April 30, 2008

The New Media: Time to Merge with Old Media?

Warning, today's blog is cranky. If you're not in the mood for moping, turn this channel off. For starters, I am bummed the "new" Wall Street Journal is less business and more politics/world affairs. In my opinion, Rupert Murdoch is killing the brand and the unique WSJ experience. In Monday's edition, it seemed like only one article in Section A was devoted to business and the other two sections were limited to two pages in length. Looks like a fast - rather than a slow - death for those that read the WSJ for their business updates.

Moving on, I got a chuckle reading Prof. Steven Davidoff's observation that most of the mainstream media mistook a registration rights offering registered with the SEC by employees of Apollo Global Management as a filing by the fund to go public. As the Professor noted, "it's nothing of the sort."

I definitely can relate since I deal with journalists on a daily basis in this job. Understandably, many of them don't know the intricacies of SEC filings compared to those of us that have lived with them for our entire careers. Nor should they; their jobs force them to become generalists on dozens - if not hundreds - of topics.

The ability of bloggers to provide analysis of developments in their narrow niches is what makes the Web so great - and threatens the viability of mass media. Wearing my journalist's hat a few months ago, I sat on a panel with major business reporters in New York and had some mild disagreements about whether bloggers could provide real value since they typically aren't trained as journalists. Clearly some can (and of course, some can't since there is no barrier to entry to become a blogger). Perhaps proving the point that some can, Professor Davidoff's blog has recently become part of the NY Times' DealBook empire. I imagine we will see more of the melding of non-traditional and "real" journalists in the near term...

As one member recently emailed me, we can file this under "Things That Make You Go Hmmm."

And One More Thing...

Another thing I've noticed with old media: As all the traditional newspapers have undergone severe cuts in staffing over the past few years, the number of errors - both large and small - seem to have tripled. Check out this recent - and novel - press release from the SEC. It's purpose is to point out an error in a NY Times article. It's a rare type of press release and thankfully so, because if the SEC issued a press release for every error committed by a journalist covering this "space," I imagine there would be more than a handful of folks in the SEC's Office of Public Affairs.

Speaking of the NY Times, SEC Enforcement Director Linda Thomsen responded to a recent NY Times article that was critical of the Division's efforts by delivering this public statement. Given that the SEC likely disagrees with all sorts of things written in the media, I imagine that this response is directed more broadly to the various quarters (including some members of Congress) that have been critical of Enforcement lately.

And speaking of the SEC's Office of Public Affairs, I wonder who put them up to issuing this odd press release yesterday to announce that Corp Fin has made its recommendations to the Commission regarding proposals on the cross-border tender, exchange offer and business combination rules? That's a new one - and I doubt we shall see a press release each time a rulemaking is sent to the 10th floor for consideration. Maybe OPA did add some bodies...

Survey: Auditors Asking to Review Board Minutes

Recently, in our "Q&A Forum," a member asked what is the common practice when an independent auditor asks a client to review their board minutes. I provided my own thoughts on what that practice might be - but I pose the question to you to see if we can build a consensus:

- Broc Romanek

April 29, 2008

Say on Pay: PIRC Says "Thumbs Down" for Aflac

Hat tip to Jim McRitchie's CorpGov.net for pointing out that PIRC - one of the proxy advisors in the United Kingdom - has issued a research report that recommends that shareholders vote against Aflac on its say-on-pay proposal at the company's annual meeting. Given that the UK is one of those countries with experience regarding say-on-pay, I believe this is noteworthy for all of us. We have posted a copy of the PIRC report in the "Say on Pay" Practice Area on CompensationStandards.com.

So why is this development noteworthy? It probably won't impact Aflac's ability to garner majority support at next week's meeting since it's reported that RiskMetrics has recommended a vote in favor of Aflac's pay package - but it might cause some companies that were contemplating allowing this type of non-binding resolution on their ballot to reconsider. And maybe the publicity of the PIRC report will cause Aflac to adjust its pay practices for next year (but I doubt it unless Aflac's proposal doesn't get majority support given what the CEO Dan Amos has said in his flurry of recent interviews where he is asked about his executive pay views). Both the RiskMetrics and Glass Lewis policies regarding "say on pay" are posted in the "Say on Pay" Practice Area.

Recently, I blogged my thoughts about "say on pay" - this WSJ article from yesterday quoted a number of governance experts that have similar concerns about unintended consequences from say on pay.

Say on Pay in Europe: Heating Up?

As noted in this RiskMetrics article, shareholders in the United Kingdom are challenging executive pay practices more than ever before during this proxy season. BP had 9% voted "against" and another 27% "withheld" - which is a high level compared to what has been happening in the UK during the past few years.

And in March, shareholders of Philips, a Dutch electronics company, rejected an amended executive pay plan; which was the first time that has happened. But it wasn't a "first" for long as VastNed lost a vote a few weeks later and Corporate Express pulled its plan from the meeting agenda after pressure from shareholders, as noted in this IR Magazine article.

AFL-CIO's "Executive PayWatch"

In this CompensationStandards.com podcast, Vineeta Anand, Chief Research Analyst for AFL-CIO Office of Investment, talks about the AFL-CIO’s popular online tool "Executive PayWatch," including:

- What is Executive PayWatch?
- What is the theme this year and what do you hope to accomplish?
- How do people typically use it?

- Broc Romanek

April 28, 2008

Apache Corporation v. NYCERS: Injunction Denied

Recently, I blogged about a case brought in the US District Court, Southern District of Texas, by Apache Corporation, who sought a declaratory judgment supporting its exclusion of a shareholder proposal submitted by the New York City Employees' Retirement System. The case sought to enjoin a lawsuit brought by NYCERS in the Southern District of New York over the exclusion of a employment-related proposal by the Corp Fin Staff under the "ordinary business" basis of the SEC's shareholder proposal rule (ie. 14a-8(i)(7)).

A few days ago, Judge Miller of the US District Court, Southern District of Texas ruled from the bench for Apache, granting Apache's declaratory judgment. We have posted the Order and related Memo - even the trial transcript! - from the court in our "Shareholder Proposals" Practice Area.

Interestingly, Judge Miller's opinion appears to stake out new territory from a judicial point of view. For the first time, a court has endorsed Corp Fin's view that a proposal that involves some significant policy matters can nonetheless be excluded under Rule 14a-8(i)(7) to the extent that the proposal also deals with core ordinary business matters; here for example, advertising, marketing, sales and charitable giving. We'll see if the Second Circuit ultimately follows suit (I believe the Texas case isn't binding on the SDNY one, but under a res judicata theory, it's likely the Second Circuit would recognize the SDTX's decision and rule in favor of Apache).

Also interestingly, the Texas court didn't take the bait offered by Apache with respect to the appropriate standard of review for SEC Staff no-action: Apache asked the court to find that a company that excludes a shareholder proposal in reliance on a no-action letter is entitled to a rebuttable presumption that such exclusion was proper. The court declined to adopt such an approach, however, concluding that Staff no-action letters are only persuasive - but not binding - authority.

Shareholder Proposals: Debunking a Conspiracy Theory

Recently, RiskMetrics ran a piece entitled "Spike in No-Action Requests Worries Investors." In the article, Subodh Mishra notes that "issuers had challenged 33% of all governance-related proposals filed this year, compared with just 20% in calendar 2007. Challenges by issuers also are more likely to be successful this year than last. For example, 48% of last year’s requests for no action were granted, while this year’s figure so far stands at 69%, according to RMG’s analysis."

It is interesting to look at the rate of success for exclusion requests - and I don't remember seeing this type of analysis conducted for other proxy seasons. It's good stuff. I do think companies were more willing to fight proposals this year. Anecdotal evidence indicates that more exclusion requests under Rule 14a-8(b) regarding proof of ownership were made compared to year's past. In other words, companies used to be more willing to overlook the "technicalities" of whether a proponent was eligible to submit a proposal (eg. amount of securities held; length of holding period; proof of ownership). Not this year.

But I don't buy into the notion that there was some sort of conscious SEC Staff decision to be more pro-management this year, even though that's where the numbers could lead you. Rather, I would argue that the exclusion rate is a direct product of the types of proposals submitted this year and the types of arguments made. So I would not rush to judgment using a conspiracy theory (which other bloggers and journalists have done).

For example, one reason for the increase of exclusion requests granted likely relates to the fact that more companies implemented shareholder proposals when they were received - thus, quite a few proposals were allowed to be excluded as "moot" under Rule 14a-8(i)(10). So ironically, the number of exclusions may have risen because more companies did what shareholders wanted. Another likely factor for the higher exclusion rate is that Corp Fin granted more exclusions under Rule 14a-8(b) this year because companies were more picky about whether the proponent was eligible as noted above.

Perhaps all of this stuff would make for a fine academic paper that delves beyond the numbers into the specifics...

JPMorgan Chase/Bear Stearns: Splicing the Delaware Issues

Tune in tomorrow for our DealLawyers.com webcast - "JPMorgan Chase/Bear Stearns: Splicing the Delaware Issues" - during which Professors Elson, Cunningham and Davidoff will analyze the novel Delaware issues presented by the Bear Stearns transaction, including:

- What significant anti-takeover provisions are in the amended merger agreement?
- How does the provision work that calls for the parties to work in good faith to restructure the deal if Bear Stearn's shareholders turn it down?
- What is the JPMorgan Chase guarantee – and how does it work? How about the NYC building option and the Section 203 provision?
- How valid are the attacks against the fairness opinions delivered in the deal?
- Why was there a discussion of a 39.5% share exchange and what would be the Delaware law on it?
- How about the abandoned, uncapped 19.9% option - was that valid under Delaware law?

