As 2014 winds down and 2015 approaches, proxy advisory firms—and the investment managers who hire them—are finding themselves under increased scrutiny. Staff guidance issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission at the end of June and a working paper published in August by SEC Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher both indicate that oversight of proxy advisory services will be a significant focus for the SEC during next year’s proxy season. Under the rubric of corporate governance, annual proxy solicitations have become referenda on an ever-widening assortment of corporate, social, and political issues, and, as a result, the influence and power of proxy advisors—and their relative lack of accountability—have become increasingly problematic. The SEC’s recent actions and statements suggest that the tide may be turning. Proxy advisory firms appear to be entering a new era of increasing accountability and potentially decreasing influence, possibly with further, more significant, SEC action to come.
Archive for the ‘Securities Regulation’ Category
On September 3, 2014, U.S. banking regulators re-proposed margin, capital and segregation requirements applicable to swap entities  for uncleared swaps.  The new proposed rules modify significantly the regulators’ original 2011 proposal in light of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s and the International Organization of Securities Commissions’ (“BCBS/IOSCO”) issuance of their 2013 final policy framework on margin requirements for uncleared derivatives and the comments received on the original proposal. The revised proposal:
[On September 10, 2014], the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (collectively, the “Agencies”) provided an addition to their existing list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) addressing the implementation of section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended, commonly known as the “Volcker Rule.”
Earlier this week, the SEC adopted significant changes to Regulation AB, which governs the offering process and disclosure and periodic reporting requirements for public offerings of asset-backed securities, including residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS). The revisions to Regulation AB were a long time coming—they were first proposed in 2010 and have drawn several rounds of comments from industry participants. Issuers must comply with the new rules no later than one year after publication in the Federal Registrar (or two years in the case of the asset-level disclosure requirements described below). The new rules do not address “risk retention” by sponsors which is the subject of a separate rule-making process.
This post deals with certain of the liability provisions of the federal securities laws: §§ 11, 12, 15 and 17 of the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”), and §§ 10, 18 and 20 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”). It does not address other potential sources of liability and sanction, such as federal mail and wire fraud statutes, state fraud statutes and common law remedies, RICO and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) disciplinary powers.
On December 22, 1995, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “Reform Act” or “PSLRA”) became law after the Senate overrode President Clinton’s veto. Pub. L. No. 104-67, 109 Stat. 737 (1995). Where relevant, this post discusses changes and additions that the PSLRA made to the liability provisions of the Securities Act and the Exchange Act.
In our June 4, 2014 article on cyber security and cyber governance  we noted that for many reasons, boards of directors and executives of U.S. companies needed to reexamine how they protect (and respond to the successful hacking of) their most critical intellectual property and customer information. One of the reasons was that all signs out of Washington, D.C. pointed towards increasing federal regulation and oversight of cyber security for public and private companies, and particularly for those in the financial services sector. Further, we foresaw not only heightened scrutiny from regulators, but increasing class action litigation, with plaintiffs accusing boards and management of not taking the appropriate steps to protect company and client data. Our predictions were correct on all fronts.
Today [August 27, 2014] the Commission takes an important step to protect investors and promote capital formation, by enhancing the transparency of asset-backed securities (“ABS”) and by increasing the accountability of issuers of these securities. The securitization market is critical to our economy and can provide liquidity to nearly all the major economic sectors, including the automobile industry, the consumer credit industry, the leasing industry, and the commercial lending and credit markets.
Given the importance of this market, let’s also remember why we are here and the magnitude of the crisis in the ABS market. At the end of 2007, the ABS market consisted of more than $7 trillion of mortgage-backed securities and nearly $2.5 trillion of other outstanding ABS. However, by the fall of 2008, the securitization market had completely seized up. For example, in 2006 and 2007, new issuances of private-label residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) totaled $686 billion and $507 billion, respectively. In 2008, private-label RMBS issuance dropped to $9 billion, and flat-lined in 2009.
Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) authored a working paper, published last month by the Washington Legal Foundation, regarding the outsized power and influence of proxy advisory firms.  In his paper, Commissioner Gallagher provides his view of the most important aspects of Staff Legal Bulletin No. 20 (“SLB 20”), in which the SEC staff recently “moved toward addressing some of the serious issues” resulting from the emergence of proxy advisory firms as a dominant player in American corporate governance. Notably, Gallagher also offers some critical advice to public companies engaging with proxy advisory firms.
Shareholder voting has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past few decades. Institutional ownership of shares was once negligible; now, it predominates. This is important because individual investors are generally rationally apathetic when it comes to shareholder voting: value potentially gained through voting is outweighed by the burden of determining how to vote and actually casting that vote. By contrast, institutional investors possess economies of scale, and so regularly vote billions of shares each year on thousands of ballot items for the thousands of companies in which they invest.
The Million-Comment-Letter Petition: The Rulemaking Petition on Disclosure of Political Spending Attracts More than 1,000,000 SEC Comment Letters
In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law experts that petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. We are delighted to announce that, as reflected in the SEC’s webpage for comments filed on our petition, the SEC has now received more than a million comment letters regarding the petition. To our knowledge, the petition has attracted far more comments than any other SEC rulemaking petition—or, indeed, than any other issue on which the Commission has accepted public comment—in the history of the SEC.