|House of Representatives Adopts Bipartisan Financial Reform – JOBS Act 3.0|
On July 17, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed, by a vote of 406-4, bipartisan financial reform legislation titled the “JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018," frequently referred to as JOBS Act 3.0. The JOBS Act 3.0 builds upon the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups (“JOBS") Act, and on the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (the “FAST Act"), which was enacted in 2015 and is commonly referred to as JOBS Act 2.0.
The proposed JOBS Act 3.0, which had the backing of House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA), still must be approved by the U.S. Senate. The legislation includes 32 individual bills that already passed the House Financial Services Committee or the House during this congressional term. Key provisions include:
1. Encouraging Public Offerings Act of 2017 (H.R. 3903) (Further Extension of JOBS Act IPO “On-Ramp"). Sponsored by Rep. Tedd Budd (R-NC) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), this bill would amend the Securities Act of 1933 (Securities Act) to permit all companies to submit confidential draft registration statements for their initial public offerings (IPOs) to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for SEC staff review, as well as for securities offerings within one year of an IPO. Additionally, this bill would allow all companies to engage in “test-the-waters" activities with qualified institutional buyers and other institutional accredited investors in connection with securities offerings. The Securities Act currently permits an “emerging growth company" (EGC) to confidentially submit a registration statement in connection with its IPO and to engage in “test-the-waters" activities in connection with its securities offerings, although in June 2017 the SEC adopted a policy permitting non-EGCs to also confidentially submit registration statements for their IPOs and permitting all issuers to confidentially submit registration statements in connection with securities offerings within one year of an IPO. The text of H.R. 3903 can be found here.
2. Main Street Growth Act (H.R. 5877) (Creation of Venture Exchanges). Sponsored by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), this bill would amend the Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act) to allow for the creation of venture exchanges registered with the SEC to provide trading venues more tailored to the needs of small and emerging companies. Securities of “early stage growth companies" exempt from registration pursuant to Regulation...
|SEC Amends “Smaller Reporting Company” Definition to Expand Access to Scaled Disclosure Accommodations|
On June 28, 2018, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC") approved amendments to the definition of a “smaller reporting company" (a “SRC"). These amendments will expand the number of registrants qualifying for SRC scaled disclosure accommodations in their SEC filings. These scaled disclosure accommodations include, among other things, reduced required business, financial and executive compensation disclosures. A chart briefly summarizing the SRC disclosure accommodations is attached as Exhibit A.
The amendments should benefit a number of public companies with less than $250 million of public float, as well as public companies with revenues of less than $100 million and less than $700 million of public float. One industry sector that may benefit from the amendments is the biotechnology and life sciences sector, where we believe a significant number of additional companies will now be able to qualify for SRC status. But companies across all industry sectors should benefit from these amendments. The SEC estimates 966 additional reporting companies will be eligible for SRC status in the first year under the amended definition, and approximately 48.8% of SEC registrants will now qualify as SRCs (as compared to approximately 35.7% currently).
We provide a summary of the SEC's SRC amendments below and the full text of the SEC's adopting release is available here.
As revised, Rule 12b-2 under the Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act"), Rule 405 of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Item 10(f) of Regulation S-K, define a “Smaller Reporting Company" as an issuer that is not an ...
|The SEC Identifies Priorities in Draft Strategic Plan Through 2022|
On June 19, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC") published a draft strategic plan outlining the SEC's priorities through 2022 (the “2018 Plan"). In the 2018 Plan, the SEC elected to pursue three goals, emphasizing investors, innovation and performance, each of which is summarized below. The 2018 Plan focuses on the “Main Street" investor, responds to new market developments, such as the growth of cryptocurrencies, and improves the regulator's use of data and analytics.
In his cover letter, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton stated, “The Plan provides a forward-looking framework for making the SEC even more effective, focusing on the most important goals and initiatives that will best position the SEC to fulfill our mission.... For the investing public and the various market participants and regulatory authorities who interact with the SEC, we hope this Strategic Plan will inspire your full confidence in our ability to innovate in response to evolving markets."
The 2018 Plan was drafted pursuant to the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010, "which requires federal agencies to outline their missions, planned initiatives, and strategic goals for a four year period." The SEC has opened the public comment period for investors and other market participants to share their concerns and suggestions. Comments on the draft 2018 plan are due July 25, 2018 and may be submitted by e-mail to PerformancePlanning@sec.gov, or through written correspondence to Nicole Puccio, Branch Chief, Securities and Exchange Commission, 100 F Street, NE, Washington, DC 20549–2521.
