On November 15, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317, raising the prospect that the Court will overrule or significantly limit the legal presumption that each member of a securities fraud class action relied on the statements challenged as fraudulent in the lawsuit. Without this so-called “fraud-on-the-market” presumption, putative class action plaintiffs will be unable to maintain a securities fraud class action unless they can clear the logistically difficult hurdle of proving that each individual shareholder actually relied on the challenged statements when making its purchase or sale of securities. At least four Justices have recently indicated that the Court should reconsider the validity of that doctrine, suggesting that the ultimate opinion in Halliburton could lead to a significant change in securities class action law. Even if the Court ultimately affirms fraud-on-the-market or some variant of the doctrine, the Court may expand defendants’ ability to defeat what in practice has evolved into a virtually irrefutable presumption of reliance. Furthermore, the uncertainty caused by the pendency of the Halliburton appeal may warrant staying securities class actions and may reduce the settlement value of pending cases.
Posts Tagged ‘Sullivan & Cromwell’
Last Friday, the Federal Reserve issued its summary instructions and guidance (the “CCAR 2014 Instructions”) for the supervisory 2014 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review program (“CCAR 2014”) applicable to bank holding companies with $50 billion or more of total consolidated assets (“Covered BHCs”). Eighteen Covered BHCs will be participating in CCAR for the fourth consecutive year in 2014. An additional 12 institutions will be participating in a full CCAR for the first time during this 2013─2014 cycle.
CCAR 2014 is being conducted under the Federal Reserve’s capital plan rule, which requires the submission and supervisory review of a Covered BHC’s capital plan under stressed conditions (the “Capital Plan Rule”). The Federal Reserve recently amended the Capital Plan Rule to clarify how Covered BHCs must incorporate the new Common Equity Tier 1 measure (“CET1”) and methodology for calculating risk-weighted assets from the recently adopted U.S. Basel III-based final capital rules into their capital plan submissions and Dodd-Frank stress tests for the 2013–2014 cycle. Under the Capital Plan Rule and CCAR 2014, a Covered BHC’s capital plan is evaluated by the Federal Reserve on both quantitative (that is, whether the Covered BHC can meet applicable numerical regulatory capital minimums and a Tier 1 common ratio of at least five percent) and qualitative grounds.
On November 5, 2013, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC” or “Commission”) held a public meeting during which it:
- Voted 3-1, with commissioner O’Malia dissenting, to propose for public comment a new set of rules on position limits (the “Proposed Rules”) applicable to options, futures, and swaps contracts (“derivatives”) related to 28 agricultural, metal, and energy commodities;
- Confirmed that it will voluntarily dismiss its appeal of the September 2012 decision from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the “Court”) vacating the Commission’s previous attempt at imposing position limits across derivatives (the “Original Position Limit Rules”); and
- Voted unanimously to propose separately for public comment rules that would expand the availability of aggregation exemptions, as compared to the Original Position Limit Rules, from the CFTC’s aggregation standards applicable to position limits for futures and swaps (the “Proposed Aggregation Rules”).
Institutional Shareholder Services, the influential proxy advisory firm, has published for public comment two proposed changes to its proxy voting guidelines for U.S. companies. The proposals are limited and do not include any change related to the effect of longer board tenure on director independence. ISS had previously surveyed institutional investors and public companies on the topic of director tenure and received strong, but deeply split, responses from both constituencies. The proposed changes are:
The State of Delaware recently enacted several significant changes to the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) and the Delaware LLC Act (“LLC Act”).
Section 251(h); Back-end Mergers. The most significant amendment to the DGCL is new Section 251(h) that, subject to certain exceptions, permits parties entering into a merger agreement to “opt in” to eliminate a target stockholder vote on a back-end merger following a tender or exchange offer in which the acquiror accumulates sufficient shares to approve the merger agreement (a majority unless the target has adopted a higher vote requirement) but less than the 90% necessary to effect a short-form merger. DGCL Section 251(h) will eliminate in many cases the time and cost associated with a stockholder vote on a back-end merger; however, where regulatory or other constraints impose significant delays, DGCL Section 251(h) is unlikely to be helpful. DGCL Section 251(h) also facilitates the financing of two-step private equity-sponsored acquisitions because the tender offer and the merger can be closed substantially concurrently (generally, on the same day). It also will eliminate the need in most cases for targets to issue “top-up” options to friendly bidders who, before DGCL Section 251(h), needed to “top-up” the number of shares they were able to purchase in the tender offer to reach the 90% target share ownership needed to effect a short-form merger. DGCL Section 251(h) does not apply to transactions in which a party to the merger agreement is an “interested stockholder” of the target under DGCL Section203(c) at the time the merger agreement is approved by the target board. In addition, there are a number of other possible limitations, outlined below, to the utilization of new DGCL Section 251(h).
