Trust is part of the foundation of public markets. Scandals at firms such as Enron and HealthSouth fractured this foundation and motivated market participants to ask why executives and other employees at these firms misled investors. Some regulators and experts conjecture that the roots of these scandals can be traced to the actions and attitudes of those at the very top of corporate leadership. In the words of Linda Chatman Thomsen (Director, Division of Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission) “Corporate character matters—and employees take their cues from the top. In our experience, the character of the CEO and other top officers is generally reflected in the character of the entire company.” In our paper, Suspect CEOs, Unethical Culture, and Corporate Misbehavior, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we provide evidence consistent with this perspective by demonstrating an empirical link between CEOs’ revealed character and the misbehaviors of the firms they manage.
Archive for the ‘Securities Litigation & Enforcement’ Category
The Securities and Exchange Commission announced last week that it had charged eight directors, officers and major stockholders for failing to timely disclose steps taken to take their respective companies private in their beneficial ownership reports on Schedule 13D. The orders issued by the SEC indicate the SEC staff became aware of the violations in the course of their review of proxy and Schedule 13E-3 transaction statements, which described the steps taken in the required disclosures regarding the background of the transactions. The orders note that emails and other contemporaneous communications clearly indicate the steps taken that had not been properly disclosed. The orders issued by the SEC (to which the offending parties consented) resulted in cease-and-desist orders and payment of civil penalties.
As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.
With a minor change to the customary lock-up agreement, issuers and underwriters may be better able to fight frivolous IPO lawsuits. By allowing non-registration statement shares to enter the market, underwriters may prevent Section 11 strike-suiters from “tracing” their shares to the IPO. This could enable ’33 Act defendants to knock out the lawsuits against them.
Basics of Section 11 Standing and Tracing
Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S. Code § 77k, provides a private remedy for those who purchase shares issued pursuant to a registration statement that is materially false or misleading. The remedy applies to “any person acquiring such security.” Section 11(a). That is, a person may assert a claim with respect to shares issued pursuant to the particular registration statement.
A new report shows that the percentage of 2014 lawsuits filed by shareholders in M&A deals remained consistent with the previous four years, while other key indicators suggest a slowdown. The report, Shareholder Litigation Involving Acquisitions of Public Companies, released February 25, 2015 by Cornerstone Research, reveals that investors contested 93 percent of M&A transactions in 2014. Despite this typically high percentage, shareholders brought a smaller number of competing lawsuits per deal and in fewer jurisdictions, challenged fewer deals valued below $1 billion, and took slightly longer to file lawsuits.
In a significant shift from recent years, 60 percent of contested M&A deals had lawsuits filed against them in only one jurisdiction. Just 4 percent of these deals were challenged in more than two courts, the lowest number since 2007.
In Rieckborn v. Velti plc, 2015 WL 468329 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2015) (Orrick, J.), the United States District Court for the Northern District of California clarified the scope of the judgment reduction provision that is found in almost all class action settlement agreements by holding that nonsettling defendants are entitled to a judgment reduction measured by the proportion of fault of all settling defendants, not just a dollar-for-dollar judgment reduction, on all settled claims under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”). In so holding, the court handed a major victory to nonsettling defendants in actions under the Securities Act by granting them a favorable form of judgment reduction on claims not explicitly covered by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “PSLRA”). The court’s opinion also makes clear that bar orders cannot preclude “independent claims” and that bar orders must be “mutual,” thereby giving guidance to the drafters of class action settlement agreements.
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge the remarkable and dedicated career of Harvey Goldschmid. Just a few weeks ago, Harvey visited me to discuss his perspectives on a number of timely securities law issues. His superb intellect was reinforced by his engaging personality and skill as a teacher.
Harvey’s intense passion for the securities laws and investor protection was an inspiration to many of us. In authoring a tribute to Harvey Goldschmid in 2006, SEC historian Joel Seligman labeled him one of the most influential Commissioners.  I couldn’t agree more.
This conference provides us with an opportunity to look backward and to look forward. As I look back over the SEC’s history, I am always impressed by the rate and degree of change.
Picture Wall Street 80 years ago—the street was filled with dozens of young men—“runners”—carrying paper back and forth between various brokers and dealers and banks and exchanges and companies that made up the securities markets. Runners were the backbone of the securities market, delivering paperwork and stock certificates at a rate of $8 per day. Maybe the telephone would ring (the desk telephone was launched in 1932) or a telegram would arrive. And investors, would look to the newspaper to decide what stocks to buy or sell.
In our paper, The Impact of Whistleblowers on Financial Misrepresentation Enforcement Actions, which was recently made available on SSRN, we investigate the effect of employee whistleblowers on the consequences of financial misrepresentation enforcement actions by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Justice (DOJ). Whistleblowers are ostensibly a valuable resource to regulators investigating securities violations, but whether whistleblowers have any measurable impact on the outcomes of enforcement actions is unclear. Using the universe of SEC and DOJ enforcement actions for financial misrepresentation between 1978 and 2012 (Karpoff et al., 2008, 2014), we investigate whether whistleblower involvement is associated with more severe enforcement outcomes. Specifically, we examine the effects of whistleblower involvement on: (1) monetary penalties against targeted firms; (2) monetary penalties against culpable employees; and (3) the length of incarceration (prison sentences) imposed against employee respondents. In addition, we investigate the effect of whistleblowers on the duration of the violation, regulatory proceedings, and total enforcement periods. We examine the effects of whistleblowers conditional on the existence of a regulatory enforcement action. This distinction is important because our tests exploit variation in consequences to SEC or DOJ enforcement with and without whistleblower involvement; we do not measure the effects of whistleblower allegations for which there are no regulatory enforcement actions.
Illegal insider trading has become front-page news in recent years. High profile court cases have brought to light the extensive networks of insiders surrounding well-known hedge funds, such as the Galleon Group and SAC Capital. Yet, we have little systematic knowledge about these networks. Who are inside traders? How do they know each other? What type of information do they share, and how much money do they make? Answering these questions is important. Augustin, Brenner, and Subrahmanyam (2014) suggest that 25% of M&A announcements are preceded by illegal insider trading. Similarly, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York believes that insider trading is “rampant.”
In my paper, Information Network: Evidence from Illegal Insider Trading Tips, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I analyze 183 insider trading networks to provide answers to these basic questions. I identify networks using hand-collected data from all of the insider trading cases filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) between 2009 and 2013. The case documents include biographical information on the insiders, descriptions of their social relationships, data on the information that is shared, and the amount and timing of insider trades. The data cover 1,139 insider tips shared by 622 insiders who made an aggregated $928 million in illegal profits. In sum, the data assembled for this paper provide an unprecedented view of how investors share material, nonpublic information through word-of-mouth communication.
By every meaningful measure, 2014 was a year of significant accomplishment across all of the agency’s areas of responsibility. The year was highlighted by the completion of several transformative rulemakings, including new policy reforms to address faults exposed during the financial crisis and initiatives to better address vulnerabilities in the resiliency and integrity of our markets. It was also an unprecedented year in enforcement, in terms of the number of cases and, more importantly, their subject matter. We made important strides in our review and action plans for optimizing the structure of our equity and fixed income markets, enhancing our risk supervision of the asset management industry and bolstering the effectiveness of public company disclosure. We also significantly strengthened our examination coverage of market participants. But, as always, we have more to do and expect a very busy 2015.