For most commercial end-users of swaps, the mandatory clearing requirement under Dodd-Frank first became applicable on September 9, 2013. Since then, many commercial end-users have relied on the so called “end-user exception” from the clearing mandate to continue executing uncleared swaps with their dealer counterparties. The end-user exception is subject to several conditions, which for SEC filers include undertaking certain corporate governance steps. The generally applicable conditions include reporting of certain information including how the entity relying on the exception generally meets its financial obligations, which reporting may be done annually. In discussing the corporate governance steps that SEC filers must undertake to avail themselves of the exception, the CFTC noted that it expects policies governing the relevant entity’s use of swaps under the end-user exception to be reviewed at least annually (and more often upon triggering events). With the one year anniversary of the initial clearing mandate approaching, this post reviews the scope of the mandate as well as important related requirements and exceptions (including the annual reports and reviews that may be undertaken in the course of qualifying for the exception).
Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court Review and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, and J. Travis Laster, Vice Chancellor, Delaware Court of Chancery, recently issued an essay that is forthcoming in Elgar Handbook on Alternative Entities (Eds. Mark Lowenstein and Robert Hillman, Edward Elgar Publishing 2014). The essay, titled The Siren Song of Unlimited Contractual Freedom, is available here.
The abstract of Chief Justice Strine’s and Vice Chancellor Laster’s essay summarizes it briefly as follows:
One frequently cited distinction between alternative entities—such as limited liability companies and limited partnerships—and their corporate counterparts is the greater contractual freedom accorded alternative entities. Consistent with this vision, discussions of alternative entities tend to conjure up images of arms-length bargaining similar to what occurs between sophisticated parties negotiating a commercial agreement, such as a joint venture, with the parties successfully tailoring the contract to the unique features of their relationship.
Today [June 25, 2014], the Commission will consider a recommendation of the staff to adopt core rules and critical guidance on cross-border security-based swap activities under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act created an important and entirely new regulatory framework for the over-the-counter derivatives market. Transforming this framework into a series of strong rules is one of the most important tasks remaining before the Commission in discharging our responsibility to address the lessons of the last financial crisis. The events of 2008 and 2009—and the significant role derivatives played in those events—still reverberate throughout our economy.
Properly constructed, the Commission’s rules under Title VII should mitigate significant risks to the U.S. financial system, bring transparency to previously opaque bilateral markets, and provide critical new protections for swap customers and counterparties. And the vital regulatory protections of Title VII are not confined to large multi-national banks and other market participants—they are also essential to preserving the stability of a financial system that is vital to all Americans.
The experience of the overwhelming majority of corporate managers, and their advisors, is that attacks by activist hedge funds are followed by declines in long-term future performance. Indeed, activist hedge fund attacks, and the efforts to avoid becoming the target of an attack, result in increased leverage, decreased investment in CAPEX and R&D and employee layoffs and poor employee morale.
Several law school professors who have long embraced shareholder-centric corporate governance are promoting a statistical study that they claim establishes that activist hedge fund attacks on corporations do not damage the future operating performance of the targets, but that this statistical study irrefutably establishes that on average the long-term operating performance of the targets is actually improved.
In our paper, The JOBS Act and Information Uncertainty in IPO Firms, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) increases information uncertainty in firms with initial public offerings (IPOs). The JOBS Act, which was signed into law in April 2012, creates a new category of issuer, the Emerging Growth Company (EGC), and eases regulations for EGCs to encourage initial public offerings of their shares. Specifically, the Act includes provisions that allow firms with EGC status to reduce the scope of mandatory disclosure of financial statement and executive compensation information, to file draft registration statements confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to delay application of new or revised accounting standards, and to delay compliance with Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), which relates to auditor attestation on internal controls. We find evidence consistent with the easing of these regulations increasing information uncertainty in the IPO market.
In a one-two punch illustrating the continuing vigor of the presumption against extraterritoriality, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, on consecutive days last week, issued important decisions applying Morrison v. National Australia Bank in two disparate but significant contexts under the federal securities laws. Last Thursday, in Liu v. Siemens AG, No. 13-4385-cv (2d Cir. Aug. 14, 2014), the court rejected the extraterritorial application of the whistleblower anti-retaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. And on the very next day, in Parkcentral Global Hub Ltd. v. Porsche Automobil Holdings SE, No. 11-397-cv (2d Cir. Aug. 15, 2014), the court rejected the extraterritorial application of Rule 10b-5 to claims seeking recovery of losses on swap agreements that reference foreign securities.
In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW, the Delaware Supreme Court formally recognized the “Garner doctrine,” an exception to the attorney-client privilege, in connection with a stockholder’s demand for records under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, and confirmed that the exception also applies to other stockholder claims. The decision may allow derivative plaintiffs to obtain certain sensitive privileged communications and attorney work-product in cases involving substantial allegations of serious fiduciary misconduct.
Recent events in Europe have illustrated how government defaults can jeopardize domestic bank stability. Growing concerns of public insolvency since 2010 caused great stress in the European banking sector, which was loaded with Euro-area debt (Andritzky (2012)). Problems were particularly severe for banks in troubled countries, which entered the crisis holding a sizable share of their assets in their governments’ bonds: roughly 5% in Portugal and Spain, 7% in Italy and 16% in Greece (2010 EU Stress Test). As sovereign spreads rose, moreover, these banks greatly increased their exposure to the bonds of their financially distressed governments (2011 EU Stress Test), leading to even greater fragility. As The Economist put it, “Europe’s troubled banks and broke governments are in a dangerous embrace.” These events are not unique to Europe: a similar relationship between sovereign defaults and the banking system has been at play also in earlier sovereign crises (IMF (2002)).
Nearly 40 investor representatives shared with us their key priorities for the 2014 proxy season. We review the developments around these topics over the 2014 proxy season through shareholder proposal submissions, investor voting trends, proxy statement disclosures and behind-the-scenes company-investor engagement.
Key Developments in the 2014 Proxy Season
Activist investors are becoming more active and influential: Nearly 150 campaigns by hedge fund activists were launched in just the first half of this year. Both companies and long-term institutional investors are learning to navigate this changing landscape.
Despite the fact that corporations and interest groups spent about $30 billion lobbying policy makers over the last decade (Center for Responsive Politics, 2012), there is a lack of robust empirical evidence on whether firms’ lobbying expenditures create value for their shareholders. Moreover, while the public perception of the lobbying process is that it involves unethical behavior that may bias rather than inform politicians, this is difficult to show since unethical practices are not typically observable. In our recent ECGI working paper, The Corporate Value of (Corrupt) Lobbying, we identify events that exogenously affect the ability of firms to lobby, and find that firms that lobby more experience a significant decrease in market value around these events. Investigating the channels by which lobbying may add value, we find evidence suggesting that the value partly arises from potentially unethical arrangements between firms and politicians.