Despite recent setbacks, efforts by activist groups to pressure companies to disclose details of their political activities are not going away. As these groups become increasingly sophisticated, 2015 looks to be their most active year to date. In fact, for the first time ever, the Center for Political Accountability plans to issue a report this year ranking the political spending disclosure practices of all 500 companies in the S&P 500 Index. This post highlights recent developments regarding corporate political spending disclosure efforts, looks ahead to what public companies can expect in the near future, and provides strategies and tips for those grappling with disclosure issues.
Posts Tagged ‘Disclosure’
As companies prepare for the second year of filings under the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) new conflict minerals rule, many companies are looking for guidance from the first annual filings, which were due June 2, 2014. As expected, the inaugural Form SD and conflict minerals report filings reflect diverse approaches to the new compliance and disclosure requirements. We offer below some observations based on the first round of conflict minerals filings for companies to consider as they address their compliance programs and disclosures for the 2014 calendar year. It is important to note, however, that the shape of future compliance and reporting obligations will be impacted by the outcome of the pending litigation challenging the conflict minerals rule, which also is discussed below, and any subsequent action by the SEC.
Corporate executives pay considerable attention to secondary market prices and they have strong incentives to maintain or increase the level of their firms’ stock prices. The accounting literature has long recognized that managers can make strategic financial reporting or disclosure choices to influence stock prices. A large body of empirical research examines whether and how corporate disclosures affect stock prices. The literature, however, provides little directional evidence on whether the behavior of stock prices has a causal effect on managerial strategic disclosure decisions. The difficulty in establishing causality stems largely from the endogenous nature of stock prices. In the paper, Short Selling Pressure, Stock Price Behavior, and Management Forecast Precision: Evidence from a Natural Experiment, which is forthcoming in Journal of Accounting Research, we use a randomized experiment, the Regulation SHO pilot program, to examine the causal effect of stock price behavior on managers’ voluntary disclosure choices.
In our paper, Strategic News Releases in Equity Vesting Months, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the link between the equity vesting schedules of CEOs and the timing of corporate news releases. We show that, in months in which the CEO has equity vesting, the firm releases more news. This is an easy way to pump up the short-term stock price, as news attracts attention to the stock. This attention also increases trading volume, which allows the CEO to cash out his equity in a more liquid market. Indeed, we find that these news releases lead to significant increases in the stock price and trading volume in a 16-day window, but the effect dies down over 31 days, consistent with a temporary attention boost. The median CEO cashes out all of his vesting equity within seven days—within the window of price and volume inflation.
Last week, Securities and Exchange Commissioner Daniel Gallagher took the unusual step of publishing a letter to the editor of the New York Times expressing his opposition to the SEC even considering companies’ disclosure of political spending. In his letter, the Commissioner vows “to fight to keep” the subject off the SEC’s agenda. As explained below, however, his letter fails to provide a substantive basis for his vehement opposition to transparency in corporate spending on politics.
Corporations globally have been investing $9 billion annually in nanotechnology, yet less than one-tenth of S&P 500 companies report to shareholders and other stakeholders on their involvement in nanotechnology. Although it has the potential to revolutionize industries like healthcare, information technology and energy systems, nanotechnology’s promise is tethered to unique environmental, health and safety (EH&S) issues that are not yet fully understood. Investors eyeing rapid growth and minimal regulation are engaging companies in discussions about nano-related EHS risks and recently forced a vote on the first nano-related shareholder resolution.
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.
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.
Dozens of leading American corporations have embraced political transparency without the prodding of shareholder proposals. This is a new and important finding in the fourth annual CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability released by the Center for Political Accountability on September 24.
At the same time, the Index found that companies that have already adopted disclosure and accountability continue to strengthen their policies, making them more robust and comprehensive. All this is happening in the face of intense opposition by several of the leading business trade associations.
In our paper, Public Pressure and Corporate Tax Behavior, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether public scrutiny related to firms’ tax avoidance activities has a significant effect on their tax avoidance behavior. In contrast to U.S. regulations that only require disclosure of significant subsidiaries, the U.K.’s Companies Act of 2006 (“Companies Act”) requires firms to disclose the name and location of all subsidiaries, regardless of size or materiality. Although the U.K. law went into effect in 2006, in 2010, ActionAid International, a global non-profit dedicated to ending poverty worldwide, discovered that approximately half of the firms in the FTSE 100 were not disclosing the name and location of all subsidiaries. ActionAid’s finding was prima facie evidence that the Companies House was not enforcing the subsidiaries disclosure requirement. More importantly, the fact that some firms chose not to comply with the law suggests that the cost of disclosing detailed information on subsidiaries was greater than the benefit of a more complete information environment for the non-compliant firms.