On March 20, 2014, the Federal Reserve announced the summary results of the Dodd-Frank Act 2014 supervisory stress tests for the 30 largest U.S. banking organizations. The results demonstrate the sharply enhanced capital strength and resiliency of the U.S. banking system. Under an “extreme stress scenario”, these U.S. banking organizations could absorb an extraordinary downturn in “pre-provision net revenues” and an unprecedented level of loan losses and still maintain capital levels well above minimum regulatory requirements and almost 40% above the actual capital ratios in 2009.
Posts Tagged ‘Sullivan & Cromwell’
In Lawson v. FMR LLC, No. 12-3 (Mar. 4, 2014), the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the scope of whistleblower protection provided by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”), holding that employees of private contractors and subcontractors of public companies are protected by the whistleblower provision set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 1514A of the Act. The Court, acknowledging that the language of the Act is ambiguous, interpreted it to allow persons employed by non-public contractors to public companies—such as lawyers or accounting firms—to bring whistleblower claims under the Act. In a strong dissent, Justice Sotomayor objected to the “stunning reach” of this interpretation. The majority opinion, responding to that criticism, cited “various limiting principles” proposed by the plaintiffs and Solicitor General, which employers will need to rely on in the future. Among other things, the “limiting principles” include that the types of contractors whose employees could make use of SOX are those “whose performance will take place over a significant period of time,” and that an employee of a contractor would only be able to invoke SOX as to complaints arising out of the contractor’s “fulfilling its role as contractor for the public company, not the contractor in some other capacity.” Ultimately, however, the Court declined to address the precise bounds of § 1514A, finding that the whistleblower claims at issue fell squarely within the “mainstream application” of the statute, as both plaintiffs claimed retaliation after reporting allegedly fraudulent activity that plainly implicated mutual funds’ shareholders.
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.
On February 18, 2014, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “FRB”) approved a final rule (the “Final Rule”) implementing certain of the “enhanced prudential standards” mandated by Section 165 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act” or “Dodd-Frank”). The Final Rule applies the enhanced prudential standards to (i) U.S. bank holding companies (“U.S. BHCs”) with $50 billion (and in some cases, $10 billion) or more in total consolidated assets and (ii) foreign banking organizations (“FBOs”) with (x) a U.S. banking presence, through branches, agencies or depository institution subsidiaries, and (y) depending on the standard, certain designated amounts of assets worldwide, in the United States or in U.S. non-branch assets. The Final Rule’s provisions are the most significant, detailed and prescriptive for the largest U.S. BHCs and the FBOs with the largest U.S. presence—those with $50 billion or more in total consolidated assets and, in the case of FBOs, particularly (and with increasing stringency) for FBOs with combined U.S. assets of $50 billion or more or U.S. non-branch assets of $50 billion or more.
Earlier this evening [January 14, 2014], the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (the “OCC”), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (such three agencies together, the “Banking Agencies”), Securities and Exchange Commission, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC” and, collectively, the “Agencies”) issued an interim final rule (the “Interim Final Rule”) regarding the treatment of certain collateralized debt obligations backed by trust preferred securities (“TruPS-backed CDOs”) under the final rule (the “Final Rule”) implementing Section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”), commonly known as the “Volcker Rule.” The Volcker Rule imposes broad restrictions on proprietary trading and investing in and sponsoring private equity and hedge funds (“covered funds”) by banking organizations and their affiliates.
Sullivan & Cromwell LLP filed an amicus brief on January 6, 2014 with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., No. 13-317. This brief is submitted on behalf of former members of Congress, SEC officials and congressional counsel involved in the drafting of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) of 1995. In Amgen, Justice Ginsburg, for the majority, characterized the PSLRA’s silence on the Basic fraud-on-the-market presumption as a “reject[ion]” of “calls to undo” Basic. 133 S. Ct. at 1200 (Amgen, p. 20, available here). In opposing cert in Halliburton (see brief in opposition of certiorari, pages 32-33, available here), plaintiffs referenced Congress’s silence in the PSLRA as acquiescence in Basic‘s presumption. This congressional acquiescence argument could be critical to the decision in Halliburton, which could be one of the most important securities cases in years.
On December 10, 2013, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the “FDIC”) proposed for public comment a notice (the “Notice”) describing its “Single Point of Entry” (“SPOE”) strategy for resolving systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”) in default or in danger of default under the orderly liquidation authority granted by Title II of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”).  The Notice follows the FDIC’s endorsement of the SPOE model in its joint paper issued with the Bank of England last year.
We have reviewed the 365 merger agreements that were announced during the two years after the “Say-on-Golden-Parachute” vote rule went into effect on April 25, 2011 and that were subject to the rule.  We found that 39 companies (11% of the total) substantively enhanced executive compensation arrangements in connection with the transactions.
Some of the more common executive compensation enhancements, which generally did not result in negative vote recommendations from Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”), were: granting deal closing bonuses (in 17 deals), granting retention bonuses (in 16 deals) and granting additional equity awards that vest on or post-closing (in 13 deals). However, the following executive compensation enhancements generally did result in negative vote recommendations from ISS: granting new excise tax gross-ups (three out of four deals received negative ISS recommendations), cashing-out severance or converting severance into a retention bonus without an actual termination of employment (five out of eight deals received negative ISS recommendations) and accelerating the vesting of equity awards when the stated performance hurdles were not achieved or were artificially low (five out of six deals received negative ISS recommendations).
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.