To warm up for the program, check out Professor Davidoff's analysis of the Form S-4 filed for the deal (which the SEC declared effective on Friday) as well as this WSJ article indicating that post-deal details will be announced soon.

- Broc Romanek

April 25, 2008

Parallel SEC/DOJ Proceedings Approved in the Ninth Circuit

It is a fact of life today that securities law violations are often investigated through parallel proceedings – in other words, independent investigations conducted by civil authorities and federal prosecutors relating to the same facts and circumstances. I can remember the days in the not too distant past (at least it seems not too distant) when it was nearly impossible to get the Justice Department interested in a federal securities law case, but Enron pretty much changed all of that.

Parallel proceedings present significant challenges, because the cooperation that is often so critical to a successful resolution of a civil proceeding brought by the SEC may very well increase a company's (and its officers' and directors') exposure to criminal liability. While it is well settled that the government can conduct parallel proceedings, the latitude with which this can be done and the extent to which the SEC or another civil authority could "covertly" funnel evidence to a prosecutor was called into question a few years ago by the Federal District Court decision in U.S. v. Stringer, (408 F.Supp.2d 1083 (D. Or. Jan. 9, 2006). In that decision, the court found that prosecutors had engaged in misconduct by cloaking an ongoing criminal investigation with an SEC investigation, warranting dismissal of the indictment or suppression of the SEC-gathered evidence.

Recently, the Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court's decision in U.S. v. Stringer, No. 06-30100 (9th Cir., April 4, 2008). The Court of Appeals found that no affirmative deception was involved, principally because the SEC had given each of the defendants a Form 1662 along with the request for evidence. Form 1662 (not to be confused with Form Catch-22) notes that the “Routine Uses of Information” gathered in an investigation include providing the information to state and federal law enforcement, self-regulating entities, foreign authorities, tax authorities, consumer reporting agencies, trustees and receivers, bar associations, and Congress. The form also provides a Fifth Amendment warning.

The Ninth Circuit relied heavily on the language of Form 1662 in finding that the defendants were adequately put on notice as to the potential parallel proceeding. Further, because the Form 1662 included a Fifth Amendment warning, the Court found a waiver of the defendants' right against self-incrimination in the criminal case – given that the Fifth Amendment was not invoked in response to the SEC’s initial investigative request.

The Stringer decision reinforces the wide latitude that the SEC and prosecutors have in conducting their investigations – and highlights the perils of cooperation with the SEC. For more detailed analysis of the decision, take a look at the memos we recently posted in our "White Collar Crime" Practice Area.

Behind the scenes at the SEC, cooperation can also be a consideration when dealing with Corp Fin while an Enforcement investigation of a company is ongoing or contemplated. While Corp Fin is always sensitive to not being considered a "tool" for Enforcement to access information about the company and the conduct in question, it is still possible that information derived from the comment process, things said on conference calls, etc. could ultimately be shared with the Enforcement Division.

IFRS for U.S. Companies: On the Fast Track for Implementation?

Edith Orenstein noted yesterday in the FEI Financial Reporting Blog that an IFRS implementation plan for U.S. companies is moving along much faster than I would have ever expected. The blog notes: "In announcing the formation of the KPMG IFRS Institute, KPMG Chairman & CEO Tim Flynn stated: 'The question about whether the world is going to global standards is no longer ‘if,’ but ‘when.’' Flynn added, 'The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to issue a rule proposal in the next few weeks outlining the manner, timing, and eligibility for some U.S. public companies to transition from U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to IFRS.'"

Given that the SEC already put out a concept release last Fall, it is likely that the rule proposals will be pretty well developed and there is probably a good chance that final rules will be adopted by this Fall. Perhaps this will give some larger US companies the joy of implementing IFRS and XBRL at the same time!

Farewell to Carol McGee

I want to send a "shout out" to my former Deputy Chief Counsel Carol McGee, who just left the SEC after 10 years in Corp Fin to become a Partner at Alston & Bird LLP. In my time at the SEC, Carol always provided me with truly wise counsel on every imaginable issue. I first met Carol when she was interviewing for a job in Corp Fin, and during the interview we began debating the relative merits of certain twentieth century philosophers – her preference being for Wittgenstein and mine for Sartre. Well, you can just imagine where that went…

- Dave Lynn

April 24, 2008

Second Circuit Agrees Rule 16b-3 Available to Directors by Deputization

From Alan Dye's "Section16.net Blog": The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed the holding of a judge in the Southern District of New York that a director by deputization, including one that also is a ten percent owner, may rely on Rule 16b-3 to exempt its transactions with the issuer in Roth v. Perseus. Here is the opinion (the facts of the Roth case are described in this blog.) The Ninth Circuit had previously held that Rule 16b-3 applies to a director by deputization in Dreiling v. American Express Co..

The SEC filed an amicus curiae brief with the court, just as it did in Dreiling, arguing that Rule 16b-3 is available to directors by deputization. The court agreed, holding that the Commission’s view is neither inconsistent with Section 16(b) nor plainly erroneous and therefore is entitled to deference under Chevron U.S.A Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council. The court also upheld the validity of Rule 16b-3, holding that the rule is not arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute.

The court was persuaded that the SEC had a legitimate rationale for the rule: a director’s or officer’s transactions with the issuer are subject to the fiduciary duties of the insider and the gatekeeping function served by the board or committee of non-employee directors. The plaintiff-appellant had argued that a director by deputization doesn’t owe the same fiduciary duties to the corporation that an elected director does and therefore should not be protected by Rule 16b-3. The court declined to address the extent of the fiduciary duties of a director by deputization, holding instead that the SEC could reasonably have concluded that the fiduciary duties of the director(s) appointed by the director by deputization were sufficient to justify the SEC’s position.

Alan's blog has a new functionality: you can now input your email address (it's the second box on the left side of the blog) so that you will be notified as soon as Alan has posted something new. Members of Section16.net should sign up for this nifty service.

And yes, this notification service is available for this blog too. We've had this functionality for quite some time and thousands get this blog pushed out to them every day. Simply input your email address in the box to the left of this very text...

Time to Tune-up Your Insider Trading Policy: The RSA 21(a) Report

Last month, the SEC issued an Exchange Act Section 21(a) Report regarding Enforcement's investigation of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA). The "message" of the Report is one that likely seems obvious to all of us: have the policies, procedures, training and personnel in place to ensure compliance with the federal securities laws, including insider trading prohibitions. This is apparently a message that the SEC thinks warrants repeating through the unusual venue of a Section 21(a) report, which is probably enough to prompt most responsible companies to take a hard at their insider trading policies and procedures – and more importantly the actual understanding of those policies and procedures by employees, directors, etc. – in order to make sure that everything is operating effectively.

The situation described in the 21(a) Report is somewhat astonishing. The RSA, with more than $30 billion in assets under management, had no policies, procedures, training or compliance officer in place to make sure that it was complying with the federal securities laws in general or insider trading prohibitions in particular. The activities of the RSA's employees, including its CEO (who has held that position for 30 years), showed a profound lack of knowledge – or judgment for that matter – when purchasing the shares of an acquisition target of one of their portfolio companies while confidential negotiations regarding the acquisition were ongoing. These trades were unusual in that the CEO directed them even though he was rarely involved in equity trading decisions and the target's market capitalization was well below the RSA's investment guidelines.

I think this Report points out something that it is often easy to forget for securities law practitioners – issues that seem completely obvious to us like the potential for insider trading violations may never even occur to others, including experienced business people. This is why policies and procedures are important, but perhaps more important is the process of educating employees about the law, the policies and procedures – and the serious implications arising from insider trading and other securities law violations.

This Report should give everyone responsible for compliance – no matter how big or small a company – an excuse to dust off that insider trading policy manual (or create on if you don't have one) and figure out a way to refresh everyone's memory about insider trading issues. An annual training exercise and reminder memoranda are always a good baseline, but you may need to do more to really reach people within the organization and leave a lasting impression.

For more information, check out our "Insider Trading Policies" Practice Area.

Why a Section 21(a) Report?

Section 21(a) Reports like the RSA report are a funny thing. It seems odd for the SEC to use a specific fact pattern – particularly where it did not feel it was appropriate to impose penalties – to communicate some broad policy statements, but that is usually what these reports are all about. In some instances, the purpose of the 21(a) Report is to put everyone on notice that the SEC is interested in pursuing Enforcement actions in a particular area in the future. There have only been a handful of 21(a) Reports over the past few years – you can see them all on this page at sec.gov.

In the RSA case, the SEC decided to not impose penalties because (1) RSA essentially sought to rescind the transactions with the sellers who sold RSA the stock while it was in possession of material nonpublic information; (2) any penalty would be paid out of the retirement system assets to the detriment of state and local employees; (3) a compliance program was established; (4) RSA and the CEO cooperated in the investigation; and (5) no individual profited from the conduct.

Instead, the 21(a) Report says that it seeks to "remind investment managers, public and private, of their obligation to comply with the federal securities laws and the risks they undertake by operating without an adequate compliance program." But the lessons of the report should not be limited to investment managers, because just like RSA (which is not subject to SEC regulation as a broker-dealer or investment advisor), all public companies face the same risks – and potential liability under Exchange Act Section 21A – as a controlling person who fails to prevent insider trading. For this reason, I think that it is best to read the report broadly and use it as a catalyst for revisiting the effectiveness of insider trading compliance programs.

