In Rieckborn v. Velti plc, 2015 WL 468329 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2015) (Orrick, J.), the United States District Court for the Northern District of California clarified the scope of the judgment reduction provision that is found in almost all class action settlement agreements by holding that nonsettling defendants are entitled to a judgment reduction measured by the proportion of fault of all settling defendants, not just a dollar-for-dollar judgment reduction, on all settled claims under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”). In so holding, the court handed a major victory to nonsettling defendants in actions under the Securities Act by granting them a favorable form of judgment reduction on claims not explicitly covered by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “PSLRA”). The court’s opinion also makes clear that bar orders cannot preclude “independent claims” and that bar orders must be “mutual,” thereby giving guidance to the drafters of class action settlement agreements.
Archive for March, 2015
The EU prospectus regime, based on Directive 2003/71/EC (the “Prospective Directive”) as amended, has been in place now for nearly 10 years and was due to be reviewed by the European Commission by 1 January 2016. However, the European Commission has moved forward its review, and on 18 February 2015 released a consultation  on possible reform of the current regime, in conjunction with its Green Paper on a possible EU Capital Markets Union, released on the same date.
The main focus of the proposed EU Capital Markets Union is on improving the access to capital markets for smaller business entities (“SMEs”), in order to broaden the range of funding without the need for bank intermediation. The European Commission considers that the review of the EU prospectus regime is a vital part of developing a Capital Markets Union and, as such, has accelerated the timing of the review by launching its consultation now.
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge the remarkable and dedicated career of Harvey Goldschmid. Just a few weeks ago, Harvey visited me to discuss his perspectives on a number of timely securities law issues. His superb intellect was reinforced by his engaging personality and skill as a teacher.
Harvey’s intense passion for the securities laws and investor protection was an inspiration to many of us. In authoring a tribute to Harvey Goldschmid in 2006, SEC historian Joel Seligman labeled him one of the most influential Commissioners.  I couldn’t agree more.
This conference provides us with an opportunity to look backward and to look forward. As I look back over the SEC’s history, I am always impressed by the rate and degree of change.
Picture Wall Street 80 years ago—the street was filled with dozens of young men—“runners”—carrying paper back and forth between various brokers and dealers and banks and exchanges and companies that made up the securities markets. Runners were the backbone of the securities market, delivering paperwork and stock certificates at a rate of $8 per day. Maybe the telephone would ring (the desk telephone was launched in 1932) or a telegram would arrive. And investors, would look to the newspaper to decide what stocks to buy or sell.
The United States and the United Kingdom are lumped put together as ‘dispersed shareholder’ jurisdictions and contrasted with the concentrated shareholdings found in the rest of the world. This paper, Shareholders in the United Kingdom, argues that it would be better to view the UK, at least over the past half century, as a semi-dispersed rather than as simply a dispersed shareholder jurisdiction, and that there are interesting contrasts between the UK and the US experience.
Whilst the typical company listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange certainly lacks a single (or even a cohesive small group) of shareholders with legal control, neither does the typical company display atomised shareholdings, for example, where no single shareholder holds more than 1% of the voting rights. Typically, a coalition of six or so of the largest shareholders can put together enough votes to have a fighting chance of carrying a resolution at a shareholder meeting against the wishes of the management. The question thus becomes one of the incentives and disincentives for those shareholders to coordinate their actions.
On the heels of SEC Chair White’s direction to the Division of Corporation Finance to review its position on proxy proposal conflicts under Exchange Act Rule 14a-8(i)(9), both Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have issued clarifying policies on proxy access, entering the fray of what is becoming the hottest debate this proxy season. The publication of ISS’s updated policy in particular means that market forces may have outpaced the SEC’s review process. In order to avoid risking a withhold or no-vote recommendation from ISS against their directors, many companies will be faced with the choice of (i) including any shareholder-submitted proxy access proposal in their proxy materials (either alone or alongside a management proposal) (ii) excluding the shareholder submitted proposal on the basis of a court ruling or no-action relief from the Division of Corporation Finance on a basis other than Rule 14a-8(i)(9) (conflict with management proposal) or (iii) obtaining withdrawal of the proposal by the shareholder proponent.
