Today’s [July 23, 2014] reforms will fundamentally change the way that most money market funds operate. They will reduce the risk of runs in money market funds and provide important new tools that will help further protect investors and the financial system in a crisis. Together, this strong reform package will make our financial system more resilient and enhance the transparency and fairness of these products for America’s investors.
Archive for the ‘Practitioner Publications’ Category
This has been called “the heyday of hedge fund activism,” and it is certainly true that today boards of directors must constantly be vigilant to the many and varied ways in which activist investors can approach a target. Commencing a proxy fight long has been an activist tactic, but it is now being used in a different way. Some hedge funds are engaging in proxy fights in order to exercise direct influence or control over the board’s decision-making as opposed to clearing the way for a takeover of the target company or seeking a stock buyback. In some cases, multiple hedge funds acting in parallel purchase enough target shares to hold a voting bloc adequate to elect their director nominees to the board. A recent Delaware case addressed a situation in which a board resisted a threat from hedge funds acting together in this manner. The court determined that a shareholder rights plan, or poison pill, could, in certain circumstances, be an appropriate response. As a general matter, boards of directors facing activist share accumulations and threats of board takeovers can take comfort in this latest affirmation of the respect accorded to an independent board’s informed business judgment.
Today [July 23, 2014], the Commission considers adopting long-considered reforms to the rules governing money market funds. I commend the hard work of the staff, particularly the Division of Investment Management and the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis (“DERA”), who worked tirelessly to present these thoughtful and deliberate amendments. It is well known that the journey to arrive at the amendments considered today was a difficult one, and I can confidently say that this has been, at times, perhaps one of the most flawed and controversial rulemaking processes the Commission has undertaken.
About a year ago, Professor Lucian Bebchuk took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to declare that he had conducted a study that he claimed proved that activist hedge funds are good for companies and the economy. Not being statisticians or econometricians, we did not respond by trying to conduct a study proving the opposite. Instead, we pointed out some of the more obvious methodological flaws in Professor Bebchuk’s study, as well as some observations from our years of real-world experience that lead us to believe that the short-term influence of activist hedge funds has been, and continues to be, profoundly destructive to the long-term health of companies and the American economy.
Where do we go from here? As we mark another milestone in regulatory reform with the fourth anniversary of the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, it strikes us that although most studies required to be undertaken by the Act have been released and final rules have been promulgated addressing many of the most important regulatory measures, we are still living with a great deal of regulatory uncertainty and extraordinary regulatory complexity.
The fourth anniversary of the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act provides an opportunity to reflect on why the Act was passed, how the SEC has used the Act to promote financial stability and protect American investors, and what remains to be completed. The financial crisis was devastating, resulting in untold losses for American households and demonstrating the need for strong and effective regulatory action to prevent any recurrence.
Our mid-year report one year ago presented an exciting opportunity to discuss a time of great change at the SEC. A new Chair and a new Director of Enforcement had recently assumed the reins and begun making bold policy pronouncements. One year later, things have stabilized somewhat. The hot-button issues identified early in the new SEC administration—admissions for settling parties, a growing number of trials (and, for the agency, trial losses), and a renewed focus on public company accounting—remain the leading issues a year later, albeit with some interesting developments.
The SEC provided the “who” but not much else in its final rule regarding cross-border security-based swap activities (“final rule”), released at the SEC’s June 25, 2014 open meeting. Although most firms have already implemented a significant portion of the CFTC’s swaps regulatory regime (which governs well over 90% of the market), the SEC’s oversight of security-based swaps means that the SEC’s cross-border framework and its outstanding substantive rulemakings (e.g., clearing, reporting, etc.) have the potential to create rules that conflict with the CFTC’s approach. The impact that the SEC’s regulatory framework will have on the market remains uncertain, but the final rule at least begins to lay out the SEC’s cross-border position.
Under Delaware’s corporate benefit doctrine, a stockholder who presents a meritorious claim to a board of directors may be entitled to attorneys’ fees if the stockholder’s efforts result in the conferring of a corporate benefit.  On June 20, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court considered in Raul v. Astoria Financial Corporation  whether attorneys’ fees are warranted under this doctrine when a stockholder identifies potential deficiencies in executive compensation disclosures required by the SEC pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act “say on pay” provisions.  The court held that the alleged omissions at issue failed to demonstrate any breach of the Board of Directors’ fiduciary duties under Delaware law and accordingly the Plaintiff did not present a meritorious demand to the Board. This decision makes clear that the courts will not shift fees to a stockholder (and the stockholder’s law firm) who “has simply done the company a good turn by bringing to the attention of the board an action that it ultimately decides to take.” 
This post looks at results from 2,788 shareholder meetings held between January 1 and May 22, 2014. We provide data and analyses on areas such as share ownership composition, director elections, say-on-pay, proxy material distribution and the mechanics of shareholder voting. We also look at differences in proxy voting by company size.
With about three-quarters of the 2014 proxy season complete, voting results continue to show that public company executives and directors must remain vigilant regarding corporate governance matters. In comparison to last proxy-season at this time, large-cap ($10b+) companies have attained higher levels of shareholder support both for directors and for executive compensation plans. In contrast, support levels for executive compensation plans fell at mid-cap ($2b–$10b), small-cap ($300m–$2b) and micro-cap ($300m or less) companies, and support for directors fell at mid-cap companies.