Focus on Retail Investors
The SEC's first enumerated goal in the 2018 Plan centers around preserving long-term investor interests. Primarily, the SEC acknowledges the challenges associated with retirees' increased life expectancy and their reliance on investments as a source of income. Additionally, the SEC highlights common problems faced by investors such as a lack of clarity in deciphering the difference between investment professionals who merely sell securities and those poised to give advice, as well as the decline in companies raising capital through securities. In order to combat decreased opportunities for investors, the SEC proposes five initiatives:
(1) Access. The SEC plans to enhance its understanding of channels used by retail and institutional investors to access capital markets in order to tailor access initiatives.
(2) Diverse Guidance. Because not all investors, businesses and markets are the same, the SEC plans to enhance its outreach efforts to diverse investors.
(3) Misconduct Deterrence. With an increasingly connected m...
|The SEC Continues to Modernize and Adapt to the Times|
The Securities and Exchange Commission (“the Commission") recently adopted two rule amendments in its latest effort to synchronize Commission policies with the rapidly developing digital age.
The first set of amendments (effective May 14, 2018) available here includes minor revisions to Regulation S-T and the Description of Exchange Act Forms (17 CFR parts 232 and 249) to remove items in certain SEC forms (e.g., Forms Funding Portal, MA, MA-I, MSD, and Instructions for the Form MA series) requiring filers to disclose personal information, such as their date of birth or social security number. The updated forms address the ever‑increasing cybersecurity risk faced by filers disclosing personal identifying information. Specifically, the Commission notes the potential cost to filers “in the event of unauthorized access or release of certain sensitive [personal information,]" including “ongoing identity protection and monitoring, reputation costs, operational costs, and losses from theft[.]" This string of minor amendments will help filers protect their personal information and avoid the unnecessary risks and costs all too common in an era of continuous large-scale data breaches.
The second amendment (effective June 1, 2018) available here relates to the Commission's Rules of Practice (17 CFR parts 200 and 201) and addresses the shifting technological preferences of its stakeholders. Specifically, the amendment eliminates publication of the “SEC Docket," a weekly compilation of relevant SEC actions. All of the information currently compiled in the weekly Docket is available in digital form on the Commission's website at the time of publication. As justification for the Docket's elimination, the Commission noted “the Docket generally receives less than 0.01% of all SEC website traffic" but requires “approximately 600 staff hours" to prepare each year.
Together these amendments evidence the Commission's willingness to actively review internal policies and procedures and make changes where appropriate. These recent amendments protect filers providing information, but they also better serve investors relying on the SEC for information – all while minimizing unnecessary burdens and costs.
Thanks to Collin Metcalf in the Houston office for the summary above.
 The Securities Act of 1934 (as amended) created these forms as a registration requirement for crowdfundi...
|The SEC's Proposed Transaction Fee Pilot for US Equity Securities|
In March 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") issued a proposed rule, Rule 610T of Regulation NMS (the "Proposal"), which would create a Transaction Fee Pilot for National Market System ("NMS") stocks (the "Pilot"). The Pilot recently received renewed attention as a result of an email sent by the New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE") to listed issuers expressing concerns the NYSE has regarding the Pilot.
As explained in the Proposal, the Pilot's purpose would be to study the effects that potential changes to transaction-based fees and rebates that are paid by exchanges to broker-dealers/market makers may have on order routing behavior, execution quality, and market quality more generally. The Pilot is designed to generate data to help inform the SEC, market participants, and the public about the effects, if any, of such fees, thereby facilitating an evaluation of the need for regulatory action in this area.
The Pilot would apply to equities exchanges, but not alternative trading systems or other non-exchange trading centers, and would last one year unless extended to two years by the SEC. As proposed, the Pilot would require the creation of three test groups of 1,000 listed stocks, each of which would be subject to different levels of allowable access fees and rebates. The listed stocks not selected for one of the three groups would comprise a control group, which would be subject only to the access fee cap imposed by existing rules.