- Dave Lynn

April 23, 2008

Next Steps on the Credit Rating Fiasco

At yesterday's hearing of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs entitled "Turmoil in U.S. Credit Markets: The Role of the Credit Rating Agencies," Chairman Cox defended the SEC's implementation of the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act of 2006 and spelled out some possible new rulemaking efforts on the credit rating front.

In his testimony, Chairman Cox outlined the SEC Staff's efforts in conducting ongoing examinations of the nationally recognized statistical rating organizations (NRSROs). Those efforts have included the review of thousands of pages of internal records and emails, public disclosures and rating histories by around 40 Staff members. While the examinations are not yet complete (a report is expected by early summer), Cox noted that the Staff has found so far that there was a substantial surge in ratings for structured finance deals from 2004 – 2006, with those deals involving increasingly complex products. The examination Staff's preliminary observations have been that the "ratings process used to rate these products may have been less quantitatively developed, particularly as the products became more complicated and involved different types of loans, than was generally believed." While the SEC is trying to avoid engaging in substantive regulation of the ratings process, it is interested in the adequacy of the NRSRO's disclosure about their procedures and methodologies, and whether such factors as a desire to maintain or increase market share may have caused the NRSROs to be "less conservative" than their disclosed methodologies.

Now that the SEC's NRSRO registration system is in place and other rules implementing the 2006 legislation are effective, the SEC is looking at other areas of rulemaking within its authority. Chairman Cox outlined the following possibilities:

1. Enhanced disclosure about ratings performance – this would include disclosures that allow market participants to better compare the ratings of one NRSRO with another.

2. Accountability for managing conflicts of interest – new rules might prohibit certain practices, as well as establish requirements that address potential conflicts that could impair the process for rating structured products (e.g., consulting services provided by NRSROs to issuers).

3. Annual reporting – new rules could required the NRSROs to furnish the SEC with annual reports describing internal reviews and how well the firms adhere to ratings procedures, manage conflicts of interest and comply with securities laws.

4. Enhanced disclosure of underlying assets – new rules may require disclosure of information about the assets underlying MBS, CDOs and other structured products so market participants could better analyze creditworthiness without the benefit of ratings (and to enhance the availability of data - and thus level the playing field - for subscriber-based NRSROs as compared to the "issuer pays" NRSROs).

5. Enhanced disclosure about ratings – new rules could also mandate enhanced disclosures about how the NRSROs determine their ratings for structured products, as well as ratings information that will make it possible for investors to distinguish between ratings for different types of securities.

6. Access to information – potential rules may seek to eliminate advantages (including access to information) that NRSROs following the "issuer pays" model may have over subscriber-based NRSROs.

7. SEC reliance on ratings – The SEC is revisiting its own reliance on ratings throughout its rules. This could be a big shift in the SEC's rules, including those related to corporation finance.

These new rules could substantially change the ratings landscape, and most likely for the better. It certainly can’t get much worse.

For a great breakdown of the history behind securities ratings and what went wrong with the ratings on mortgage backed securities, check out Roger Lowenstein's piece entitled "Triple-A Failure" which will be published in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

PCAOB Adopts Audit Committee Communications and Tax Services Rule

Yesterday, the PCAOB announced that it had adopted new Rule 3526, Communication with Audit Committees Concerning Independence, and an amendment to Rule 3253, Tax Services for Persons in Financial Oversight Roles. The adopting release for these rules was posted shortly after the PCAOB's open meeting. The rules changes are now off to the SEC for final action.

Rule 3526 will – if adopted by the SEC – supersede Independence Standards Board Standard No. 1, Independence Discussions with Audit Committees, and two related interpretations. The new rule will require registered audit firms – at the time of the initial engagement – to provide a detailed written description of all relationships between the firm and its affiliates and the issuer or persons in a financial reporting oversight role that may reasonably be thought to bear on independence. Registered audit firms will also be required to discuss the potential effects of these relationships with the audit committee. Similar communications will then be required annually.

The amendment to Rule 3523 will – if adopted by the SEC – exclude from the scope of that rule any tax services that are provided during the portion of the audit period that precedes the beginning of the professional engagement period. Under this change, tax services provided to persons in a financial reporting oversight role prior to the beginning of the professional engagement period would not necessarily impair a firm's independence.

In other PCAOB news, earlier this week it was announced that Sharon Virag, Director of Technical Policy Implementation, will be leaving the PCAOB at the end of the month. Sharon was the project leader for the development of AS No. 5 and she recently participated in our webcast "The PCAOB Speaks: Latest Developments and Interpretations." Best wishes for Sharon in her new position.

Options Backdating: Broadcom Settles

Last month the SEC settled an Enforcement action against Nancy Tullos, the former Vice President of Human Resources of Broadcom, for her involvement in the company's five-year-long options backdating scheme - which resulted in Broadcom's January 2007 restatement to include a whopping $2.22 billion of unreported compensation expense in its financials. I believe that was the largest restatement in the short and sordid history of options backdating.

Now the SEC has settled with Broadcom itself, and interestingly enough the SEC extracted only a $12 million civil penalty in addition to a permanent injunction. While this penalty is higher than the $7 million civil penalty paid by Brocade Communciations in its settlement of backdating charges, it is significantly lower than the $28 million civil penalty paid by Mercury Interactive. A number of the other companies charged with backdating-related violations paid no penalty whatsoever. It is still hard to say how the Commission arrives at these penalty amounts (even with the added transparency about the process issued a couple of years back), but certainly I think the Commissioners have not historically been big fans of imposing monetary penalties on corporations.

As noted in this CFO.com article, the former CFO of Mercury Interactive Corp., Sharlene Abrams, was indicted on charges related to Mercury's options backdating scheme. Abrams was charged with one count of income tax evasion and two counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns for two other Mercury executives. This is the third time an executive has been charged with tax evasion arising from options backdating.

- Dave Lynn

April 22, 2008

Auditor Liability Caps: Now Available in the UK

A persistent issue for auditors, public companies and their regulators in the wake of the 2002 collapse of Arthur Andersen is how do we prevent the Big 4 from becoming the Big 3 due to a catastrophic liability event? For some time now, auditors have called for the imposition of liability caps, and that approach has been debated by policymakers examining the issue. For instance, in 2006, the Treasury Department's Committee on Capital Markets Regulation considered whether Congress should look into the possibility of protecting audit firms from catastrophic loss, either by creating a safe harbor for specified auditing practices or by setting a cap on auditor liability in some circumstances. Currently, the Treasury Department's Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession is considering the impact of auditor liability on the profession and whether any potential changes should be made to auditor liability regimes, with recommendations expected this summer. The European Union has also been studying the issue of auditor liability, and practices vary considerably among EU member states.

While the question of auditory liability protection is debated in the US and the EU, the UK has recently moved forward with changes to the Companies Act that permit auditor liability limitation agreements. As noted in this memo from Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, provisions effective earlier this month now permit auditors to enter into agreements with their clients that cap the auditor's liability exposure to the company, so long as (1) the agreement does not limit the auditor's liability to less than a "fair and reasonable" amount, and (2) the agreement is approved by the company's shareholders. Under proposed guidance from the UK's audit oversight body – the Financial Reporting Council – these types of agreements could be for a fixed limit based on a specified amount or formula, a proportionate share based on the auditor's responsibility for a loss, or a mix of fixed and proportionate caps. The agreements may only cover one fiscal year, so they would be subject to shareholder approval on an annual basis.

While the UK approach is certainly interesting, I don't think that it is likely to change the direction of the debate in the US. The first quarter of 2008 has come and gone without the roundtable on securities litigation reform that the SEC promised last summer, and it seems unlikely in the near term – particularly considering the ongoing sub-prime crisis and election year politics – that the issue will be taken up by Congress or the SEC.

Halloran to Leave the SEC

Yesterday, the SEC announced that Chairman Cox's Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor Mike Halloran will be leaving the SEC in May to return to private practice. Mike has had quite a bit of influence on the regulatory agenda at the SEC over the last one and a half years, perhaps most notably on the Commission's and the PCAOB's efforts to revisit the implementation of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

New 3rd Edition: Romeo & Dye Treatise

Peter Romeo and Alan Dye just wrapped up the 3rd Edition of their "Section 16 Treatise" and we have been mailing this two-volume set with thousands of pages to the many of you that ordered it. For me, it felt kind of like Christmas in April when a copy of the Treatise arrived at my door yesterday!

If you didn't order this essential body of work, you can still have it rushed to you - try a no-risk trial to the Treatise today.

- Dave Lynn

April 21, 2008

Postponed: SEC Open Meeting on XBRL Proposals

Late last Friday, the SEC issued a notice postponing the Open Meeting previously scheduled for this morning. Now, the SEC will consider the use of interactive data in financial statements filed by public companies on May 14th at 10:00 a.m. Even with the postponement, the Staff will still meet its "Spring" deadline to have these proposals considered by the SEC, with expected adoption of implementing rules and a timetable still likely this Fall.

I can't recall the last time an Open Meeting for a rule proposal was postponed on the business day before the meeting – generally I think that is a pretty extraordinary action. Perhaps the proposals were not quite "ready for prime time."

Now that the Open Meeting has been moved to May, we are rescheduling our webcast – "XBRL: Understanding the New Frontier" – to July 16th.

