All posts by Darrick M. Mix

SEC Adopts Amendments to Financial Reporting Requirements in Acquisitions and Dispositions of Businesses

Yesterday, May 21, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it approved amendments to its rules and forms “to improve for investors the financial information about acquired or disposed businesses, facilitate more timely access to capital, and reduce the complexity and costs to prepare the disclosure.”  The 267-page final rule release is available by clicking here.

The amendments update SEC rules which have not been comprehensively addressed since their adoption, some over 30 years ago.  Jay Clayton, the SEC’s Chairman, said that amendments are “designed to enhance the quality of information that investors receive while eliminating unnecessary costs and burdens [and] will benefit investors, registrants and the market more generally.”

Among other things, the amendments:

  • update the significance tests (i.e., to determine when financial statements regarding an acquisition or disposition must be included) in Rule 1-02(w) and elsewhere by revising the investment test to compare the registrant’s investments in and advances to the acquired or disposed business to the registrant’s aggregate worldwide market value if available; revising the income test by adding a revenue component; expanding the use of pro forma financial information in measuring significance; and conforming, to the extent applicable, the significance threshold and tests for disposed businesses to those used for acquired businesses;
  • modify and enhance the required disclosure for the aggregate effect of acquisitions for which financial statements are not required or are not yet required by eliminating historical financial statements for insignificant businesses and expanding the pro forma financial information to depict the aggregate effect in all material respects;
  • require the financial statements of the acquired business to cover no more than the two most recent fiscal years;
  • permit disclosure of financial statements that omit certain expenses for certain acquisitions of a component of an entity;
  • permit the use of, or reconciliation to, International Financial Reporting Standards as issued by the International Accounting Standards Board in certain circumstances;
  • no longer require separate acquired business financial statements once the business has been included in the registrant’s post-acquisition financial statements for nine months or a complete fiscal year, depending on significance; and
  • make corresponding changes to the smaller reporting company requirements in Article 8 of Regulation S-X, which will also apply to issuers relying on Regulation A.

The amendments will be effective on Jan. 1, 2021, but voluntary compliance will be permitted in advance of the effective date.

 

 

SEC Announces Reporting Relief and Issues Guidance Regarding COVID-19

On March 25, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it is extending the filing periods covered by its previously enacted conditional reporting relief for certain public company filing obligations under the federal securities laws, and that it is also extending regulatory relief previously provided to funds and investment advisers whose operations may be affected by COVID-19.  In addition, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance issued its current views regarding disclosure considerations and other securities law matters related to COVID-19.

Filing Deadline Relief for Public Companies

To address potential compliance issues, the SEC issued an order [https://www.sec.gov/rules/exorders/2020/34-88465.pdf] that, subject to certain conditions, provides public companies with a 45-day extension to file certain disclosure reports that would otherwise have been due between March 1 and July 1, 2020.  This order supersedes and extends the SEC’s prior order of March 4, 2020.  Among other conditions, companies must continue to convey through a current report (Form 8-K) a summary of why the relief is needed in their particular circumstances for each periodic report that is delayed.  The SEC may provide extensions to the time period for the relief, with any additional conditions it deems appropriate, or provide additional relief as circumstances warrant.  The SEC encouraged companies and their representatives to contact SEC staff with questions or matters of particular concern.

Relief for Funds and Investment Advisers

The SEC also issued two orders [https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ia-5469.pdf and https://www.sec.gov/rules/other/2020/ic-33824.pdf] that provide certain investment funds and investment advisers with additional time with respect to holding in-person board meetings and meeting certain filing and delivery requirements, as applicable.  These orders supersede and extend the filing periods covered by the SEC’s prior orders of March 13, 2020.  Among other conditions, entities must notify the SEC and/or investors, as applicable, of the intent to rely on the relief, but generally no longer need to describe why they are relying on the order or estimate a date by which the required action will occur.

Disclosure Guidance for Public Companies

Further, the Division of Corporation Finance issued Disclosure Guidance Topic No. 9 [https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/coronavirus-covid-19] (the “Guidance”), providing the staff’s current views regarding disclosure and other securities law obligations that companies should consider with respect to COVID-19 and related business and market disruptions.  The Division has been monitoring how companies are reporting the effects and risks of COVID-19 on their businesses, financial condition, and results of operations and is providing the Guidance as companies prepare disclosure documents during this uncertain time.  In the Guidance, the Division reminds companies that a number of existing rules or regulations require disclosure about the known or reasonably likely effects of and the types of risks presented by COVID-19.  As a result, disclosure of these risks and COVID-19-related effects may be necessary or appropriate in management’s discussion and analysis, the business section, risk factors, legal proceedings, disclosure controls and procedures, internal control over financial reporting, and the financial statements.  The Guidance also poses a series of questions designed to help companies assess COVID-19-related effects and consider their disclosure obligations (for example: How has COVID-19 impacted your financial condition and results of operations? In light of changing trends and the overall economic outlook, how do you expect COVID-19 to impact your future operating results and near-and-long-term financial condition? Do you expect that COVID-19 will impact future operations differently than how it affected the current period?)

The Guidance notes that companies and related persons to be mindful of their market activities, including the issuance or purchase of securities, in light of their obligations under the federal securities laws.  For example, where COVID-19 has affected a company in a way that would be material to investors or where a company has become aware of a risk related to COVID-19 that would be material to investors, the company, its directors and officers, and other corporate insiders who are aware of these matters should refrain from trading in the company’s securities until such information is disclosed to the public.  The Guidance also reminds companies of their obligations under Regulation FD to avoid selective disclosures.

