Posts Tagged ‘Fiduciary duties’

Does Corporate Governance Make Financial Reports Better or Just Better for Equity Investors?

Posted by R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday September 12, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Shai Levi of the Department of Accounting at Tel Aviv University, Benjamin Segal of the Department of Accounting at Fordham University and The Hebrew University, and Dan Segal of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah and Singapore Management University. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Financial reports should provide useful information to both shareholders and creditors, according to U.S. accounting principles. However, directors of corporations have fiduciary duties only toward equity holders, and those fiduciary duties normally do not extend to the interests of creditors. In our paper, Does Corporate Governance Make Financial Reports Better or Just Better for Equity Investors?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether this slant in corporate governance biases financial reports in favor of equity investors. We show that the likelihood that firms will manipulate their reporting to circumvent debt covenants is higher when directors owe fiduciary duties only to equity holders, rather than when they owe fiduciary duties also to creditors. Covenants limit the amount of new debt that the firm issues, for example, and by that reduce bankruptcy risk, and allow creditors to avoid bankruptcy costs, and to recover more from the borrowing firm in case it approaches insolvency. When managers manipulate financial reports to circumvent these debt covenants, they transfer wealth from creditors to shareholders. Our results suggest that when corporate governance is designed to protect only equity holders, firms’ financial reports serve equity holders’ interests at the expense of other stakeholders. We find that when the legal regime requires directors to consider creditors’ interests, firms are less likely to use structured transactions designed to skirt debt covenant limits, particularly if the board of directors of the firm is independent.

…continue reading: Does Corporate Governance Make Financial Reports Better or Just Better for Equity Investors?

Outsized Power & Influence: The Role of Proxy Advisers

Posted by Daniel M. Gallagher, Commissioner, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Friday September 5, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Daniel M. Gallagher is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on a Washington Legal Foundation working paper by Mr. Gallagher; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

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.

…continue reading: Outsized Power & Influence: The Role of Proxy Advisers

The Siren Song of Unlimited Contractual Freedom

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday August 22, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post is based on a recent article, forthcoming in Elgar Handbook on Alternative Entities (Eds. Mark Lowenstein and Robert Hillman, Edward Elgar Publishing 2014)., earlier issued as a working paper of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, by Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court and a Senior Fellow of the Program, and J. Travis Laster, Vice Chancellor, Delaware Court of Chancery. The article, The Siren Song of Unlimited Contractual Freedom, is available here.

Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court Review and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, and J. Travis Laster, Vice Chancellor, Delaware Court of Chancery, recently issued an essay that is forthcoming in Elgar Handbook on Alternative Entities (Eds. Mark Lowenstein and Robert Hillman, Edward Elgar Publishing 2014). The essay, titled The Siren Song of Unlimited Contractual Freedom, is available here.

The abstract of Chief Justice Strine’s and Vice Chancellor Laster’s essay summarizes it briefly as follows:

One frequently cited distinction between alternative entities—such as limited liability companies and limited partnerships—and their corporate counterparts is the greater contractual freedom accorded alternative entities. Consistent with this vision, discussions of alternative entities tend to conjure up images of arms-length bargaining similar to what occurs between sophisticated parties negotiating a commercial agreement, such as a joint venture, with the parties successfully tailoring the contract to the unique features of their relationship.

…continue reading: The Siren Song of Unlimited Contractual Freedom

Hedge Funds and Material Nonpublic Information

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday July 31, 2014 at 9:03 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Jon N. Eisenberg, partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP, and is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The last thing hedge funds need is another wake up call about the risks of liability for trading on the basis of material nonpublic information. But if they did, a July 17 article in the Wall Street Journal would provide it. According to the article, the SEC is investigating nearly four dozen hedge funds, asset managers and other firms to determine whether they traded on material nonpublic information concerning a change in Medicare reimbursement rates. If so, it appears that the material nonpublic information, if any, may have originated from a staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee, was then communicated to a law firm lobbyist, was further communicated by the lobbyist to a political intelligence firm, and finally, was communicated to clients who traded. According to an April 3, 2013 Wall Street Journal article, the political intelligence firm issued a flash report to clients on April 1, 2013 at 3:42 p.m.—18 minutes before the market closed and 35 minutes before the government announced that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would increase reimbursements by 3.3%, rather than reduce them 2.3%, as initially proposed. Shares in several large insurance firms rose as much as 6% in the last 18 minutes of trading.

…continue reading: Hedge Funds and Material Nonpublic Information

SEC Guidance May Lessen Investment Adviser Demand for Proxy Advisory Services

Editor’s Note: Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. This post is based on a Sidley update.

Recently issued SEC staff guidance addresses concerns that have been raised about proxy advisory firms by emphasizing that the investment adviser that retains and pays a proxy advisory firm is uniquely positioned to monitor the proxy advisory firm and is required to actively oversee the firm if it wants to benefit from the firm’s services to discharge its fiduciary duty. As a result of the greater oversight exercised by all of their investment adviser clients, the proxy advisory firms will presumably respond by enhancing their policies, processes and procedures, as well as the transparency of these policies, processes and procedures. In turn, the corporate community may indirectly benefit to some degree.