Paulson Blueprint: An Orphaned Public Company Regulatory Function

One thing that struck me when reading the Treasury Department's "Blueprint for a Modernized Financial Regulatory Structure" was that in the long term plans for financial regulation, the SEC's current responsibilities over corporate disclosure, corporate governance, accounting and similar issues would be left behind in a "corporate finance regulator," rather than being swallowed up into the Conduct of Business Regulatory Agency ("CBRA") where most of the SEC's other functions will go. [When naming this proposed new regulator, the drafters of the Blueprint obviously didn't think too long and hard about the acronym they were creating, because usually reference to an undergarment in a new agency's name is to be avoided.] This approach appears to be necessitated by the CBRA's focus on financial services – the markets and financial intermediaries like brokers, investment advisers and mutual funds – rather than the reason for the existence of all those intermediaries, namely capital-raising for companies and liquidity for their shareholders. Under the Treasury proposals, the "legacy" SEC would continue to perform the function of corporate finance regulator in the optimal regulatory structure (perhaps just called the SC then, since exchanges would be regulated by the CBRA).

While the chances of these long-term proposals coming to fruition may be slim to none at this point, I still think that it is particularly troubling that corporate finance regulation is treated as an afterthought in the Blueprint, only five and half years after corporate governance, disclosure and accounting was front and center following enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The proposals are short-sighted in that they largely ignore the fact that issues with respect to corporate finance are often integrally related to the financial services that the SEC regulates, and setting corporate finance regulation off in a tiny, orphaned agency that doesn't have a "seat at the table" of the proposed "Big Three" regulators is doomed to failure.

To add further insult to injury, the proposals suggest that the Federal Reserve, in consultation with the corporate finance regulator, should be able to mandate additional public disclosures for federally chartered financial institutions that are publicly traded or part of a publicly traded company. The Treasury contemplates that such public disclosures could be included as a separate section of public reports, or embedded within an existing section such as Management’s Discussion and Analysis.

Hopefully, as the Treasury proposals and legislative proposals are hashed out over the next several years, the long term regulatory structure will be crafted around some solid principles of regulatory cooperation that focus on the "big picture," rather than just regulating for the scandal du jour.

Securities Act Offering Integration

Test your skills with our new game – "Pro or Troll #8: Securities Act Offering Integration" – to see if you are up to speed on all of the lore and latest developments with every securities lawyer's favorite topic - integration.

- Dave Lynn

April 18, 2008

Posted: Sample Advance By-Laws

In the wake of the two Delaware cases I blogged about Wednesday, companies need to review their advance by-law provisions. I have posted several samples of what they may look like in the wake of the new cases in our "Annual Stockholders' Meetings" Practice Area.

Analyzing the DOJ’s Morford Memo

Last week, the NY Times ran this critical article about the growing use of deferred criminal prosecutions. It reminded me that I hadn't yet blogged about the new Morford Memo, distributed internally by the Department of Justice a month ago. The Morford Memo provides guidance on corporate monitoring (eg. selection critieria, scope of responsibilities, terms). Here is the Morford Memo - and memos about it are posted in our "White Collar Crime" Practice Area.

In this 15-minute podcast, Gary DiBianco of Skadden, Arps provides some insight into the Morford Memo, including:

- What is the Morford Memo?
- What do the principles outlined in the Memo seek to address? What specific practices?
- What are the DOJ's views on the duties of a monitor as expressed in the Memo?
- What does the Memo say about the monitor’s reporting obligations to the company and the government?
- What happens when a company disagrees with a monitor's suggestions?

Congress remains skeptical of the DOJ's unfettered discretion in this area. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced legislation in January that would establish requirements for entry into deferred prosecution agreements.

The Treasury's Restatement Study

Last week, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson released a study on restatements that the Department commissioned last May when it began its look into reforming the capital markets. The study - “The Changing Nature and Consequences of Public Company Financial Restatements" - conducted by Professor Susan Scholz confirms what other studies have shown, that the number of restatements has soared over the past decade (although the restatements associated with fraud and revenue has declined since Sarbanes-Oxley was passed).

The numbers of restatements have dropped since the implementation of the requirement for an independent audit of internal controls of public companies, that provide reasonable assurance with respect to the accuracy of financial statements.

You can pluck out statistics from the Treasury's study in this press release - and have a look-see at other studies about restatements in our "Restatements" Practice Area.

As noted in this CFO.com article, a key focus for the SEC's Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting is restatements - some changes are bound to be recommended and ultimately acted upon by the SEC.

- Broc Romanek

April 17, 2008

Introducing InvestorRelationships.com!

I just put the finishing touches on our new newsletter - "InvestorRelationships.com" - which is a quarterly online publication. This newsletter is free, as well as all the issues for the rest of '08. You simply sign-up online to be notified when the next issue is available (you also need to sign-up to be e-mailed an ID and password in order to access future issues).

Why this new newsletter? As you can see from the article titles in the Spring '08 issue listed below, I felt there was a dearth of practical guidance on the cutting-edge - as well as the "bread 'n butter" - issues confronted by those involved in investor relations, shareholder services and corporate governance today. Take a look and let me know what you think:

- The E-Proxy Experience: Practice Pointers and Pitfalls to Avoid
- The Coming Online IR Campaigns: The Future of Director Elections
- The Regulation FD Corner
- Ten Steps to a Clawback Provision with "Teeth"
- Notables: All the Latest

Washington Mutual: Case In Point

The jaw-dropping results from the Washington Mutual annual meeting this week are timely in that they bolster my argument that companies need to learn how to "campaign" during the proxy season cycle. These arguments - and specific recommendations about how to campaign - are in my piece entitled "The Coming Online IR Campaigns: The Future of Director Elections" (sign-up to obtain your free copy).

So what happened at the WaMu meeting? Here is what has been reported so far:

- One director resigned, Mary Pugh, who was the Chair of the company's Finance Committee.

- Some reports state that all director nominees received majority support (eg. see this article); others are reporting that three nominees failed to reach a majority. Change to Win's press release states that one director had 51.2% withheld, another had 50.9% withheld and Ms. Pugh had 61.9% withheld.

- Change to Win called on the WaMu board to immediately release full election results and demand the resignation of any directors who failed to win majority shareholder votes. WaMu then issued this press release that contains preliminary results - notice the paragraph at the bottom that leads one to believe that the difference in the three challenged nominees getting majority support was the presence of broker non-votes.

- With a vote of 51%, shareholders supported a precatory proposal to appoint an independent director as chair.

- In February, WaMu revised its incentive program in a way so that mortgage-related credit losses and foreclosure costs could have been cast aside when awarding management's performance bonuses. Shareholders were not pleased - and WaMu's CEO announced at the annual meeting that the board would soon revise the pay program to hold management more accountable for credit-related losses.

The campaign against WaMu has been intense during the past month, fueled by plenty of online tactics. For example, Change to Win launched this blog that targeted the company. Yes, the future is now. Read the Spring '08 issue of InvestorRelationships.com today to learn how to protect yourself. ] I also recommend reading this new memo from Davis Polk about how the '08 proxy season is faring so far.]

Corp Fin's New M&A Chief: Michele Anderson

Congrats to Michele Anderson, who was promoted to Corp Fin's new Chief of the Office of Mergers & Acquisitions. Most recently, Michele served as a Legal Branch Chief in the Office of Telecommunications - but she spent time in OM&A a few years back. She replaces Brian Breheny, who was promoted to Deputy Director a few months ago.

- Broc Romanek

April 16, 2008

Mandatory XBRL: Here It Comes

On Monday, the SEC will hold an open Commission meeting to vote on a proposal to mandate XBRL. Given that this has been one of Chairman Cox's top priorities since he took office - and the Chairman and SEC Staff have not been shy about their timeframe to kick-start mandatory XBRL - this is no surprise.

We just announced a May 15th webcast - "XBRL: Understanding the New Frontier" - to help you understand the signficance of what these means for you (and your CPA brethren). As a warm-up for this program, here are three quickie "foods for thought":

1. This Ain't Edgar - You'll note that the webcast panel is populated by reps from the major financial printers. Don't let this fool you into thinking that XBRL is just another version of Edgar, with tasks that can be contracted out. This is much more than that - and I believe entails a new skill set that all the finance and auditing folks are gonna have to know. It's gonna be a huge education effort. As with most new things, there is plenty of misinformation out there. One article I just read called XBRL the "new Edgar." The only rationale I can conceive for that statement is that XBRL will increase public access to information filed via Edgar.

Let's see if I can make this clearer: Edgar tagging just involves placing tags on a disclosure document to enable it to be filed on the SEC's system. In comparison, XBRL will likely affect how companies approach their financial disclosure. Information coded in XBRL will likely used - and abused - in ways that companies don't worry about today. Similar to the many speeches that Chairman Cox has delivered over the years, SEC General Counsel Brian Cartwright gave this speech on Saturday at the ABA Spring Meeting.

2. We Need Time to Learn - I can appreciate that Brian was trying lay out the simplicity of the concept of XBRL because many of us still have not grasped what it really is - but I worry about the speed by which it will be implemented. I hope there will be a fairly long phase-in period before it becomes mandatory (and I think that will be the case since the SEC's meeting notice refers to a "near- and long term-schedule"). As noted in this CFO.com article, others have similar concerns - for example, the SEC's Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting urged the SEC to wait three years. The Advisory Committee also wants to phase-in the legal liability of XBRL documents, starting with them being considered "furnished" rather than "filed," as it's currently done in the SEC's Pilot Program.

3. XBRL Will Provide "Bennies" - For me, there certainly is an upside to XBRL. The most fascinating aspect is not the enhancement to disclosure through "conversion" of financials into a XBRL format simply by adding tags. Rather, the value-creation occurs when XBRL becomes embedded into a company's enterprise resource management system, so that data can be extracted and analyzed to drive business decisions with greater speed and precision. Public financial reporting simply is an ancillary by-product of embedded XBRL. Thanks to Jim Brashear for allowing me to "borrow liberally" from some of his ideas...

