By every meaningful measure, 2014 was a year of significant accomplishment across all of the agency’s areas of responsibility. The year was highlighted by the completion of several transformative rulemakings, including new policy reforms to address faults exposed during the financial crisis and initiatives to better address vulnerabilities in the resiliency and integrity of our markets. It was also an unprecedented year in enforcement, in terms of the number of cases and, more importantly, their subject matter. We made important strides in our review and action plans for optimizing the structure of our equity and fixed income markets, enhancing our risk supervision of the asset management industry and bolstering the effectiveness of public company disclosure. We also significantly strengthened our examination coverage of market participants. But, as always, we have more to do and expect a very busy 2015.
Posts Tagged ‘Securities enforcement’
During the past seven years, the SEC has taken action on a significant number of issues. There is little doubt, that these years have been one of the most active periods in SEC history. For example, during this period, the Commission voted on almost 250 rulemaking releases, both proposing rules and adopting final rules. Many of these rulemakings have been ground-breaking.
Still, even with all that activity, the SEC has not finished its work on many ongoing issues, such as the need to improve disclosures related to target-date funds and municipal securities. The Commission also has not completed many of its outstanding statutory mandates. I plan to use my time with you today [February 20, 2015] to lay out a few important priorities that the SEC should pursue in 2015 in order to move toward completing its outstanding work, to strengthen the Commission and do right by the public.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today [Feb. 20, 2015] with so many of the SEC staff, former SEC staff, and other members of the securities community. “SEC Speaks” provides us with the chance to reflect on all of the Commission’s accomplishments in the past year, which are the result of the hard work and dedication of the staff. At the same time, it is also an appropriate venue for considering what else we can do to effectively carry out our mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. I would suggest that the answer to how we can build upon the accomplishments of the past year is to apply the same objective that we have for the markets we regulate—that they be fair, orderly, and efficient—to ourselves. And so, I would like to discuss how we can make the SEC a more fair, orderly, and efficient agency.
Before going any further, lest you think that what I say necessary reflects the views of the Commission or my fellow Commissioners, I want to assure all of you that the views I express today are solely my own.
As calendar-year reporting companies close the books on fiscal 2014, begin to tackle their annual reports on Form 10-K and think ahead to reporting for the first quarter of 2015, a number of issues warrant particularly close board and management attention. In highlighting these key issues, we include guidance gleaned from the late Fall 2014 programs during which members of the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulators delivered important messages for companies and their outside auditors to consider. Throughout this post, we offer practical suggestions on “what to do now.”
While there are no major changes in the financial reporting and disclosure rules and standards applicable to the 2014 Form 10-K, companies can expect heightened scrutiny from regulators, and heightened professional skepticism from outside auditors, regarding compliance with existing rules and standards. Companies can also expect shareholders to have heightened expectations of transparency fostered by notable 2014 events such as major corporate cyber-attacks. Looking forward into 2015, companies will need to prepare for a number of significant changes, including a new auditing standard for related party transactions, a new revenue recognition standard and, for the many companies that have deferred its adoption, a new framework for evaluating internal control over financial reporting (ICFR). The role of the audit committee in helping the company meet these challenges is undiminished—and perhaps, in regulators’ eyes, more important than ever.
Federal agencies and prosecutors are being criticized for seeking so few indictments against individuals in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and its resulting banking failures. This article analyzes why—contrary to a longstanding historical trend—personal liability may be on the decline, and whether agencies and prosecutors should be doing more. The analysis confronts fundamental policy questions concerning changing corporate and social norms. The public and the media perceive the crisis’s harm as a “wrong” caused by excessive risk-taking. But that view can be too simplistic, ignoring the reality that firms must take greater risks to try to innovate and create value in the increasingly competitive and complex global economy. This article examines how law should control that risk-taking and internalize its costs without impeding broader economic progress, focusing on two key elements of that inquiry: the extent to which corporate risk-taking should be regarded as excessive, and the extent to which personal liability should be used to control that excessive risk-taking.