…continue reading: SEC Guidance May Lessen Investment Adviser Demand for Proxy Advisory Services

Delaware Court Denies Attorneys’ Fees for Alleged Dodd-Frank Disclosure Deficiencies

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday July 18, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Stewart D. Aaron, partner in the Securities Enforcement and Litigation practice at Arnold & Porter LLP, and is based on an Arnold & Porter publication by Mr. Aaron and Robert C. Azarow. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Under Delaware’s corporate benefit doctrine, a stockholder who presents a meritorious claim to a board of directors may be entitled to attorneys’ fees if the stockholder’s efforts result in the conferring of a corporate benefit. [1] On June 20, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court considered in Raul v. Astoria Financial Corporation [2] whether attorneys’ fees are warranted under this doctrine when a stockholder identifies potential deficiencies in executive compensation disclosures required by the SEC pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act “say on pay” provisions. [3] The court held that the alleged omissions at issue failed to demonstrate any breach of the Board of Directors’ fiduciary duties under Delaware law and accordingly the Plaintiff did not present a meritorious demand to the Board. This decision makes clear that the courts will not shift fees to a stockholder (and the stockholder’s law firm) who “has simply done the company a good turn by bringing to the attention of the board an action that it ultimately decides to take.” [4]

…continue reading: Delaware Court Denies Attorneys’ Fees for Alleged Dodd-Frank Disclosure Deficiencies

Delaware Court Declines to Dismiss Class Action Challenging Going-Private Transaction

Editor’s Note: Allen M. Terrell, Jr. is a director at Richards, Layton & Finger. This post is based on a Richards, Layton & Finger publication, and is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In Hamilton Partners, L.P. v. Highland Capital Management, L.P., C.A. No. 6547-VCN, 2014 WL 1813340 (Del. Ch. May 7, 2014), the Court of Chancery, by Vice Chancellor Noble, in connection with a challenge to a going-private transaction whereby American HomePatient, Inc. (“AHP”) was acquired by an affiliate of one of its stockholders, Highland Capital Management, L.P. (“Highland”), refused to dismiss breach of fiduciary duty claims against Highland. The Court held that, for purposes of defendants’ motion to dismiss, plaintiff alleged facts sufficient to support an inference that Highland, which owned 48% of AHP’s stock and 82% of AHP’s debt, was the controlling stockholder of AHP and that the merger was not entirely fair.

…continue reading: Delaware Court Declines to Dismiss Class Action Challenging Going-Private Transaction

Delaware Court: Lack of Fairness Opinion Not Necessarily Constitute Bad Faith

Posted by Allen M. Terrell, Jr., Richards, Layton & Finger, on Monday July 7, 2014 at 9:07 am
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Editor’s Note: Allen M. Terrell, Jr. is a director at Richards, Layton & Finger. This post is based on a Richards, Layton & Finger publication, and is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

In Houseman v. Sagerman, C.A. No. 8897-VCG, 2014 WL 1600724 (Del. Ch. Apr. 16, 2014), the Court of Chancery, by Vice Chancellor Glasscock, in addressing defendants’ motion to dismiss claims related to the 2011 acquisition of Universata, Inc. (“Universata”) by HealthPort Technologies, LLC (“HealthPort”), held that the failure to obtain a fairness opinion in connection with the acquisition did not rise to the level of bad faith on the part of the board of directors of Universata (the “Board”) and did not support an aiding and abetting claim against the Board’s financial advisor.

…continue reading: Delaware Court: Lack of Fairness Opinion Not Necessarily Constitute Bad Faith

Evaluating Pension Fund Investments Through The Lens Of Good Corporate Governance

Posted by Luis A. Aguilar, Commissioner, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Tuesday July 1, 2014 at 9:04 am
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Editor’s Note: Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at the recent Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT) Investors Forum; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I understand today’s participants include a number of trustees and asset managers for some of the country’s largest public and private pension funds. Without a doubt, pension funds play an important role in our capital markets and the global economy. This is due, in part, to the fast growth in pension fund assets, both in the public and private sectors.

For example, since 1993, total public pension fund assets have grown from about $1.3 trillion to over $4.3 trillion in 2011. Over that same period, total private pension fund assets more than doubled from roughly $2.3 trillion to over $6.3 trillion by 2011. As of December 2013, total pension assets have reached more than $18 trillion. This growth was fueled by many factors, including the rise in government support of retirement benefits, and the increased use by companies of pension plans as a way to supplement wages.

…continue reading: Evaluating Pension Fund Investments Through The Lens Of Good Corporate Governance

Comparing Insider Trading in the US and Europe

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday June 19, 2014 at 9:24 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Marco Ventoruzzo of Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law, and Bocconi University.

In the European Union insider trading has been regulated much more recently than in the United States, and it can be argued that, at least traditionally, it has been more aggressively and successfully enforced in the United States than in the European Union. Several different explanations have been offered for this difference in enforcement attitudes, focusing in particular on resources of regulators devoted to contrasting this practice, but also diverging cultural attitudes toward insiders. This situation has evolved, however, and the prohibition of insider trading has gained traction also in Europe. Few studies have focused on the substantive differences in the regulation of the phenomenon on the two sides of the Atlantic.

…continue reading: Comparing Insider Trading in the US and Europe

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