as discussed in this PubCo post, the question of whether proxy advisory firms, such as ISS and Glass Lewis, have undue influence over the voting process and should be reined in has long been something of a political donnybrook. With the issue of proxy advisory firm regulation so politically freighted, will the SEC limit the scope of its effort to guidance to institutional investors or, more controversially, go further and impose regulation on proxy advisors, as many companies have advocated?
The SEC has voted to propose a new rule, Rule 163B, that would expand the JOBS Act’s “test-the-waters” reform beyond emerging growth companies to apply to all issuers. If expanded as proposed, the new rule would allow a company (and its authorized representatives, including underwriters) to engage in oral or written communications, either prior to or following the filing of a registration statement, with potential investors that are, or are reasonably believed to be, qualified institutional buyers (QIBs) or institutional accredited investors (IAIs) to determine whether they might be interested in the contemplated registered offering. The proposed new rule is designed to allow the company to gauge market interest in the deal before committing to the time-consuming prospectus drafting and SEC review process or incurring many of the costs associated with an offering. According to the press release, SEC Chair Jay Clayton views the extension of this reform as a way to enhance the ability of companies “to conduct successful public securities offerings and lower their cost of capital, and ultimately to provide investors with more opportunities to invest in public companies…. [Clayton has] seen first-hand how the modernization reforms of the JOBS Act have helped companies and investors. The proposed rules would allow companies to more effectively consult with investors and better identify information that is important to them in advance of a public offering.”
The proposal is so uncontroversial that the SEC did not even hold an open meeting to vote on it. I’d don’t think I’d be going out on too much of a limb if I predicted that, although there may be tweaks to it, the proposed new rule is just about a done deal. The proposal will have a 60-day public comment period following its publication in the Federal Register.
Unless you’ve been unplugged and hiding under a rock recently, you’ve heard that the federal government shutdown has ended—at least for the next three weeks. In a statement today, SEC Chair Jay Clayton said that the SEC has “resumed normal staffing levels and is returning to normal operations.” What that will mean in practice, we don’t really know yet, given the likelihood of significant backlogs that accumulated over the past month. Clayton advised that the leaders of Divisions, such as Corp Fin, are consulting with the staff and “are continuing to assess how to most effectively transition to normal operations.” Corp Fin is expected to publish a statement (as are other offices) “in the coming days regarding their transition plans,” which will be available on the SEC website.
You may recall that at the end of last year, SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Corp Fin Chief Accountant Kyle Moffatt were warning at various conferences about some of the risks the SEC was monitoring, among them the LIBOR phase-out, which is expected to occur in 2021. As reported by the WSJ, Moffatt indicated that “to the extent that the phaseout of Libor is material to a company,…we would definitely expect a company to disclose that fact and describe the implications of the phaseout, including any associated risks, to investors.’” (See this PubCo post.) But, in making that assessment and any related disclosure, what should companies consider?
If you’re looking for some entertaining reading, look no further! It’s the Cooley Alert version of The Big Short: SEC Adopts Final Hedging Disclosure Rules. Why wait for the movie adaptation when you can read the Alert now?
On Tuesday, the SEC finally dredged up the 2015 proposal to implement section 955 of Dodd-Frank regarding hedging disclosure in proxy statements and, without an open meeting, voted—yes finally—to adopt it. Section 955 mandated disclosure about the ability of a company’s employees or directors to hedge or offset any decrease in the market value of equity securities granted as compensation to, or held directly or indirectly by, an employee or director. According to the legislative history, the purpose was to “allow shareholders to know if executives are allowed to purchase financial instruments to effectively avoid compensation restrictions that they hold stock long-term, so that they will receive their compensation even in the case that their firm does not perform.” The final rules were adopted “along the lines proposed,” but with some modifications.
At last week’s meeting of the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee, the Committee members held a Q&A session with SEC Chair Jay Clayton, followed by a discussion of environmental, social and governance disclosure, where the main question appeared to be whether to recommend that ESG disclosure be required through regulation, continued as voluntary disclosure but under a particular framework advocated by the SEC or continued only to the extent of private ordering as is currently the case.
Among the points addressed in the Q&A was a potential government shutdown. Clayton said that the SEC was planning for a possible shutdown, and that, as in previous shutdowns, he expected the SEC would be able to continue its operations for a number of days post-shutdown.