By way of background, the predominant fee model in the U.S. equities markets is the "maker-taker" model, in which an exchange or other trading center pays its broker-dealer participants a per share rebate to provide (i.e., "make") liquidity in securities and assesses them a fee to remove (i.e., "take") liquidity. An alternative model is the "taker-maker" model (or inverted model), where the trading center charges a fee to the provider of liquidity and pays a rebate to the taker of liquidity. Market participants and others have expressed concern about the maker-taker model, arguing that it may pose a conflict of interest for broker-dealers, who must pursue the best execution of their customers' orders while facing potentially conflicting economic incentives to avoid fees or earn rebates. Others have expressed concern that access fees may undermine market transparency, introduce unnecessary market complexity, and increase market fragmentation. At the same time, others have contended that the maker-taker model has positive effects on the market, such as enabling exc...
|SEC Corp Fin Staff Releases New Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations on Proxy Rules and Schedules 14A/14C|
On May 11, the Division of Corporation Finance (the “Staff”) of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission”) released new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (“C&DIs”) regarding the proxy rules and Schedules 14A and 14C. These C&DIs replace the Staff’s previous interpretations published in the Proxy Rules and Schedule 14A Manual of Publicly Available Telephone Interpretations and the March 1999 Supplement to the Manual of Publicly Available Telephone Interpretations (collectively, the “Telephone Interpretations”).
As noted in the introductory language accompanying the guidance, C&DIs 124.01, 124.07, 126.02, 151.01, 161.03 and 163.01 reflect substantive changes to the Telephone Interpretations. These substantive changes are outlined below:
- Discretionary Authority to Cumulate Votes
C&DI 124.01 addresses the manner in which a proxy may confer discretionary authority to cumulate votes for director nominees. Under Rule 14a-4(b)(1), a proxy may confer discretionary authority for matters as to which a shareholder did not specify a choice if the form of proxy states how the proxy holder will vote where no choice is specified. The Telephone Interpretations stated that the authority of a proxy holder to exercise its discretion to cumulate votes among directors did not need to be printed on the proxy card pursuant to Rule 14a-4(b)(1) as ...
|Strengthening U.S. Public Capital Markets – Recommendations from SIFMA Report|
On April 27, 2018, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (“SIFMA”), the leading industry group representing broker-dealers, banks and asset managers, along with other securities industry related groups, released a report called “Expanding the On-Ramp: Recommendations to Help More Companies Go and Stay Public” (the “Report”). In response to the decline in the number of IPOs and the number of public companies generally in the United States over the last twenty years, the Report provides recommendations aimed at reducing perceived impediments to becoming and remaining a public company. As the Report notes, the United States is now home to only about half the number of public companies that existed 20 years ago. This decline is believed to have had adverse repercussions for the American economy generally, and the jobs market specifically. In addition, the growth of private capital markets at the expense of public capital markets has raised concerns that individual investors are being marginalized. More specifically, as many of the most innovative companies in the U.S. stay private longer and raise significant amounts of capital privately, the returns generated by such companies appear to accrue disproportionally to institutional, high net worth and other similar investors.
The Report makes recommendations in five areas:
1. enhance several provisions of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”);
2. encourage more research on emerging growth companies (“EGCs”) and other small public companies;
3. improve certain corporate governance, disclosure, and other regulatory requirements;
4. address concerns relating to financial reporting; and
5. tailor the equity market structure for small public companies.
Details and analysis of these five recommendations from the Report are provided in the Gibson Dunn client alert here.
Since at least 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Congress have proposed various reforms aimed at improv...
|SEC Expands Prior Guidance on Non-GAAP Financial Forecasts in the M&A Context|
As discussed in our October 17, 2017 post, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance (the “Staff”) addressed an open question as to whether the disclosure of forecasted financial measures used in connection with a business combination transaction is subject to Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K and Regulation G.
In Compliance and Disclosure Interpretation (“C&DI”) 101.01, the Staff made clear that disclosures of forward-looking financial measures in the M&A context are not non-GAAP financial measures (and thus do not need to be reconciled to GAAP), so long as they are:
(1) provided to financial advisors for the purpose of preparing an opinion that is materially related to the transaction; and
(2) being disclosed in order to comply with federal securities laws or other applicable laws governing disclosure of the financial advisor’s analysis.
While the Staff’s guidance late last year resolved some ambiguities regarding non-GAAP reconciliation requirements in the M&A context, it left some doors open as to how broadly and to whom this exemption might apply, as financial forecasts are often shared with other key players (in addition to a party’s financial advisor) during the transaction process.
In response, last week the Staff released C&DIs 101.02 and 101.03, which extended the exemption to financial forecasts that are exchanged between the parties or provided to a party’s board of directors or board committee in a business combination transaction. The Staff made clear that when forecasts are “material” and disclosure is required to comply with federal securities laws, then the information “would be excluded from the definition of non-GAAP financial measures and therefore not subject to Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K and Regulation G.”
