In our June 4, 2014 article on cyber security and cyber governance  we noted that for many reasons, boards of directors and executives of U.S. companies needed to reexamine how they protect (and respond to the successful hacking of) their most critical intellectual property and customer information. One of the reasons was that all signs out of Washington, D.C. pointed towards increasing federal regulation and oversight of cyber security for public and private companies, and particularly for those in the financial services sector. Further, we foresaw not only heightened scrutiny from regulators, but increasing class action litigation, with plaintiffs accusing boards and management of not taking the appropriate steps to protect company and client data. Our predictions were correct on all fronts.
Posts Tagged ‘SEC’
Today [August 27, 2014] the Commission takes an important step to protect investors and promote capital formation, by enhancing the transparency of asset-backed securities (“ABS”) and by increasing the accountability of issuers of these securities. The securitization market is critical to our economy and can provide liquidity to nearly all the major economic sectors, including the automobile industry, the consumer credit industry, the leasing industry, and the commercial lending and credit markets.
Given the importance of this market, let’s also remember why we are here and the magnitude of the crisis in the ABS market. At the end of 2007, the ABS market consisted of more than $7 trillion of mortgage-backed securities and nearly $2.5 trillion of other outstanding ABS. However, by the fall of 2008, the securitization market had completely seized up. For example, in 2006 and 2007, new issuances of private-label residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) totaled $686 billion and $507 billion, respectively. In 2008, private-label RMBS issuance dropped to $9 billion, and flat-lined in 2009.
Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) authored a working paper, published last month by the Washington Legal Foundation, regarding the outsized power and influence of proxy advisory firms.  In his paper, Commissioner Gallagher provides his view of the most important aspects of Staff Legal Bulletin No. 20 (“SLB 20”), in which the SEC staff recently “moved toward addressing some of the serious issues” resulting from the emergence of proxy advisory firms as a dominant player in American corporate governance. Notably, Gallagher also offers some critical advice to public companies engaging with proxy advisory firms.
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.
The Million-Comment-Letter Petition: The Rulemaking Petition on Disclosure of Political Spending Attracts More than 1,000,000 SEC Comment Letters
In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law experts that petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. We are delighted to announce that, as reflected in the SEC’s webpage for comments filed on our petition, the SEC has now received more than a million comment letters regarding the petition. To our knowledge, the petition has attracted far more comments than any other SEC rulemaking petition—or, indeed, than any other issue on which the Commission has accepted public comment—in the history of the SEC.
Four years ago this month, with the country still reeling from financial crisis, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act–the most sweeping financial reform effort since the Great Depression. The goal of Dodd-Frank was as ambitious as its scope; as President Barack Obama remarked, the legislation would “restore markets in which we reward hard work and responsibility and innovation, not recklessness and greed.”
The Commission will today [August 27, 2014] consider recommendations of the staff for adopting two very important final rules in different, but closely related, areas—asset-backed securities and credit rating agencies.
The reforms before us today will add critical protections for investors and strengthen our securities markets by targeting products, activities and practices that were at the center of the financial crisis. With these measures, investors will have powerful new tools for independently evaluating the quality of asset-backed securities and credit ratings. And ABS issuers and rating agencies will be held accountable under significant new rules governing their activities. These reforms will make a real difference to investors and to our financial markets.
We will first consider the recommendation related to asset-backed securities, and then we will consider the rules relating to credit rating agencies.
Today [June 25, 2014], the Commission will consider a recommendation of the staff to adopt core rules and critical guidance on cross-border security-based swap activities under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act created an important and entirely new regulatory framework for the over-the-counter derivatives market. Transforming this framework into a series of strong rules is one of the most important tasks remaining before the Commission in discharging our responsibility to address the lessons of the last financial crisis. The events of 2008 and 2009—and the significant role derivatives played in those events—still reverberate throughout our economy.
Properly constructed, the Commission’s rules under Title VII should mitigate significant risks to the U.S. financial system, bring transparency to previously opaque bilateral markets, and provide critical new protections for swap customers and counterparties. And the vital regulatory protections of Title VII are not confined to large multi-national banks and other market participants—they are also essential to preserving the stability of a financial system that is vital to all Americans.
In our paper, The JOBS Act and Information Uncertainty in IPO Firms, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) increases information uncertainty in firms with initial public offerings (IPOs). The JOBS Act, which was signed into law in April 2012, creates a new category of issuer, the Emerging Growth Company (EGC), and eases regulations for EGCs to encourage initial public offerings of their shares. Specifically, the Act includes provisions that allow firms with EGC status to reduce the scope of mandatory disclosure of financial statement and executive compensation information, to file draft registration statements confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to delay application of new or revised accounting standards, and to delay compliance with Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), which relates to auditor attestation on internal controls. We find evidence consistent with the easing of these regulations increasing information uncertainty in the IPO market.
On July 30, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) advanced a novel theory of fraud against the former CEO (Marc Sherman) and CFO (Edward Cummings) of Quality Services Group, Inc. (“QSGI”), a Florida-based computer equipment company that filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The SEC alleged that the CEO misrepresented the extent of his involvement in evaluating internal controls and that the CEO and CFO knew of significant internal controls issues with the company’s inventory practices that they failed to disclose to investors and internal auditors. This case did not involve any restatement of financial statements or allegations of accounting fraud, merely disclosure issues around internal controls and involvement in a review of the same by senior management. The SEC’s approach has the potential to broaden practical exposure to liability for corporate officers who sign financial statements and certifications required under Section 302 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”). By advancing a theory of fraud premised on internal controls issues without establishing an actionable accounting misstatement, the SEC is continuing to demonstrate that it will extend the range of conduct for which it has historically pursued fraud claims against corporate officers.