Yet again, the past year has witnessed a staggering array of massive financial settlements in regulatory and white collar matters. Prominent examples, among many others, include Toyota, which was fined $1.2 billion in connection with resolving an investigation into safety defects; BNP, which pleaded guilty and paid $8.9 billion to resolve criminal and civil investigations into U.S. OFAC and other sanctions violations; Credit Suisse, which also pleaded guilty and paid $2.6 billion to resolve a long-running cross-border criminal tax investigation; and the global multi-agency settlements with six financial institutions for a total of $4.3 billion in fines, penalties and disgorgement in regard to allegations concerning attempted manipulation of foreign exchange benchmark rates. The government also continued to generate headlines with settlements arising out of the financial crisis, including settlements with numerous financial institutions totalling more than $24 billion. We have no reason to expect that this trend will change in 2015.
The close of 2014 saw the SEC’s Division of Enforcement take a victory lap. Following the release of the statistics for the fiscal year ended September 30, Division Director Andrew Ceresney touted a few records—the largest number of enforcement actions brought in a single year (755); the largest total value of monetary sanctions awarded to the agency (over $4 billion); the largest number of cases taken to trial in recent history (30). As Ceresney noted, numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. And it is in the details that one sees just how aggressive the Division has become, and how difficult the terrain is for individuals and entities caught in the crosshairs of an SEC investigation under the current administration.
In my forthcoming article in the Journal of Legal Studies, I empirically test a claim made by institutional investors in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd. In Morrison, the Supreme Court limited investors’ ability to bring private 10b-5 securities fraud actions to cases where the securities at issue were purchased on a United States stock exchange or were otherwise purchased in the U.S. Because many foreign firms’ securities trade simultaneously on non-U.S. venues and on U.S. exchanges, institutional investors claimed after Morrison that, such was the importance of the 10b-5 private right of action, they would look to such firms’ U.S-traded securities to preserve their rights under 10b-5.
The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) continue to deploy DPAs and NPAs aggressively. This past year left no doubt that such resolutions are a vital part of the federal corporate law enforcement arsenal, affording the U.S. government an avenue both to punish and reform corporations accused of wrongdoing. In early December, for example, U.S. Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Criminal Division, Leslie Caldwell, highlighted the importance of negotiated resolutions that allowed DOJ to “impose reforms, impose compliance controls, and impose all sorts of behavioral change.” She concluded: “In the United States system at least [settlement] is a more powerful tool than actually going to trial.” DOJ and the SEC have used negotiated resolutions, including DPAs and NPAs, to require companies to implement an effective compliance program. In 2014 we witnessed a number of notable developments in negotiated resolutions that demonstrate that the traditional hallmarks of DPAs and NPAs, including post-settlement compliance and reporting obligations, are here to stay.
In December, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority entered into settlement agreements with a number of the major banking firms in response to allegations that their equity research analysts were involved in impermissibly soliciting investment banking business by offering their views during the pitch for the Toys “R” Us IPO (which was never actually completed). FINRA rules generally prohibit analysts from attending pitch meetings  and prospective underwriters from promising favorable research to obtain a mandate.  In this situation, no research analyst attended the pitch meetings with the investment bankers and none explicitly promised favorable research in exchange for the business. However, FINRA announced an interpretation of its rules that took a broad view of a “pitch” and the “promise of favorable research.” FINRA identified a so-called “solicitation period” as the period after a company makes it known that it intends to conduct an investment banking transaction, such as an IPO, but prior to awarding the mandate. In the settlement agreements, FINRA stated its view that research analyst communications with a company during the solicitation period must be limited to due diligence activities, and that any additional communications by the analyst, even as to his or her general views on valuation or comparable company valuation, will rise to the level of impermissible activity. The settlements further suggested that these restrictions apply not only to research analysts, but also to investment bankers that are conveying the views of their research departments to the company. The practical result of these settlements will be to dramatically reduce the interaction between research analysts and companies prior to the award of a mandate.