Following an increase in shareholder and investor activism beyond pure executive remuneration issues in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2013, with some 25 companies targeted for public campaigns, this post provides a summary of certain principles of English law and UK and European regulation applicable to UK listed public companies and their shareholders that are relevant to the expected further increase in activism in 2014. This post covers (i) stake-building; (ii) shareholders’ rights to require companies to hold general meetings; (iii) shareholders’ rights to propose resolutions at annual general meetings; and (iv) recent developments in these and related areas through raising and answering a number of relevant questions.
Posts Tagged ‘Disclosure’
Some corporate practitioners could have the impression that significant fee awards are granted as a matter of course in M&A class action litigation, even where the results obtained by class counsel were supplemental (and arguably routine) disclosures regarding the proposed transaction. Recent comments by the judges of the Delaware Court of Chancery, however, may suggest an increasing concern over what might be perceived as “default” fee awards in this context, as well as the value of purely supplemental, as opposed to remedial, disclosures.
In 2011, Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster analyzed M&A fee awards in a published case titled In re Sauer-Danfoss Inc. Shareholders Litigation, 65 A.3d 1116 (Del. Ch. 2011). This undertaking, it reasonably could be hoped, would serve to promote consistency and establish reasonable expectations, especially in an area where precedent frequently lies in transcripts and unpublished orders. Of particular note, Vice Chancellor Laster wrote:
“One of our goals is to see that the SEC’s enforcement program is—and is perceived to be—everywhere, pursuing all types of violations of our federal securities laws, big and small.”
— Mary Jo White, Chair of the SEC, October 9, 2013
“In the end, our view is that we will not know whether there has been an overall reduction in accounting fraud until we devote the resources to find out, which is what we are doing.”
— Andrew Ceresney, Co-Director of the SEC Division of Enforcement, September 19, 2013
“The SEC is ‘Bringin’ Sexy Back’ to Accounting Investigations”
— New York Times, June 3, 2013
Much has changed since the collapse of Enron in 2001 and the ensuing avalanche of financial fraud cases brought by the SEC. For example, Sarbanes-Oxley raised auditing standards, imposed certification requirements on public company officers and required enhanced internal controls for public companies. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) was formed “to oversee the audits of public companies in order to protect the interests of investors and further the public interest in the preparation of informative, accurate and independent audit
reports.”  In pursuit of that goal, the PCAOB has conducted hundreds of audit firm inspections, adopted numerous auditing standards and brought dozens of enforcement actions against auditors for violating PCAOB rules and auditing standards.
In our paper, Executives’ ‘Off-the-Job’ Behavior, Corporate Culture, and Financial Reporting Risk, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we examine how and why two aspects of top executives’ behavior outside the workplace, as measured by their legal infractions and ownership of luxury goods, are related to the likelihood of future misstated financial statements, including fraud and unintentional material reporting errors. We investigate two potential channels through which executives’ outside behavior is linked to the probability of future misstatements: (1) the executive’s propensity to misreport (hereafter “propensity channel”); and (2) changes in corporate culture (hereafter “culture channel”).
2013 proved to be a watershed year for securities litigation, and 2014 is shaping up to be a “career killing” year for plaintiffs’ lawyers specializing in 10b-5 class actions. In what may turn out to be one of the most important cases in the last three decades, the Supreme Court will address the long debated fraud-on-the-market theory in Halliburton II, and address head on whether the Court’s decades-old ruling in Basic v. Levinson establishing that theory should be overruled. The case for overruling Basic is a strong one, with at least four justices having expressed serious concerns about the fraud-on-the-market theory in the Court’s 2013 decision in Amgen. See “A Shot Across the Basic Bow,” in our 2013 Mid-Year Securities Litigation Update. If, as many court observers predict, the Court in fact overturns the fraud-on-the-market theory, securities class actions as we know them may be consigned to the dust heap.
For nearly 80 years, the Securities and Exchange Commission has been playing a vital role in the economic strength of our nation. Year after year, the agency has steadfastly sought to protect investors, make it possible for companies of all sizes to raise the funds needed to grow, and to ensure that our markets are operating fairly and efficiently.
That is our three-part mission.
But, while commitment to this mission has remained constant and strong over the years, the world in which we operate continuously changes, sometimes dramatically.
When the Commission’s formative statutes were drafted, no one was prepared for today’s market technology or the sheer speed at which trades are now executed. No one dreamed of the complex financial products that are traded today. And, not even science fiction writers would have bet that individuals would so soon communicate instantaneously in so many different ways.
In our Age of Communication, confidential information is more easily exposed than ever before. Real-time communication tools and social media give everyone with Internet access the ability to publicize information widely, and confidential information is always at risk of inadvertent or intentional exposure. The current cultural emphasis on transparency and disclosure—punctuated by headline news of high-profile leakers and whistleblowers, and exacerbated in the corporate context by aggressive activist shareholders and their director nominees—has contributed to an atmosphere in which sensitive corporate information is increasingly difficult to protect. There is limited statutory or case law to guide boards and directors in this area, and there exists a range of opinions among market participants and media commentators as to whether leaking information (other than illegal insider tipping) is problematic at all.
December 18, 2013 may well mark an historic turning point in the ability of small business to effectively access capital in the private and public markets under the federal securities regulatory framework. On that day the Commissioners of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission met in open session and unanimously authorized the issuance of proposed rules  intended to implement Title IV of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 (the “JOBS Act”)—a provision widely labeled as “Regulation A+”—and whose implementation is dependent upon SEC rulemaking. Title IV, entitled “Small Company Capital Formation”, was intended by Congress to expand the use of Regulation A—a little used exemption from a full blown SEC registration of securities which has been around for more than 20 years—by increasing the dollar ceiling from $5 million to $50 million. Both the scope and breadth of the SEC’s proposed rules, and the areas in which the SEC expressly seeks public comment, appear to represent an opening salvo by the SEC in what is certain to be a fierce, long overdue battle between the Commission and state regulators, the SEC determined to reduce the burden of state regulation on capital formation—a burden falling disproportionately on small business—and state regulators seeking to preserve their autonomy to review securities offerings at the state level.
On December 18, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) voted to propose amendments to its public offering rules to exempt an additional category of small capital raising efforts as mandated by Title IV of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”). The SEC has proposed to amend Regulation A to exempt offerings of up to $50 million within a 12-month period, and in so doing has created two tiers of offerings under Regulation A: Tier 1, for offerings of up to $5 million in any twelve-month period, and Tier 2, for offerings of up to $50 million in any twelve-month period. Rules regarding eligibility, disclosure and other matters would apply equally to Tier 1 and Tier 2 offerings and are in many respects a modernization of the existing provisions of Regulation A. Tier 2 offerings would, however, be subject to significant additional requirements, such as the provision of audited financial statements, ongoing reporting obligations and certain limitations on sales.
The SEC’s recent decision to take disclosure of political activities off the SEC’s agenda is a policy mistake, as it ignores the best research on the point, described below, and perpetuates a key loophole in the investor-relevant disclosure rules, allowing large companies to omit material information about the politically inflected risks they run with other people’s money. It is also a political mistake, as it repudiates the 600,000+ investors who have written to the SEC personally to ask it to adopt a rule requiring such disclosure, and will let entrenched business interests focus their lobbying solely on watering down regulation mandated under the Dodd-Frank Act and the 2012 securities law statute, rather than having also to work to influence a disclosure regime.