In an important ruling [October 14, 2014], the Delaware Court of Chancery dismissed a merger challenge on the pleadings and reaffirmed the primacy of director authority, the significance of the vote of disinterested stockholders, and the vibrancy of the business judgment rule. In re KKR Fin. Holdings LLC S’holder Litig., C.A. No. 9210-CB (Del. Ch. Oct. 14, 2014).
Severe turmoil in financial markets—whether the Panic of 1826, the Wall Street Crash of 1929, or the Global Financial Crisis of 2008—often raises significant concerns about the effectiveness of pre-existing securities market regulation. In turn, such concerns tend to result in calls for more and stricter government regulation of corporations and financial markets. It is widely considered that the most significant change to U.S. financial regulation in the past 100 years was the Securities Act of 1933 and the subsequent creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to enforce it. Before the SEC creation, federal securities market regulation was essentially absent in the U.S. In our paper, Corporate Governance and the Creation of the SEC, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine how companies listing in the U.S. responded to this significant increase in the provision of government-sponsored corporate governance. Specifically, did this landmark legislation have any significant effects on board governance (e.g., the independence of boards) and firm valuations?
In our recent paper, Disclosure and Financial Market Regulation, we provide a critical overview of the role of disclosure in financial market regulation.
We begin by discussing the goals of disclosure regulation, which we identify in investor protection, agency cost reduction and price accuracy enhancement. Disclosure protects investors because (a) it gives them the information that is needed in order to make correct investment decisions, (b) it prevents them from being “exploited” by traders having superior information, and (c) it constrains managers’ and controlling shareholders’ opportunistic behavior. In this last respect, the goal of investor protection equates that of agency cost reduction.
On September 19, 2014, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) announced that its Board of Governors (the “Board”) approved a series of regulatory initiatives primarily focused on equity and fixed income market structure issues. This is a direct response by FINRA to two important speeches this summer by SEC Chair Mary Jo White, in which she articulated an ambitious agenda of market structure reforms. 
The Board authorized FINRA staff to prepare Regulatory Notices soliciting comments or issuing guidance on the following:
One of the world largest fiduciary asset managers, APG recently issued remuneration guidelines that will be applied to its portfolio of European listed companies. APG believes that the innovation in the new guidelines is twofold. First in that they are based on its practical experience of company engagements and therefore reflect an integrated investment and governance outlook. More specifically, the guidelines place a clear emphasis on value creation. By issuing the guidelines APG is aiming to make its ongoing discussions with companies around pay more effective, thus freeing up time for it to focus on other important corporate governance areas such as board structure, succession and nominations.
To demonstrate their effectiveness, corporate boards should increase transparency, provide an annual report of boardroom activities and take charge of their relations with shareholders.
With shareholders continuing to press for ever-deepening levels of engagement, companies must find a way to answer the most basic question of corporate governance: “How effective is the board of directors?” It is a question that can only be answered by the board itself, but it presents directors with a challenge as well as an opportunity. The challenge is to overcome the mindset, habits and perceived risks that have long kept boardroom activities under wraps. The opportunity, on the other hand, is to define governance and strategic issues from the board’s perspective, manage shareholder expectations, take the engagement initiative away from shareholders and reduce the likelihood of activism. Directors should give careful consideration to this opportunity. Over the long term, it will be far better for companies to control the process by which board transparency is achieved rather than waiting for yet again another set of governance reforms that could further erode the board’s authority.
In 2013, CEOs in S&P 500 firms were paid, on average, over 200 times the average worker’s salary in their firms. To avoid or minimize public outrage, managers have a substantial incentive to obscure and try to legitimize their excessive compensation. One way of doing so is to have “independent” compensation consultants recommend higher pay to the board. However, prior literature has not been able to find significant evidence that hiring consultants leads to higher pay, partly because the information is only available after 2006 and most studies on this topic examine one or two years after 2006.
Two recent Dodd-Frank whistleblower awards suggest that the program is becoming the kind of “game changer” for law enforcement that many had predicted. The program, which took effect in August 2011, mandates the payment of bounties to persons who voluntarily provide information leading to a successful securities enforcement action in which more than $1 million is recovered. Informants are entitled to receive between 10 and 30 percent of the amounts recovered, with the precise amount to be determined by the SEC.
The incentive to take socially costly financial risks is inherent in banking: because of the interconnected nature of banking, one bank’s failure can increase the risk of failure of another bank even if they do not have a contractual relationship. If numerous banks collapse, the sudden withdrawal of credit from the economy hurts third parties who depend on loans to finance consumption and investment. The perverse incentive to take financial risk is further aggravated by underpriced government-supplied insurance and the government’s readiness to play the role of lender of last resort.
Last month, the SEC announced that it brought enforcement actions primarily relating to Section 16(a) under the Securities Exchange Act against 34 defendants. The defendants were 13 individuals who were or had been officers or directors of public companies, five individual investors, ten investment funds/advisers and six public companies.
This post briefly discusses several noteworthy points regarding this development and also discusses practical steps that companies could consider taking in response.