Following the publication of Michael Lewis’ new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (“Flash Boys”), plaintiffs’ lawyers and US government regulators have increasingly focused their attention on financial institutions participating in high-frequency trading (“HFT”). Less than three weeks after the release of Flash Boys, private plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against 27 financial services firms and 14 national securities exchanges (with additional defendants likely to be named later) alleging that the defendants’ HFT practices in the US equities markets violated the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws. Plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a separate action against The CME Group, Inc. (“CME”) and The Board of Trade of the City of Chicago (“CBOT”) containing similar allegations in US derivatives markets.
Posts Tagged ‘Exchange Act’
On April 14, 2014, in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit partially invalidated the final rule of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requiring public companies to investigate and disclose the origin of certain minerals found in the war-ridden Congo region (“conflict minerals”).  While upholding most aspects of the rule, the Court concluded that the rule and the statutory provisions on which it is based violate the First Amendment “to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’”  On April 29, 2014, amid uncertainty regarding the impact of the Court’s decision on issuers’ obligations under the rule, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance announced that the SEC expects issuers to comply with those aspects of the rule that were upheld by the Court.
The importance of small businesses in America is unquestionable—they are the foundation of today’s economy and are responsible for many of the new jobs created each year in the United States. And angel investors play a vital role in the development of small businesses by nurturing them at their earliest, most vulnerable stages when they may have little more than the next great idea. For early stage entrepreneurs, angels often are the only ones willing to listen to their business pitch, provide advice, and put in that crucial infusion of capital that is needed to transform an idea into a thriving new business. Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Home Depot—these are just some of the titans of today’s corporate America that, at an earlier stage of their development, were first backed by angel investors.  Equally impressive are some of the statistics about the impact of angel investing—by one estimate, in the first half of 2013 alone, angels invested approximately $9.7 billion in over 28,000 ventures, with over 111,000 new jobs created as a result of these investments. 
China Natural Resources, Inc. (“CHNR”), a natural resources company based in the People’s Republic of China (the “PRC”) with shares listed on the NASDAQ Capital Market, recently completed the spin-off (the “Spin-Off”) and listing by introduction (the “Listing by Introduction”) on The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited (the “Hong Kong Stock Exchange”) of its wholly-owned subsidiary, Feishang Anthracite Resources Limited (“Feishang Anthracite”), which operated CHNR’s coal mining and related businesses prior to the Spin-Off.  S&C represented CHNR and Feishang Anthracite in connection with the Spin-Off and Listing by Introduction, which is the first-of-its-kind where a U.S.-listed company successfully spun off and listed shares of its businesses on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, including advising on the U.S. and Hong Kong legal issues that arose in connection with this transaction.
On March 5, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, which presents whether to overrule or significantly limit plaintiffs’ ability to rely on the legal presumption that each would-be class member in a securities fraud class action relied on the statements challenged as fraudulent in the lawsuit. Without this so-called fraud-on-the-market presumption of classwide reliance, putative class action plaintiffs would face substantial barriers in maintaining securities fraud class actions. The Court’s decision in Halliburton, which is expected by June 2014, could lead to a significant change in the conduct of securities class actions. Even if the Court ultimately retains some formulation of the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance, the Court could increase defendants’ ability to contest what in practice has evolved into a virtually irrebuttable presumption.
The SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance recently released three Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations concerning the SEC’s so-called unbundling rule (Exchange Act Rule 14a-4(a)(3)), which requires proxies to identify clearly and impartially each “separate matter” intended to be acted upon.
Nearly a year ago, in Greenlight Capital, L.P. v. Apple, Inc., a federal court enjoined Apple from bundling four charter amendments into a single proposal. The Apple decision highlighted the lack of clarity in the unbundling rules and the risk that the SEC or an activist shareholder could challenge a company’s presentation of proposals. The new C&DIs provide bright-line guidance for amendments to equity incentive plans but leave other situations to be considered on a facts-and-circumstances basis and, implicitly, to be discussed with the SEC Staff in cases of uncertainty.
Two new concepts will need to be addressed going forward:
Nearly a decade ago, the United States Supreme Court in Dura Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 345 (2005), emphasized that a securities fraud suit is not an investor’s insurance policy against market losses. As courts continue to address the fallout from the financial crisis that began in 2007, the court’s admonition is alive and well, and frequently appearing in decisions addressing claims under § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and common law claims involving structured products such as mortgage-backed securities. Just recently, two federal courts observed in the § 10(b) context that “[t]he securities laws are not an insurance policy for investments gone wrong, inexperience, bad luck, poor choices, or unexpected market events,” nor are they “a prophylaxis against the normal risks attendant to speculation and investment in the financial markets.”
As we have described in our prior posts and memos (here and here), in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to abandon the “fraud on the market” presumption of reliance that has facilitated class-action treatment of claims brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5. The case will be argued before the Court on March 5, and a decision will likely come by the end of June. As our earlier memos explained, Halliburton is potentially the most important securities case that the Court has heard in a long time.
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.
Rule 17g-5(c)(1) (the “Rule”) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 addresses nationally recognized statistical rating organization (“NRSRO”) conflict of interest concerns by prohibiting an NRSRO from issuing a credit rating where the person soliciting the rating was the source of 10% or more of the total net revenue of the NRSRO during the most recently ended fiscal year.  As noted by the Commission, this prohibition is necessary because such a person “will be in a position to exercise substantial influence on the NRSRO” and, as a result, “it will be difficult for the NRSRO to remain impartial, given the impact on the NRSRO’s income if the person withdrew its business.”  The Commission also recognized that the intent of the prohibition “is not to prohibit a business practice that is a normal part of an NRSRO’s activities,” and that the Commission may evaluate whether exemptive relief would be appropriate.