Ed Morrison, Judge Christopher Sontchi and I recently posted to SSRN our article recommending a major narrowing of the repo safe harbors, after presenting it at the Federal Reserve’s recent conference on Wholesale Funding Markets in which the Boston Fed president warned of the dangers in the repo market. Overall, we conclude that the Bankruptcy Code has aggressively and unwisely sought to regulate market liquidity and systemic risk, with the Code’s “safe harbors” from the normal bankruptcy machinery largely backfiring during the financial crisis. The sounder policy would be to limit the repo safe harbors to U.S. Treasury repos and repos of similarly liquid government securities.
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.
In its recent decision in Halliburton Co., et al. v Erica P. John Fund, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legal standard for reliance in Rule 10b-5 securities fraud class actions that it had established some 25 years ago in Basic, Inc. v. Levinson. This standard, known as the fraud-on-the market doctrine, created a rebuttable presumption that plaintiffs relied on the integrity of the market price if they can establish that the market for that security was efficient. Defendants can rebut this presumption in several ways, including showing that the market for the security was not efficient or that the security’s price was not affected by the misrepresentations at issue. In delivering its ruling, the Halliburton Court noted that market efficiency is not a binary, yes-or-no proposition but is instead a matter of degree, pointing out that “a public, material misrepresentation might not affect a stock’s price even in a generally efficient market.” (Halliburton, 573 U.S. ___ at 10.)
The ever evolving challenges facing corporate boards prompts an updated snapshot of what is expected from the board of directors of a major public company—not just the legal rules, but also the aspirational “best practices” that have come to have almost as much influence on board and company behavior.
Boards are expected to:
In our paper, Employee Satisfaction, Labor Market Flexibility, and Stock Returns Around The World, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN at, we study the relationship between employee satisfaction and abnormal stock returns around the world, using lists of the “Best Companies to Work For” in 14 countries.
Theory provides conflicting predictions as to whether employee satisfaction is beneficial or harmful to firm value. On the one hand, employee welfare can be a valuable tool for recruitment, retention, and motivation. For the typical 20th-century firm, the bulk of its value stemmed from its physical capital. In contrast, most modern firms’ key assets are their workers. Employee-friendly policies can attract high-quality workers to a firm and ensure that they remain within the firm, to form a source of sustainable competitive advantage.
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.
On August 26, 2014, in the case In re MPM Silicones, LLC, Case No. 14-22503 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y.) (“Momentive”), the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York held that secured creditors could be “crammed down” in a chapter 11 plan with replacement notes bearing interest at substantially below market rates. Unless overturned on appeal, this decision will introduce a new level of risk to leveraged lending—secured lenders will face the specter of losing in a bankruptcy restructuring not only their negotiated rates, but any semblance of market treatment. This risk could result in a tightening of availability and increased costs to borrowers in levered transactions.
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.