One additional aspect left unaddressed by the C&DIs is whether the particular placement of the disclosure in a public filing is critical for reliance on the Staff’s interpretations. Luckily, this question was posed to Michele Anderson (Corporation Finance Associate Director) at the “SEC Speaks” conference sponsored by PLI earlier this year. Ms. Anderson suggested the location of the disclosure “doesn’t matter,” so long as the purpose of...
|New Twist for Old Shareholder Proposal Tactic|
Each year some public pension funds and other institutional shareholders voluntarily file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) a Notice of Exempt Solicitation under Exchange Act Rule 14a-6(g). This rule requires a person who owns more than $5 million of a company’s securities and who conducts an exempt solicitation of the company’s shareholders (in which the person does not seek to have proxies granted to them) to file with the SEC all written materials used in the solicitation. However, these funds also file these Notices, which appear on EDGAR as “PX14A6G” filings, typically to respond to a company’s statement in opposition to a shareholder proposal included in the proxy statement or to otherwise encourage (but not solicit proxies from) shareholders to vote a specific way on shareholder proposals, say on pay proposals and in “vote no” campaigns.
In a new twist, this week John Chevedden (the most prolific individual shareholder proponent given that he submits them in his own name and by using “proposal by proxy” to submit proposals for other shareholders) filed his first Notice of Exempt Solicitation. Chevedden’s Notice addresses a proposal included in the AES Corp. proxy materials to ratify the company’s existing 25% special meeting ownership threshold. The SEC staff previously concurred that AES could exclude from its proxy materials Chevedden’s shareholder proposal requesting a 10% special meeting threshold pursuant to Rule 14a-8(i)(9) because the company’s ratification proposal and the shareholder proposal conflicted. See The AES Corp. (avail. Dec. 19, 2017).
Chevedden’s filing consists of a “Shareholder Memo” to AES shareholders that criticizes the AES special meeting ratification proposal, includes a link to the SEC no-action letter concurring with the exclusion of Chevedden’s proposal, and urges shareholders to vote “against” the AES ratification proposal. Chevedden’s Notice is available here. (Chevedden subsequently filed a similar, but lengthier, notice at CF Industries Holdings, Inc. even before the company filed its definitive proxy statement, which is available here.)
Chevedden likely does not own more than $5 million in AES stock. In fact, his broker letter provided to AES states that he owned “no fewer than” 250 AES shares as of October 13, 2017. (Assuming he owned 250 shares, the value of those shares based on the closing price on that date was less than $2,900.) However, the SEC has not to date restricted shareholders owning less than $5 million of a company’s stock from making...
|S&P 500 Pay Ratio Disclosures: Emerging Trends|
As the 2018 proxy season is now gaining full speed, the first group of the required CEO-to-median employee pay ratio disclosures have made their eagerly-awaited debut. Gibson Dunn has been tracking all required pay ratio disclosures by S&P 500 and Fortune 100 companies and, while still early, there are a number of key observations and emerging trends from the filings to date.
Background. In August 2015, the SEC adopted final rules implementing Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The rules, set forth in Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K, require pay ratio disclosures for fiscal years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. The central components of the required disclosure are (1) the median employee’s annual total compensation, (2) the CEO’s annual total compensation, (3) the ratio of these two figures, and (4) additional narrative disclosure addressing topics such as the date and method used to identify the company’s median compensated employee. Generally, the rules permit the use of several exemptions and adjustments to the pay ratio calculation in order to reduce compliance costs for companies. In addition, as emphasized in the SEC’s September guidance, the new rules grant reporting companies wide flexibility on the method used for identifying the median employee.
Emerging Trends and Data as of March 9, 2018
Overview. As of March 9, 2018, 61 S&P 500 companies have reported required pay ratios, most commonly in a definitive proxy statement. The average pay ratio among these companies is 204:1, ranging from a high of 935-to-1 to a low of 12-to-1.
Location in the Filing. The majority of disclosures (or 77%) have appeared in proxy statements after the tabular disclosure required by Item 402 of Regulation S-K for named executive officer compensation (the “Compensation Tables”). Most of the rest of the disclosures have appeared in the CD&A, among the Compensation Tables or between those two sections. The specific location of the disclosure may depend on the organization of a company’s proxy statement sections, as well as other factors such as the visibility a company intends for the disclosure and its desire to separate the disclosure from other sections (such as the say-on-pay proposal).
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