Delaware Court of Chancery Permits Insurgent To Nominate Short Slate

On Monday, the Delaware Court of Chancery ruled on another advance by-law case (here is a blog about the other case). Here is some analysis from Travis Laster: If the recent JANA Partners v. CNET decision (currently on expedited appeal) wasn't enough to make corporations review and update their advanced notice bylaws, the attached opinion should do the trick. In Levitt Corp. v. Office Depot, Inc.,, Vice Chancellor Noble holds that (i) a bylaw requiring advanced notice of "business" to be proposed at an annual meeting extends to director elections and director nominations, but that (ii) the advanced notice bylaw was not applicable because the corporation had given notice that the election of directors would be an item of business at the meeting. In light of the second holding, the Court concluded that the stockholder did not have to give advance notice of its intent to run a short slate. As with CNET, this is a decision that will likely prompt an appeal.

On March 14, 2008, Office Depot sent out its notice of annual meeting. Item 1 on the list of items of business was "To elect twelve (12) members of the Board of Directors for the term described in this Proxy Statement." The proxy statement contained standard Rule 14(a) disclosures regarding how votes would be tabulated in an uncontested versus a contested election. On March 17, 2008, Levitt filed its own proxy statement seeking to nominate two candidates for director.

Office Depot had a relatively standard advanced notice bylaw which provided that "business" could be brought before the annual meeting if (i) specified in the notice, (ii) otherwise properly brought before the meeting by the board, or (iii) proposed by a stockholder in compliance with advanced notice requirements. The time period for advanced notice was "not less than 120 calendar days before the date of the Company's proxy statement released to shareholders in connection with the previous year's annual meeting." The bylaw required the stockholder proposing business to provide standard information, including basic stockholder information and a brief description of the business to be conducted.

Levitt did not try to comply with the advance notice bylaw. Office Depot rejected Levitt's nominations for failure to comply.

In granting judgment on the pleadings for Levitt, Vice Chancellor Noble first held that the scope of "business" under the Office Depot advanced notice bylaw extended to director nominations by stockholders. The Court construed the plain meaning of the term "business" broadly to include all "affairs" or "matters" that could be considered at an annual meeting. This included director elections. (11-12). The Court also relied on Section 211(b) of the DGCL, which provides for an annual meeting to elect directors "and other business." As a matter of plain language, the Court held that this section indicated that electing directors was "business." (13)

This holding makes sense as a matter of contractual interpretation, but it conflicts with widespread corporate practice. Many corporations have separate advance notice bylaw requirements, one for "nominations" and another for "business." The information requested for the former is typically different than the latter. The advance notice windows are also often different, with the former including additional windows for issues such as an increase in the size of the board. The Levitt decision could render the bylaws of companies with dual structures ambiguous, as nominations now arguably will be covered by two competing sections. It would be prudent to clarify when "business" means "all business, including nominations of candidates for and the election of directors" versus "all business other than nominations of candidates for and the election of directors." Interestingly, the opinion indicates that Office Depot previously had a dual structure, but eliminated its "nomination" bylaw. The Court declined to give significance to the amendment.

Based on this first holding, one would think that the Office Depot advanced notice bylaw would apply to Levitt's nominations. But the Court then went in a different direction. The Court instead agreed with Levitt that because Office Depot had sent out a notice of meeting saying that the business of the meeting would include the election of directors, that item of business was properly before the meeting under the advanced notice bylaw and the stockholder did not have to separately give advance notice. (15-16). The Court rejected the argument that the notice of meeting contemplated only a vote on the corporation's nominees for directors, finding that it was not supported by the text of the notice (which referred generally to "elections of directors"). In support of its interpretation that the notice also contemplated a contested election, the Court cited the standard Rule 14(a) language on contested elections that appeared in the Office Depot proxy statement.

As in JANA, the Levitt decision effectively left the corporation without any advance notice protection whatsoever for director nominations. This, of course, is an odd result for a company that nominally has an advance notice structure in place. In support of this outcome, the Court observed that "neither Subchapter VII of the [DGCL] nor any provision of Office Depot's Bylaws discusses or imposes limitations on the nomination process." The Court did not explain how it reached this conclusion given its prior holding that the term "business" in Office Depot's advanced notice bylaw included director elections and nominations.

In light of the Levitt decision, corporations should make sure that their bylaws explicitly discuss "nominations." Corporations also may wish to consider changing the historic and ubiquitous language that appears in notices of annual meetings and identifies the first item of business as "election of directors." One alternative to avoid the Levitt problem would be to say "election of the Board of Directors' nominees." Because all candidates are voted on as a single item of business, however, the better route is likely to be to maintain the historic language in the notice of meeting and instead make sure that the bylaws have a specific advance notice structure for stockholder nominations.

We have posted a copy of the Levitt opinion - and memos analyzing it - in our "Annual Stockholders' Meeting" Practice Area.

Conduct of the Annual Meeting

We have posted the transcript from our recent popular webcast: "Conduct of the Annual Meeting."

- Broc Romanek

April 15, 2008

Obama Pushes "Say on Pay" to the Fore

As noted in this WSJ article, both Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain attacked executive compensation last week. You may recall that Senator Obama introduced a bill on "say on pay" in the Senate after it passed in the House last year. Below is an excerpt from Sen. Obama's Friday speech (and here is a video and full text of the speech):

We all believe in that fundamental, American value that if you do good work, if you’re successful, you should be rewarded. But if you’re a Wall Street CEO today, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re doing a good job or a bad job for your shareholders and workers: You’ll be rewarded either way.

Take the home building company, KB Home. They lost nearly $1 billion last year. But their CEO walked away with a $6 million cash bonus, and that’s on top of his $1 million base salary. And just the other week, we learned that when Countrywide Financial was sold a few months ago, its top two executives got a combined $19 million. Nevermind that Countrywide is as responsible as anyone for the scandalous mortgage crisis we’ve got today – a crisis that’s the source of many of our other economic problems.

This is an outrage. But as I said in a recent speech at the Cooper Union in New York City, this isn’t an accident. It’s because of decisions made, not just in boardrooms or trading floors, but in Washington. Under Republican and Democratic Administrations, we failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practices. We let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales, using their clout to rig the game against everyday Americans.

So what we need to do is restore balance to our economy and put in place rules of the road to make competition fair, and open, and honest. One place we can start is by restoring common sense to executive pay.

That’s why last year, I proposed legislation that would give shareholders a say on what CEOs are getting paid, and help ensure that companies are disclosing the rationale for the salary and benefits that CEOs are getting. This isn’t just about expressing outrage. It’s about changing a system where bad behavior is rewarded – so that we can hold CEOs accountable, and make sure they’re acting in a way that’s good for their company, good for our economy, and good for America, not just good for themselves.

We’ve seen what happens when CEOs are paid for doing a job no matter how bad a job they’re doing. We can’t afford to postpone reform any longer. That’s why Washington needs to act immediately to pass this legislation.

And here are some tidbits from the WSJ article:

- Obama on his "say on pay" bill: "Washington needs to act immediately to pass this legislation'' and change "a system where bad behavior is rewarded.''

- If the "say-on-pay" bill doesn't pass this year, it "will be a priority for Sen. Obama as president," campaign policy director Heather Higginbottom says. A spokesman for New York Sen. Clinton's Senate office says she also favors additional federal rules on executive-pay disclosures.

- Sen. McCain hasn't taken a stance on the say-on-pay bill, and opposes legislative or regulatory cures for executive-pay problems, says senior policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

- In a campaign appearance Friday, Sen. McCain said he strongly endorsed Aflac Inc.'s voluntary decision to become the first public U.S. company to give investors a say on pay; the vote is to occur at Aflac's May 5 annual meeting.

- An Obama commercial that has aired in 14 states assails chief executives "who are making more in 10 minutes than ordinary workers are making in a year."

- Sen. McCain recently blasted what he called the "outrageous" and "unconscionable" rewards received by leaders of Bear Stearns Cos. and Countrywide Financial Corp. despite the credit crisis

My Ten Cents: Say on Pay

For what its worth, here is my current thinking on "say on pay." And maybe it's a cop-out, but I would say that I'm torn at this moment in time. On the one hand, I find the arguments that it's a slippery slope to have shareholders vote on a matter that is supposed to be a board task (ie. that shareholders will eventually be voting on all sorts of board tasks) and that shareholders won't have the requisite knowledge to vote on a complex pay package convincing.

On the last point, I worry that say on pay will provide RiskMetrics with even more clout given that most investors will need help deciphering 30 pages of pay disclosure across the many companies in which they invest (although a partial fix for this is for boards to simplify their pay packages so that CEOs aren't getting paid in a dozen different ways - why is there a need for such complex pay packages?).

I also worry that most shareholders will blindly vote in favor of pay packages, thereby arguably providing directors a shield from liability for the poorly designed pay packages they give a CEO (a theory espoused by the wise Professor Charles Elson, who points out how ironic it is that most directors oppose say on pay). And there are more convincing arguments, including those espoused by some investors who would rather just vote against/withhold directors than participate in a non-binding vote. Or those who say a simple "thumbs down" doesn't help the board understand which aspects of a pay package are objectionable.

On the other hand, I am at my wit's end to understand why CEO pay packages aren't changing. I hear a lot about how the behavior of directors has dramatically changed in the boardroom over the past five years. But I really don't see much evidence of that when reviewing proxy disclosures. Some commentators claim that the stories in the mainstream media about CEOs getting paid for non-performance are only outliers - but then I look for a CEO whose compensation I can point to as a model and I come up fairly empty.