The Government Shutdown and Effectiveness of Registration Statements under Section 8(a)

Given the shutdown of the SEC as part of the wider government shutdown, we are seeing many registration statements being filed with no delaying amendment language and with the language required by Rule 473 to allow automatic effectiveness in 20 days in accordance with Section 8(a) of the Securities Act.  In the last two weeks, at least 30 such registration statements have been filed.  In all of 2018, there were only three such registration statements, and in all of 2017, there were only two.  Obviously, the deals must go on, and corporate issuers and their counsel have seen the Division of Corporation Finance’s FAQs regarding Actions During Government Shutdown and have heeded the answers set forth therein.  (For now, the FAQs are posted on the Division of Corporation Finance’s homepage.)

The first of these “automatically effective” registration statements filed in 2019 was on Form S-4 in connection with the pending merger of BSB Bancorp and People’s United Financial, Inc.  Since then, issuers have filed these registration statements on Forms S-1, S-3 and S-4 in connection with a variety of transactions.  If the government shutdown continues, we should expect to see many more of these filings.

California Mandates Gender Diversity on Public Company Boards

California has become the first state in the nation to require public companies to put female directors on their boards. On September 30, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill mandating that by the end of 2019 certain publicly traded companies with headquarters in the state appoint at least one woman to their boards. Further, by 2021, companies subject to the law with at least five directors will need to appoint at least two female directors to their boards, and those with at least six directors will need to appoint at least three female directors to their boards. Companies subject to the law that do not comply with the mandates will face financial penalties.

Whether the law is constitutional is questionable. Governor Brown acknowledged as much after he signed the bill, stating, “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that may indeed prove fatal to its ultimate implementation,” but he justified the law, stating that “recent events in Washington, D.C.—and beyond—make it crystal clear that many aren’t getting the message.” Opponents argue that the mandate violates both the California and U.S. Constitutions because it imposes impermissible gender quotas and requires companies to reject or replace men seeking to serve on boards. In addition, opponents claim that the law violates constitutional principles because it applies to companies headquartered in California even if they are incorporated in another state, creating an inherent conflict between California law and the corporate law of every other state.

Regardless of whether the California law is ultimately enforceable, there is no question that proxy advisory firms and some institutional investors like BlackRock remain focused on board diversity, including gender diversity, and there will continue to be pressure on public company boards to increase their diversity. Action by shareholders seeking to increase board diversity, rather than state governments mandating quotas, is likely to be more enduring and ultimately more successful.

The Comverge Case: Fiduciary Duties and Break-up Fees in M&A

Our partner Richard Renck in Wilmington recently posted an entry on our Delaware Business Law Blog regarding the Comverge case decided last month by the Delaware Court of Chancery.   Among other things, the Court’s opinion provides practitioners and clients with insight regarding break-up fees as well as a road map of  how the Court of Chancery reviews challenges to third-party sale transactions, approved by a disinterested board, under the enhanced scrutiny of Revlon.  Please see Richard’s post here.

Fifth Circuit to Dodd-Frank Whistleblowers: Call the SEC First

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision last week in Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA) has been hailed as a triumph for employers because it requires whistleblowers who bring retaliation claims under the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to show that they suffered retaliation because they reported potential violations to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Fifth Circuit rejected the position adopted by the SEC in its regulations implementing Dodd-Frank and by the few district courts that have addressed the issue. That rejected approach interprets Section 922 of Dodd-Frank to apply its enhanced protections to certain whistleblowers even if they had not reported their concerns to the SEC. Although this decision narrows the category of employees who can seek the enhanced protections of Dodd-Frank, it will likely increase the number of whistleblowers who report their concerns to the SEC.

Our firm’s client alert regarding the case can be found here.

SEC Staff Issues Wells Notice to Netflix and Its CEO

The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets reported late yesterday that Netflix, Inc. filed a Form 8-K disclosing that each of Netflix and its CEO, Reed Hastings, had received a Wells notice from the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to an alleged violation of Regulation Fair Disclosure (FD) in connection with a Facebook post by Hastings on July 3, 2012. Hastings’ Facebook post stated that “Netflix monthly viewing exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time ever in June. When House of Cards and Arrested Development debut, we’ll blow these records away.”

Continue reading SEC Staff Issues Wells Notice to Netflix and Its CEO

SEC Rule Proposal Would Permit Public Offerings in “Private Placements” and Facilitate Capital Formation

As required by the JOBS Act, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed rules to eliminate the prohibition on general solicitation and general advertising in private placements exempt from registration by Rule 506 under the Securities Act of 1933, as long as all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors. The elimination of the prohibition on general solicitation and general advertising will result in issuers being able to attract a wider variety of investors with less cost. Increased competition for quality investments could also improve terms for issuers, reducing their cost of capital.

The firm’s client alert regarding the SEC’s proposal may be accessed here.

Update on Say-on-Pay Developments

There have been 40 failed say-on-pay votes thus far in 2012. Shareholders have disapproved executive compensation systems at companies such as Big Lots (31% approval), Cooper Industries (30%), Simon Property Group (27%), Pitney Bowes (35%) and Chiquita Brands (20%). Sometimes support from ISS is not enough – shareholders at Safety Insurance Group (42%) failed to approve a say-on-pay proposal even with an approval recommendation from ISS.

Continue reading Update on Say-on-Pay Developments

Executive Compensation: Negative Say-on-Pay Vote Does Not Trump Board Authority

In an important battle in the ongoing executive compensation wars, last week a federal court in Oregon affirmed that directors of Oregon corporations are indeed protected by the business judgment rule in making executive compensation decisions. In ruling that the claim in Plumbers Local No. 137 Pension Fund v. Davis should be dismissed, the specifically declined to follow a recent controversial decision by an Ohio court allowing a say-on-pay lawsuit to proceed under similar circumstances.

Continue reading Executive Compensation: Negative Say-on-Pay Vote Does Not Trump Board Authority