In recent years, the number of firms undertaking stock repurchases has increased dramatically, while the proportion of firms distributing value through cash dividends has declined. The popularity of share repurchases has not been mitigated even after the passage of the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Act of 2003. In our paper, The Role of Institutional Investors in Open-Market Share Repurchase Programs, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we empirically analyze whether institutions have the ability to produce information about firms announcing open-market repurchase (OMR) programs, and how their information interacts with the private information held by firm insiders (which they may attempt to convey to the equity market through a repurchase program).
Despite the value of bringing more women onto corporate boards being increasingly recognized, US companies continue a slow march toward gender diversity. While progress is being made, it is not at the pace needed to compete with public sector approaches being taken in other markets.
This post looks at diversity in US boardrooms at the time of their 2014 annual meetings and, unless otherwise noted, reflects S&P 1500 companies. It is based on the EY Center for Board Matters’ proprietary corporate governance database. It is also part of the Center’s ongoing board diversity series and follows Diversity drives diversity: From the boardroom to the C-suite (2013) and Getting on board: Women join boards at higher rates, though progress comes slowly (2012). For EY’s global perspective, see Women on boards: global approaches to advancing diversity (2014) and Women. Fast forward (2015).
In our paper, The Impact of Whistleblowers on Financial Misrepresentation Enforcement Actions, which was recently made available on SSRN, we investigate the effect of employee whistleblowers on the consequences of financial misrepresentation enforcement actions by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Justice (DOJ). Whistleblowers are ostensibly a valuable resource to regulators investigating securities violations, but whether whistleblowers have any measurable impact on the outcomes of enforcement actions is unclear. Using the universe of SEC and DOJ enforcement actions for financial misrepresentation between 1978 and 2012 (Karpoff et al., 2008, 2014), we investigate whether whistleblower involvement is associated with more severe enforcement outcomes. Specifically, we examine the effects of whistleblower involvement on: (1) monetary penalties against targeted firms; (2) monetary penalties against culpable employees; and (3) the length of incarceration (prison sentences) imposed against employee respondents. In addition, we investigate the effect of whistleblowers on the duration of the violation, regulatory proceedings, and total enforcement periods. We examine the effects of whistleblowers conditional on the existence of a regulatory enforcement action. This distinction is important because our tests exploit variation in consequences to SEC or DOJ enforcement with and without whistleblower involvement; we do not measure the effects of whistleblower allegations for which there are no regulatory enforcement actions.
Recent high-profile developments have thrust proxy access back onto the agenda for many U.S. public companies. Here is a framework for how to approach the topic.
Proxy access is back in the news and back on the agenda for many U.S. public companies. Four years after the DC Circuit invalidated the SEC’s proxy-access rule, we are seeing company-by-company private ordering with a vengeance, including a record number of Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposals in the current 2015 proxy season. Events have moved at high speed in the past few weeks, leading many companies to wonder whether they should be initiating their own approach to proxy access.
As we argued in 2009 in response to an earlier SEC proxy-access proposal, we believe that each company’s approach to proxy access should be grounded in a consideration of its particular circumstances. Despite recent high-profile adoptions of proxy-access procedures, we don’t believe that most U.S. public companies should, in knee-jerk fashion, be preparing to revise their bylaws proactively. We do, however, think that boards should be assessing on an ongoing basis the broader issues of board composition, tenure and refreshment, which are not only important in their own right but also relevant to potential vulnerability to proxy-access proposals. We also think that boards should communicate a willingness to exercise their discretion in considering all shareholder suggestions regarding board membership in order to assure shareholders of a means of expressing their views and to create a level playing field for shareholders.
In our paper, Not Clawing the Hand that Feeds You: The Case of Co-opted Boards and Clawbacks, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine the impact of beholdenness of the directors to the CEO on the adoption and enforcement of clawbacks.
Clawbacks have been increasingly prevalent in recent years, and the aim of such provisions is to provide a punishment mechanism that links an executive’s compensation more closely to his or her financial reporting behavior. Clawbacks typically allow firms to recoup compensation from executives upon the occurrence of accounting restatements. Perhaps not surprisingly, the implementation and enforcement of clawbacks by companies is likely to create tensions between boards and executives because executives are unlikely to want to have a “Sword of Damocles” hanging over the compensation that is already in their pocket and are likely to resist attempts by boards to claw at this compensation when accounting restatements trigger a clawback. Hence, to better understand the use of clawbacks by firms, it is important to understand the type of boards that are more likely to implement clawbacks.