So maybe "say on pay" is necessary to shake up the boardrooms of this country so that directors truly understand that the excesses of the past need to be reversed. That the 15 years of being paid in the top quartile have added up to a batch of inflated data in peer group benchmarks - and the sole cure is to wind back the clock and take a huge pay cut. Boards may need to be pushed by "say on pay" to see daylight on this issue, because nothing else seems to work.

So I'm personally at a crossroads regarding this issue. There was a "Say on Pay Roundtable" organized by the Working Group on Advisory Votes on Compensation last week; Carol Bowie of RiskMetrics reports on what happened there in this article (scroll down) - and check out the many resources we have on this topic posted in our "Say on Pay" Practice Area on CompensationStandards.com. And then there is this hopeful article from yesterday's WSJ. Maybe this information can help you make up your own mind. It's a challenging issue and an important one that needs to be addressed before it's legislated for us...

Judging the Judge

Here is a recent entry from Mark Borges' "Compensation Disclosure Blog" on CompensationStandards.com:

Last Tuesday, I attended a roundtable in New York City on the advisory vote on executive compensation (otherwise known as "Say on Pay"). I was sitting through a panel discussion featuring representatives of the various proxy advisory firms, listening to them talk about the criteria that they would use to analyze a Compensation Discussion and Analysis when formulating a voting recommendation on a Say on Pay proposal when it occurred to me that one of them, RiskMetrics Group (which acquired ISS last year), is itself a reporting company that has to comply with Item 402. I was immediately curious about what was in its executive compensation disclosure.

So yesterday, I took a look at the RiskMetrics' information. Although the company just filed its first annual report on Form 10-K, it won't file its first proxy statement until later this month. Consequently, I had to go back to the Form S-1 registration statement from its initial public offering earlier this year.

Like many other newly public companies, the Form S-1 disclosure is on the light side. At 10 pages, it features a Compensation Discussion and Analysis (which clocks in at 2,871 words), a Summary Compensation Table, and four of the other required disclosure tables (a Grants of Plan-Based Awards Table, an Outstanding Equity Awards at Fiscal Year-End Table, an Option Exercises and Stock Vested Table, and a Director Compensation Table).There's no Pension Benefits Table or Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Table, which isn't too surprising, and no severance and change in control disclosure (it doesn't appear that the company has any such arrangements in place).

I noted two interesting features in the disclosure. First, in the CD&A (which starts on page 105) the company describes the five corporate objectives used in determining its 2007 bonus compensation, but doesn't give the performance target levels. Instead, the company provides the following statement:

"Our corporate objectives for 2007, particularly the specific financial targets for revenues, EBITDA and cash flow, which we used for purposes of determining our 2007 bonus and equity compensation for our executive officers, were set at levels which our board of directors intended to be challenging and which provided an incentive for our executive officers to meet our corporate objectives, including increasing our revenues, earnings and cash flow. However, our corporate objectives were (and are) also intended to be attainable if we have what we considered to be a successful year. We believe that a senior management team that is providing strong performance should be able to achieve our corporate objectives in most, but not all, years."

I interpret this as a "degree of difficulty" statement as specified by Instruction 4 to Item 402(b). It's a statement that may come in handy if you run into an issue with this type of disclosure down the road.

Also, the company provides an alternative summary compensation table (at page 114), which adds the anticipated grant date fair value of the equity awards it intended to grant to its named executive officers for fiscal 2007 to the other compensation elements reported in the required Summary Compensation Table (these awards had not been granted at the time of the IPO). I guess this is a pretty strong endorsement of these alternative tables and another not-so-subtle criticism of the current equity award reporting requirements.

RiskMetrics status as a reporting company puts the ISS business in a unique position. Its executive pay disclosure is going to be closely scrutinized each year; particularly given its new policy on evaluating executive pay disclosures to make voting recommendations on Say on Pay proposals. (By the way, RiskMetrics has announced that it intends to give its shareholders an annual advisory vote at each annual meeting to approve its executive compensation policies and practices.) I'm probably not the only one who is looking forward to taking a look at its proxy statement in a couple of weeks.

The Section 162(m) Workshop

We have posted the transcript from our recent CompensationStandards.com webcast: "The Section 162(m) Workshop."

- Broc Romanek

April 14, 2008

NYCERS v. Apache Corp: Remember Cracker Barrel?

Ah, Cracker Barrel. A decade ago, the biggest Corp Fin-related controversy was the shareholder proposal's "ordinary business" exclusion basis and the SEC Staff's Cracker Barrel no-action letter under Rule 14a-8(c)(7) (the basis has since been renumbered to 14a-8(i)(7)). Those were much simpler times. Back then, the SEC's dealings in corporate governance matters were pretty much limited to the shareholder proposal rule.

The Cracker Barrel saga arose due to a '92 no-action letter under which Corp Fin allowed that company to exclude a anti-sexual orientation discrimination proposal by stating that all employment-related proposals raising social issues were excludable. Enough fuss was raised so that the Commission specifically overruled its Staff's position in a '98 rulemaking and returned the agency's position on social issues to a "case-by-case analytical approach." Corp Fin has been making this case-by-case determination when deliberating on social proposals ever since.

Now, a similar case has been brought in the US District Court, Southern District of Texas, by Apache Corporation, which is seeking a declaratory judgment supporting its exclusion of a shareholder proposal submitted by the New York City Employees' Retirement System. This case seeks to enjoin a lawsuit brought by NYCERS in the Southern District of New York. The facts are as follows:

- For the last two years, NYCERS has submitted proposals to companies in a campaign designed to fight discrimination against gays/lesbians and transgendered people (eg. asking companies to amend their EEO statements a la Cracker Barrel).

- This proxy season, NYCERS submits a proposal to Apache asking for the implementation of a program based on "equality principles" that include additional steps to avoid discrimination against this group of people.

- On March 5th, Corp Fin provides no-action relief allowing Apache to omit the proposal on ordinary business grounds, noting that some of the principles in the proposal relate to ordinary business.

- On April 8th, Apache filed for a temporary restraining order to try to prevent NYCERS from delaying its annual meeting and mailing supplemental materials.

- On April 9th, NYCERS files a lawsuit in SDNY, arguing - among other things - that Corp Fin had denied no-action relief for similar proposals in the past (specifically citing these no-action responses: Armor Holdings ((i)(7) denied on burden grounds) (4/3/07) and Aquila ((i)(10) denied)(3/2/06)) and that the Court doesn't owe deference to Corp Fin's positions anyways.

- After it filed its lawsuit, NYCERS subsequently filed for a temporary restraining order, but then quickly changed its request to an affirmative/mandatory injunction to force Apache to deliver supplemental proxy materials ahead of its May 8th annual meeting.

This is where this battle stands today, although it promises to move quickly. We have posted all of the documents filed in the SDTX and SDNY so far in our "Shareholder Proposals" Practice Area.

Corp Fin Tweaks Form 8-K Interps Again

For the second time since their issuance, Corp Fin has tweaked its new Form 8-K Interps to fix a conflict. As had been addressed in our "Q&A Forum" last week, new Interp 202.01 seemingly conflicted with Item 601 of Regulation S-K - with the Staff's fix, that is no longer so.

John Newell has updated his three sets of redlined 8-K Interps against the old guidance that the Interps updated. John has also provided this redlined version of the new Form 8-K Interps against what the Staff originally issued on April 2nd - which will help those of you that printed them out back then to see what was changed on April 3rd and April 10th.

Closing Time: When the Founder is Ready to Sell

Tomorrow, catch the DealLawyers.com webcast - "Closing Time: When the Founder is Ready to Sell" - to hear about the special issues that come into play when the founders of a privately-held company want to sell out to a private equity firm or a professional roll-up operator. Join these experts:

- Brad Finkelstein, Partner, Wilson Sonsoni Goodrich & Rosati LLP
- Don Harrison, Senior Counsel, Google
- Armand Della Monica, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
- Geoffrey Parnass, Partner, Parnass Law
- Sam Valenzisi, Vice President, Lincoln International LLC

SEC Tweaks Form S-11 to Permit Incorporation By Reference

Last week, the SEC issued this adopting release indicating it had adopted the amendments to Form S-11 to permit companies using this form to incorporate by reference previously filed '34 Act reports.

- Broc Romanek

April 11, 2008

Delaware Chancery Court Doesn't Meddle in Bear Stearns Deal (In Favor of New York Proceeding)

From Travis Laster: On Wednesday, Vice Chancellor Parsons of the Delaware Court of Chancery stayed an action filed in Delaware to enjoin the Bear Stearns-JPMorgan Chase merger, deferring to a parallel action in New York. Here is VC Parsons' opinion.

The following quote says it all: "I have decided in the exercise of my discretion and for reasons of comity and the orderly and efficient administration of justice, not to entertain a second preliminary injunction motion on an expedited basis and thereby risk creating uncertainty in a delicate matter of great national importance." There are references throughout the opinion to the involvement of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department in the deal.

The opinion does not shed any meaningful light on how the Court would view the exceptional lock-ups that are part of the deal package. The opinion does say that "the claims asserted in the Complaint only require the application of well-settled principles of Delaware law to evaluate the deal protections in the merger and the alleged breaches of fiduciary duty" (14). The Court then described the factual situation as sui generis (16). The Court concluded that the involvement of the federal players rendered the situation rare and unlikely to repeat - and therefore not one in which Delaware had a paramount interest.

