On November 15, 2013, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “the Commission”) released its Annual Report to Congress on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program (“the Report”). The Report is remarkable for three reasons. First, the Report shows that, despite very significant efforts to publicize the program, the SEC is not seeing a meaningful increase in the number of tips it receives. Indeed, the SEC received essentially the same number of tips in the same categories in 2013 as it did in 2012 (3,283 and 3,001, respectively). Second, consistent with the few awards made under the program, the Report fails to shed any light at all on the SEC’s thought process in making these awards, and provides no insight into how the SEC is applying the highly nuanced factors applicable to award decisions. Finally, the Report does not acknowledge that, for the second year in a row, the largest category of tips were in the “other” category, which suggests that many of these tips are probably meritless, nor does the Report illuminate at all the critical question of how many of the tips the SEC receives actually result in meaningful investigations and cases.
Posts Tagged ‘Christian Bartholomew’
Recently, the SEC’s Enforcement Division has brought three matters focused on alleged flaws (and fraud) in connection with valuation issues. Together these actions make clear that the SEC is and will be looking hard at how public companies as well as financial firms make difficult and subjective valuation decisions. Specifically, the SEC will be looking to see whether firms, and individuals, followed proper processes and applied the correct inputs in reaching these judgments. These cases also make clear that, even in times of significant market disruption, firms cannot ignore or substantially discount market inputs in making valuation judgment.
In November 2012, the SEC filed and settled In The Matter of KCAP Financial, Inc. This was the first action in which the SEC alleged that a public company had violated the provisions of Financial Accounting Standard (FAS) 157 by failing to properly value certain assets. FAS 157 requires expanded disclosures and incorporates a strong preference for market inputs to determine fair value. According to FAS 157, “[e]ven in times of market dislocation, it is not appropriate to conclude that all market activity represents forced liquidations or distressed sales.”
To be blunt, this year’s “SEC Speaks” conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Practicing Law Institute, was perhaps most remarkable for what did not happen: Mary Jo White, who is widely expected to be easily confirmed as Chairman of the Commission, did not attend. This was, of course, proper and to be expected, but it nevertheless cast a shadow over the proceedings, since none of the speakers could speak definitively to Ms. White’s and her new team’s regulatory and enforcement priorities. Indeed, given that three of the four SEC division directors who spoke—including the director of the Enforcement Division—are acting directors who may be replaced, it was not surprising that none set out bold or groundbreaking initiatives. Instead, with some important exceptions, this year’s conference largely updated issues that had been covered in 2012.
This is not to say that the conference failed to provide useful information. All four of the sitting commissioners emphasized different issues. Elisse Walter, the current Chairman, emphasized the SEC’s role in developing fair and transparent markets and promoting entrepreneurship, capital growth, and job-building. Luis Aguilar discussed signs of “weakness and instability” in the market’s infrastructure and recommended that the SEC regulate and address these technological issues by, among other things, developing a “kill switch” for each exchange. Troy Paredes (who is expected to leave the Commission this summer) argued that “too much disclosure may actually obscure useful information and result in worse decision-making by investors,” and called for a “top-to-bottom review” of the current disclosure regime. Finally, Daniel Gallagher emphasized the importance of maintaining the SEC’s independence, and strongly questioned whether new legislative mandates (particularly those contained in the Dodd-Frank legislation) and the Financial Stability Oversight Council compromised that independence and minimized the SEC’s effectiveness. Whether the initiatives proposed by Commissioners Aguilar and Paredes come to fruition under Ms. White’s leadership remains to be seen.
At the recent “SEC Speaks” conference in Washington, DC this year, Chairman Mary Schapiro and senior Enforcement officials vowed to increase investor protection through use of the SEC’s expanded authority under the Dodd-Frank Act and initiatives designed to help the SEC enforcement staff proactively detect and prevent securities law violations. In her speech, Schapiro pointed to numerous modernization initiatives as central to this effort, including better hiring, more training, more sophisticated IT systems, and better management structures. Schapiro noted that the Commission now has Wall Street traders, asset managers, and quantitative analysts on staff alongside attorneys, economists and accountants and has more than doubled its training budget since 2009. She also touted the SEC’s new TCR system (tips, complaints, and referrals) as allowing the SEC to better “triage” the information it receives and use that information more effectively in terms of opening new investigations, directing information to existing investigations, and uncovering and tracking emerging trends.
Schapiro pointed to the SEC’s record 735 enforcement actions, which returned more than $2 billion to investors, as evidence that these efforts to modernize the agency and bolster its knowledge base are already bearing fruit. Division of Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami echoed these remarks, saying that the agency’s risk-based initiatives are paying off and that the SEC is being more proactive, which has, in his view, resulted in more deterrence. Declaring a new “entrepreneurial” spirit and ethos, Schapiro and Khuzami made clear that the SEC intends to redouble its enforcement efforts across the board.