On September 18, 2013, a divided SEC Commission proposed a requirement that U.S. public companies disclose:
- the median of the annual total compensation of all employees of the issuer, except the issuer’s CEO (or the equivalent);
- the annual total compensation of the issuer’s CEO (or the equivalent); and
- the ratio of those two amounts.
The proposal was approved by a three-to-two vote and will not affect the 2014 proxy season. The specifics of the proposal have not yet been published, and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP will issue a more detailed memorandum after their publication. Comments will be due 60 days after publication of the proposal in the Federal Register, and the objecting Commissioners have specifically requested “detailed and data-heavy” comments regarding the expected cost of complying with the proposal and the potential harm of including the additional disclosure in proxy statements.
The results of the 2013 proxy season and other recent corporate governance developments have demonstrated that boards and management teams should thoughtfully assess their approach to dealing with hedge funds and other “long” investors that are considered “activist.” Responding effectively to these activist shareholders in today’s environment requires more continuous engagement with shareholders, a recognition of the broad support given to many activist campaigns by traditional investors and advance preparation.
The universe of “activist” shareholders has expanded and their supporters more so. There is a broad spectrum of activist behavior that many traditional institutional investors—mutual funds, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and others—increasingly see as essential to enhancing their returns. This trend is reflected both in the increasing investor inflow into funds managed by hedge fund activists, which has permitted them to initiate action at larger companies, and in the increased voting support traditional institutional investors give to activist campaigns. To a greater or lesser extent, today many institutional investors are activist investors. These developments have highlighted the importance of management preparedness, board awareness and active, regular investor engagement on issues of importance to investors.
On August 13, 2013, the CFTC adopted final rule amendments to accept compliance with the disclosure, reporting and recordkeeping regime administered by the SEC as substituted compliance for substantially all of part 4 of the CFTC’s regulations that are applicable to CPOs of funds registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940.  The adopting release broadens the approach set forth in the harmonization proposals issued by the CFTC in February 2012  and provides, among other things, that if the CPO of registered funds satisfies all applicable SEC rules for such funds as well as certain other conditions, it will be deemed in compliance with the CFTC’s rules regarding:
- delivery of disclosure documents to each prospective participant in any pool that a CPO operates (Section 4.21); 
- distribution of account statements to each participant in any pool that a CPO operates (Sections 4.22(a) and (b));
- provision of information that must appear in a CPO’s disclosure documents (Section 4.24), including performance disclosures (Section 4.25); and
- the use, amendment and filing of disclosure documents (Section 4.26).
Additionally, the CFTC’s final rule amendments modify certain CFTC disclosure and reporting requirements that are applicable to all CPOs and CTAs:
The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (the “BCBS”)  recently issued a revised framework (the “Revised G-SIB Framework”) for assessing a common equity surcharge on certain designated global systemically important banks (“G-SIBs”)  that updates and replaces the framework for assessing the G-SIB capital surcharge issued by the BCBS in November 2011 (the “Prior G-SIB Framework”).  The Revised G-SIB Framework largely maintains the Prior G-SIB Framework’s indicator-based approach for determining when a capital surcharge will be applied and does not change the calibration of the surcharge. However, the Revised G-SIB Framework makes several noteworthy changes to, and clarifies important aspects of, the Prior G-SIB Framework, including:
On July 11, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission published a proposal by the New York Stock Exchange to amend Section 312.07 of the Listed Company Manual, which became effective immediately. Section 312.07 has been revised to remove the requirement that the total votes cast on proposals requiring shareholder approval under the NYSE rules must represent over 50% in interest of all securities entitled to vote on the proposal. The release notes that listed companies are subject to quorum requirements under the laws of their states of incorporation and their governing documents and that requiring companies to comply with a separate NYSE quorum requirement causes confusion and is not necessary for investor protection. In addition, neither NASDAQ nor NYSE MKT has a similar quorum requirement and the removal eliminates a long-standing difference in the treatment of broker non-votes for quorum purposes.
The NYSE rules continue to provide that matters requiring shareholder approval under NYSE rules must receive the support of a majority of votes cast (that is, votes cast “for” must exceed votes cast “against” plus abstentions); the recent change eliminates only the separate quorum requirement.