On April 29th, join DealLawyers.com for the webcast - "JPMorgan Chase/Bear Stearns: Splicing the Delaware Issues" - as Professors Elson, Davidoff and Cunningham analyze a host of novel provisions in the JPMorgan Chase/Bear Stearns merger agreement (as well as this - and any other - court opinion).

Proposed: California's Climate Change Disclosure

Lately, more and more investors are clamoring for the SEC to enhance its disclosure requirements related to climate change (eg. see this rulemaking petition). Keith Bishop notes: As you know, California has for several years imposed special disclosure requirements on publicly traded corporations (including corporations incorporated in other states that are qualified to transact business in California). Last month, a California legislator introduced a new bill that would require disclosure of climate risk and opportunities.

Specifically, this bill would require the California Secretary of State to develop a climate change disclosure standard for use by "listed companies" doing business in California. The standard would provide guidance on disclosure of climate change risks and opportunities and would, at a minimum, need to address six different factors (i.e. emissions, the company's position on climate change, significant action by the company to minimize risk and maximize opportunity associated with climate change, corporate governance actions, assessment of physical risks, and an analysis of regulatory risks).

As introduced, the bill specifically states that no listed company is required to meet the standard created by the Secretary of State. Thus, it is unclear what the legal impact of the standard would be. Another interesting aspect of the bill is the fact that it includes a legislative finding that cites a law firm "opinion." While technically not an opinion, I believe that the bill is referring to a study prepared by Freshfields for the United Nations Environment Programme Initiative.

Board Portal Developments

In this podcast, Joe Ruck, CEO of BoardVantage, explains how the board portal processes have changed to make them more effective, including:

- How many boards now use board portals?
- Have you been surprised in some ways that they are used?
- How are your offerings different than competing providers?
- How do you address the challenges of discoverability?
- What are the latest trends in the board portal space?
- Besides online access, what are the other benefits of a board portal?
- What is the role of portal technology in the area of corporate governance?

- Broc Romanek

April 10, 2008

Aligning Shareholder Interests: Amending By-Laws to Help Spot "Short-Timers"

As noted in this article, Sara Lee and Coach recently amended their by-laws so that a shareholder who nominates a director or submits a proposal must also disclose if it has "hedged its ownership" or has "any short position" in the stock. These revised bylaws should enable other shareholders to make better informed decisions as the interests of a shareholder who has hedged its ownership may not align with the interests of other shareholders.

For example, a shareholder can eliminate or reduce its economic risk through hedging or other derivatives - or be motivated to focus on short term gains at the expense of long-term wealth creation. Alternatively, a shareholder may have a much greater economic interest in the company than is evident from its SEC filings (in my opinion, an area that the SEC should be tackling). The revised by-laws should provide increased transparency - but of course, may still not deter a shareholder from making a nomination or submitting a proposal.

Interestingly, both Sara Lee and Coach are incorporated in Maryland - but they are not the first to take this action. A fund family did it for 11 funds back in December and these did it within the past month: Five Star Quality Care; Redwood Trust; and HRPT Properties Trust. Here is a Form 8-K filed by Sara Lee - and the Form 8-K filed by Coach - with their amended by-laws.

Delaware Chancery Court: Denial to Dismiss a Bullet-Dodging Case

One of these senior moments - didn't I already blog about this case? I thought so, but apparently not. Here is a recent Delaware decision - Weiss v. Swanson - from Delaware Vice Chancellor Lamb that held that directors who approved spring loaded and bullet dodged stock option grants may have breached their fiduciary duty and forfeited the protection of the business judgment rule since the spring-loading and bullet-dodging practices constituted material information that should have been disclosed to the shareholders. VC Lamb also ruled that the alleged stock manipulation supported a claim of corporate waste.

Company Communications with Investors During the Proxy Season

Thanks to Kris Veaco of the Veaco Group, we have posted a new game: "Pro or Troll #7: Company Communications with Investors During Proxy Season." Give it a whirl and see how ya do...

Dave and I are off to Dallas to attend the ABA's Business Law Section Spring Meeting (with a pitstop before the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Corporate Secretaries) for the next two days. Look for an old dude wearing a mullet...

- Broc Romanek

April 9, 2008

Survey Results: More on Blackout Periods

Every few years, we survey the practices relating to blackout and window periods (there are results from five others in our "Blackout Periods" Practice Area). Here is the latest survey results, which are repeated below:

1. Does your company ever impose a "blanket blackout period" for all or a large group of employees?
- Regularly before, at, and right after the end of each quarter - 74.1%
- Only in rare circumstances - 17.2%
- Never - 8.6%

2. Our company’s insider trading policy defines those employees subject to a blackout period by roughly:
- Stating that all Section 16 officers are subject to blackout - 6.8%
- Stating that all Section 16 officers “and those employees privy to financial information” are subject to blackout - 5.1%
- Stating that all Section 16 officers “and others as designated by the company” are subject to blackout - 18.6%
- Stating that all Section 16 officers “and those employees privy to financial information and others as designated by the company” are subject to blackout -47.5%
- All employees - 5.1%
- Some other definition - 16.9%
- Our company doesn’t have an insider trading policy -0.0%

3. Does your company allow employees (that are subject to blackout) to gift stock to a charitable, educational or similar institution during a blackout period?
- Yes, but they must preclear the gift first - 52.5%
- Yes, and they don’t need to preclear the gift - 8.5%
- No - 20.3%
- Not sure, it hasn’t come up and it’s not addressed in our insider trading policy - 18.6%

4. Does your company allow employees (that are subject to blackout) to gift stock to a family member during a blackout period?
- Yes, but they must preclear the gift first - 39.7%
- Yes, and they don’t need to preclear the gift - 8.6%
- No - 24.1%
- Not sure, it hasn’t come up and it’s not addressed in our insider trading policy - 27.6%

5. Are your company’s outside directors covered by blackout or window periods and preclearance requirements?
- Yes - 98.3%
- No - 1.7%

Don't forget that we have posted a new "Quick Survey on Rule 144 Practices." Please take a moment to weigh in!

Being In-House

In this podcast, Mike Cahn, a former Senior Associate General Counsel of Securities at Textron, talks about what’s it like to be in-house and how that role has changed over the years, including:

- When did you start and what were your duties as they evolved over time?
- Over time, how much more did you need to rely on outside counsel?
- Did you work more hours as the regulatory environment became more complex?
- What advice would you give to someone going in-house today?

Citigroup's Director Search: A New Recruiting Method?

As noted in this WSJ article, Citigroup's lead director posted this statement on the company's website, noting that the board seeks new finance-savvy directors. The statement appears to be from the company's Chair of the "Nomination and Governance Committee," who also serves as the board's lead director.

I was quite surprised by the statement for several reasons. First was just the novelty of it - one of the largest companies in the world recruiting publicly? I can't recall that happening before. However, the purpose of this statement likely was not to recruit; rather it was likely posted to assure the market that the company knows changes on the board are necessary (on the same day, a management shake-up was announced). Even if boards generally are increasingly having trouble finding willing - and capable - candidates, I would never imagine Citigroup to be in that boat.

Another striking item though is that the statement - at least, implicitly - comes from a member of the board. It is rare to have broad communications addressed to investors from a director. Most companies shy away from having directors as authorized spokespersons (except from the Chair in limited circumstances).

I do recognize that Citigroup has novel circumstances, with a major crisis at hand - but I'm still surprised by the statement for a third reason. From a litigator's perspective, the call for "finance-savvy" directors seems a tacit admission that the current board was ill-equipped to oversee the type of operations that the company is engaged in.

The bottom line is that I chalk up the statement to "things you are willing to do when shareholders threaten to withhold or vote against your director nominees."

As an aside, here is an article criticizing the notion of a board packed with financial-savvy people.

- Broc Romanek

April 8, 2008

“Net Exercises”: The New Cashless Exercise

In the March-April ’08 issue of The Corporate Executive – that was just mailed – there is extensive analysis of why every company should now be switching from cashless exercises to “net exercises.” This important issue provides guidance – and explains all the benefits of implementing “net exercises” now.

Every detail of what you will need to implement “net exercises” is addressed, including how to review outstanding plans and agreements and (where necessary) how to modify them to permit net exercises. Every in-house and outside lawyer (and stock plan administrator, CFO, etc.) needs this March-April issue to be on top of the details necessary to understand and implement this important new development.

Here is a blurred version of the issue to give you a sense of the substance if you aren't a subscriber. Try a no-risk trial to get the March-April issue rushed to you today.

Lesson Learned: Avoid California

One of our in-house members recently listened to Keith Bishop's podcast on "E-Proxy and California Law" from a while back and came up with this takeaway: If possible, non-California companies should avoid holding any board meetings in California since Cal. Corp. Code Sections 1600 and 1602 expressly extend shareholder and director inspection rights to foreign corporations that "customarily" hold board meetings there.

Even assuming the e-proxy stuff gets worked out in California (which it sounds like it will per this blog; it's not a "done" deal yet as first hearing on the "urgency" bill isn't until next week), if holding board meetings in California provides any sort of a "hook" for California law to apply to non-California companies, you might consider avoiding holding board meetings there in the first place...

Where Art Thou "Billy Broc" and "Dave the Animal"?

After a six-month hiatus, "Billy Broc" and "Dave the Animal" are back by popular demand in this video: "Dave's Going Through Some Changes." Too early for Academy Award consideration?

- Broc Romanek

April 7, 2008

Form 8-K Interps: And Even More Redlined Versions...

On Friday, I blogged about a redlined version of Corp Fin's new Form 8-K Interps and noted that to do the new interps justice, they really needed to be redlined against the three old sources of interps. Well, John Newell of Goodwin Procter has saved the day and provided us with just that - here are his redlined versions as compared against the '97 Phone Interps; '03 Non-GAAP FAQs and the '04 8-K Interps. These gems - along with Howard Dicker's redline against the '04 FAQs - are posted in our "Form 8-K" Practice Area.

Quite a task, two words come to mind: "dissect" and "autopsy." Lawyers playing doctors...

New Quick Survey: Rule 144 Trends

A member recently asked to pick our brain as to what we're seeing in the market under new Rule 144 regarding the practice of law firms giving legend removal opinions for securities of reporting issuers held more than six months - but less than twelve months - after issuance. In other words, they were curious how firms are dealing with the obligation to report on a timely basis for twelve months with respect to opinions rendered prior to the end of the twelve month period.

We haven't heard of a settled practice. There is a footnote in the adopting release that could support waiting to the end of the one year period, but it isn't entirely clear if that is black letter law as the SEC also said the issue is one to be resolved by contract and state law.

We have posted a new "Quick Survey on Rule 144 Practices" to ask your anonymous views on this issue, as well as another one on registration rights. Please take a moment to weigh in!

The New Business Combination Accounting

On DealLawyers.com, we recently posted the transcript from the webcast: "The New Business Combination Accounting."

- Broc Romanek

April 4, 2008

Corp Fin Revises Its New Form 8-K Interps - And a Redlined Version

Yesterday, Corp Fin posted a revised version of its spanking new "Form 8-K Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations," so be sure to print out this revised version dated April 3rd. It looks like the Staff eliminated Intepretation 206.02, which conflicted with Question 106.04 (carrying over Question 25 of the '03 Non-GAAP Measures FAQs).

Thanks to Howard Dicker of Weil Gotshal, we have posted this Blacklined Version of the new Interps against the '04 FAQs. Note that it's "over-blacklined" because the exec comp questions were moved from Item 1.01 to 5.02. It's still helpful because the Staff tagged every Interp as "new" even though most aren't (a byproduct of the Staff deeming the Interps as their new brand of informal written guidance: the "Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations").

Note that to comprehensively understand the changes the Staff made to the 8-K interps, you actually need three redlines: one for the old Phone Interps, one for the '04 FAQs and one for the '03 Non-GAAP FAQs.

Broadridge's Latest E-Proxy Stats

In our "E-Proxy" Practice Area, we have posted the latest e-proxy statistics from Broadridge. As of February 29th:

- 103 companies have used voluntary e-proxy so far

- Size range of companies using e-proxy varies considerably; all shapes and sizes (eg. 36% had less than 10,000 shareholders)

- Bifurcation is not being used as much as I would have thought; of all shareholders for the companies using e-proxy, only 5% received paper initially instead of the "notice only"

- 0.70% of shareholders requested paper after receiving a notice

- 60% of companies using e-proxy had routine matters on their meeting agenda; another 32% had non-routine matters proposed by management; and 8% had non-routine matters proposed by shareholders. None were contested elections.

- Retail vote goes down dramatically using e-proxy (based on 80 meeting results); number of retail accounts voting drops from 19.2% to 4.6% (over a 75% drop) and number of retail shares voting drops from 30.1% to 23.3% (a 23% drop)

Our April Eminders is Posted!

We have posted the April issue of our complimentary monthly email newsletter. Sign up today to receive it by simply inputting your email address!

- Broc Romanek

April 3, 2008

Just Announced: Our Big Executive Compensation Conferences

We are excited to announce that our Conferences - "Tackling Your 2009 Compensation Disclosures: The 3rd Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference" & "5th Annual Executive Compensation Conference" – will take place in New Orleans and via Nationwide Video Webcast on October 21st-22nd. Here are the Conference Agendas.

With Congress, the SEC Staff, investors and the media scrutinizing this year’s disclosures, it is critical to have the best possible guidance for addressing next year's proxy statement compensation disclosures. This pair of full-day conferences will provide the essential - and practical - implementation guidance that you need going forward.

Like last year’s blockbuster conferences, an archive of the entire video for both conferences will be right there at your desktop to refer to - and refresh your memory - when you are actually grappling with drafting the disclosures or reviewing/approving pay packages. Here are FAQs about the Conferences.

For those choosing to attend by coming to New Orleans, I encourage you to also register for the "16th Annual NASPP Conference," where over 2000 folks attend 45+ panels. And if you attend the NASPP Conference, you can take advantage of a special reduced rate for the Exec Comp Conferences.

Register by May 20th for Early-Bird Rates: Whether you attend in New Orleans or by video webcast, take advantage of early-bird rates by registering by May 20th. You can register online or use this order form to register by mail/fax. Note that we have combined both of our popular Conferences - one focusing on proxy disclosures and the other on compensation practices - into one package to simplify registration.

If you have questions or need help registering, please contact our headquarters at info@thecorporatecounsel.net or 925.685.5111 (they are on West Coast, open 8 am - 4 pm).

Corp Fin Posts New Form 8-K Interpretations

Yesterday, Corp Fin posted the long-awaited "Form 8-K Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations," which is a continuation of the Staff updating the Telephone Interpretations Manual and other odds & ends of guidance it has issued over the years. These new interps specifically update the Phone Manual Interps, as well as the Non-Gaap FAQs from '03 and the 8-K FAQs from '04. [I say "long-awaited" because the SEC had a note on its site that these were "coming soon" for quite some time.]

REITs and Their Form 10-Ks

I really dig it when law firms write memos with nuggets they heard at conferences. It's rarely done - but I find them to be very practical. This recent Goodwin Procter memo is no exception, covering a finer point about what REITs need to be doing in their Form 10-Ks as covered by a point raised by the Corp Fin Staff at the NAREIT Law and Accounting Conference. Good stuff (just like these 41 pages of "SEC Speaks" notes from Sidley Austin - 41 pages!)...

My only quibble with the memo is that the Staff's point about the need to disclose property operating data should not come as a surprise - since the Staff has always considered the operating data material to the business disclosure in a 10-K.

- Broc Romanek

April 2, 2008

All Compensation Consultants, All The Time

I'm pretty excited to announce our latest blog on CompensationStandards.com: "The Consultants Blog." This blog will feature wisdom from respected compensation consultants.

So far, these consultants have agreed to kick off the vibrant conversation on the issues, developments and trends faced by those seeking to implement responsible compensation practices: Don Delves, Mike Kesner and Fred Whittlesey. In the coming weeks, I expect to add more consultant bloggers willing to share their thoughts. Check out the blog and input your email address on it so that you can get an email whenever an entry is posted...

Evelyn Y. Davis: Catch Her in Action

Perfect timing for today's webcast about conducting annual meetings, here is a CNBC interview with Evelyn Davis. CNBC should make her a regular commentator; I doubt it would impact the quality of their reporting. Thanks to ProxyMatters.com for digging this gem out...

SEC's New - and Free - Edgar Feeds

Recently, the SEC has added news feeds for every issuer and reporting person who files on Edgar. You can now track what is being filed without having to use a paid subscription service. Note that the SEC has not yet touted this new feature via a press release or its various guides about how to search filings.

On his "IR Web Report," Dominic Jones explains the potential ramifications of this development on Business Wire, PR Newswire, Edgar Online, etc. My guess is that their businesses won't be too damaged - yet - since the Edgar feeds include only generic filing headings, dates and internal tracking numbers, which is less useful than providing a summary or the full text of each filing. Dominic also explains how this allows companies to ensure widespread syndication of their news to the masses simply by filing their news releases on Edgar.

By the way, Dominic had a beauty of an April Fool's joke posted on his site yesterday...

- Broc Romanek

April 1, 2008

Death Blow for the SEC?

Now that we have the 212-page Blueprint Paulson Report, we all can start drilling down into what it means. More analysis will follow over the next few weeks; today, I want to focus on a narrow aspect of the report's long-term recommendation: the demise of the US Securities & Exchange Commission.

This is not an April Fool's joke. The Paulson Plan recommends an overhaul of the regulatory framework for the markets, which includes moving the responsibilities that the SEC currently has into other agencies. The Corp Fin and other accounting responsibilities that the SEC presently has would be rolled over to a new "Business Conduct Regulator."

Yesterday, I already whined about excessive change, so no need to drag you through that mud again. I'm just nostalgic about the prospect of the term "SEC" being a fading footnote in history, given that my career continues to revolve around the place and I have fond memories of working there. Interestingly enough, quite a few securities regulators in other countries have used some derivation of the name - or even the identical name - for themselves (eg. Bandgadesh's regulator has the same name). Here is a partial list of securities regulators from around the world.

Speaking of April Fools: The NASPP has posted an alert highlighting a new study regarding option exercise behavior. The study unearthed some very interesting and surprising trends in how employees exercise options.

Conduct of the Annual Meeting

Tune in tomorrow for the webcast - "Conduct of the Annual Meeting" - during which a panel of experts will give practical guidance about all the issues that may arise during your upcoming annual meeting. This is a reprise of a similar webcast that we did four years ago that still remains one of my all-time favorites. This promises to be a gem as the speakers will spend some time on the nitty gritty of how the voting process works, demystifying the chain of voting through intermediaries, etc.

Corp Fin's "Sample Letter" on Fair Value Measurements

Last week, Corp Fin posted this sample letter to remind companies of their MD&A obligations when applying SFAS 157 - regarding fair value measurements - for their upcoming Form 10-Qs. The letter was sent to companies that "reported a significant amount of asset-backed securities, loans carried at fair value or the lower of cost or market, and derivative assets and liabilities" in the financial statements in their recent Form 10-Ks.

- Broc Romanek