Monthly Archives: April 2009

April 16, 2009

Facing an Unpredictable World: How to Change Earnings Guidance Practices

We just posted the “Spring ’09 Issue” of (we are maintaining this publication as complimentary thru ’09 as a “Thank You” to our loyal members in a down economy). The “Spring ’09” issue includes articles on:

– Facing an Unpredictable World: How to Change Earnings Guidance Practices
– The Box: Updating Guidance Mid-Quarter—and the Duty to Update
– Implementing Mandatory Retirement Ages for Directors: Practice Pointers
– Web Archival Practices: Answering “How Long?”
– Chair Schapiro Announces the SEC’s New Corporate Governance Agenda
– Draft E-Proxy Standards: NIRI Seeks Comment

If you’re not yet a member of, simply provide your contact information in this sign-up form and gain free and immediate access to the issue. If you signed up last year, your ID/password will continue to work – if you forgot what those are, you can get a reminder.

It’s Only a Matter of Degree

From Keith Bishop of Allen Matkins: Although Item 401 of Regulation S-K doesn’t specifically require disclosure of whether or not an executive as received a college or graduate degree, many companies do include this information with respect to directors and officers. In the past few months, the press has reported allegations of misstatements of educational background at four different companies (Broadcom Corporation, Microsemi Corporation, Intrepid Potash and MGM Mirage). Here is a press release filed by Microsemi Corporation last month and here is the press release filed by Intrepid Potash.

Note that the while Microsemi did not terminate the executive, it required him to pay $100,000 and forgo his annual bonus. Microsemi also extended by one year the vesting on the executive’s restricted stock award. The company also announced that it would also be taking the following remedial actions:

– Background checks on all current and future Section 16 officers and directors;
– Board confirmation that the HR Department is continuing to verify credential prior to making employment offers in connection with acquisitions;
– Amending the Code of Ethics to specify that misrepresentation of credentials is a breach of the Code; and
– Review and verification of press releases.

From what I can tell, Barry Minkow (from ZZZZ Best fame) has been doing background checks. Whatever the source, companies should be aware that someone may be checking up on them.

More Proxy Season Developments

If you haven’t signed up to get our new “Proxy Season Blog” pushed out to you, here are a few of the items you’ve missed during the past week:

– Tracking Voting Results:
– Examples: The Latest Efforts by Activists to “Just Vote No”
– Five Cool Web Sites: UK-Style
– E-Proxy Questions: Meeting Directions on Notice
– More Governance Proposals Survive No-Action Challenges
– Amgen’s Compensation Survey for Investors
– “Books & Records” Being Used to Check Compensation Committees

Members can sign up to get that blog pushed out to them via email whenever there is a new entry by simply inputting their email address on the left side of that blog (just like you can accomplish that functionality for this blog).

– Broc Romanek

April 15, 2009

Hotel Announced and Early Bird Closing: “4th Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference” & “6th Annual Executive Compensation Conference”

We just announced that our popular conferences – “Tackling Your 2010 Compensation Disclosures: The 4th Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference” & “6th Annual Executive Compensation Conference” – will take place at the Hilton San Francisco on November 9-10th (and via Live Nationwide Video Webcast). Here is the Conference registration form – and here is the agenda.

To make your reservations at the Hilton, register for the hotel online or call 800.445.8667. When you register for the hotel, it is important to mention the National Association of Stock Plan Professionals Conference, Executive Compensation Conference or the Proxy Disclosure Conference (or just mention the Group Code of “SPP”) to receive the discounted rate.

Special Early Bird Rates: Only One Week Left – Act by April 24th: We know that many of you are hurting in ways that we all never dreamed of – and going to a Conference is the last thing on your mind. But with huge changes afoot for executive compensation and the related disclosures, we are doing our part to help you address all these critical changes—and avoid costly pitfalls—by offering a “half-off” early bird discount rate for those that attend in San Francisco and nearly half-off for those that attend via the Web (both of the Conferences are bundled together with a single price).

You need to register by next Friday, April 24th, to obtain these reasonable rates.

SEC Staff Issues SAB 111 re: Temporary Impairment

Yesterday, Corp Fin and the Office of Chief Accountant jointly issued SAB 111 regarding impairments of equity and debt securities (i.e. OTTI). Here is the related press release.

Meanwhile, the PCAOB voted yesterday to issue a concept release regarding possible revisions to the board’s standard on audit confirmations. Learn more from FEI’s “Financial Reporting Blog.”

Survey Results: Advance Notice Bylaws

We recently wrapped up our Quick Survey on advance notice bylaw practices. Below are our results:

1. Has your company revised its advanced notice bylaw provisions this year?
– We reviewed them and decided no revisions were necessary – 11.9%
– We reviewed them and made revisions – 66.7%
– Our bylaws don’t contain advance notice provisions – 3.6%
– We haven’t reviewed our bylaws, but we plan to do so in the near term – 15.5%
– We haven’t reviewed our bylaws and have no plans to do so at this time – 2.4%

2. If your company revised its advance notice bylaw provisions, what changes did it make?
– We changed the deadlines for receipt of shareholder proposals – 40.7%
– We created separate provisions for shareholder proposals for director nominations and shareholder proposals for other business – 49.2%
– We added specific advance notice provisions for special meetings – 42.4%
– We added disclosure requirements for shareholder proponents to address derivative securities – 81.4%
– We made other changes to the advance notice provisions – 50.9%

3. Have (or will) your company submit the amended bylaws for shareholder approval?
– Yes – 6.9%
– No – 93.2%

4. How did (or will) your company disclose its amended bylaws?
– Form 8-K – 88.7%
– Form 10-Q – 5.6%
– Form 10-K – 1.4%
– Press Release – 2.8%
– We don’t intend to disclose the changes – 1.4%

Please take a moment to participate in our new “Quick Survey on Compliance Committees.”

– Broc Romanek

April 14, 2009

Corp Fin’s New Director: Meredith Cross’ Return

Yesterday, Meredith Cross was named the new Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance. She had served in Corp Fin as Deputy Director, Chief Counsel and a few other capacities back in the ’90s – and has been working at WilmerHale since then. Having personally worked under Meredith at the SEC, I know she will be a great asset to help Chair Schapiro accomplish her vast regulatory agenda as she is quite able and really knows her stuff.

DGCL Amendments Become Law: Proxy Access, Reimbursement Bylaws, Etc.

After having been approved by the Delaware House last month and by the Senate last Wednesday, I understand that House Bill #19 was signed into law by the Delaware Governor on Friday. As stated in the legislation (assuming no changes), the amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law will be effective August 1st.

From a prior blog (and this podcast), you will recall that these amendments deal with, among other items, new statutes on proxy access and reimbursement bylaws, indemnification matters, judicial removal of directors and authorization to separate record dates for notice and voting at shareholder meetings. More to come…

Compensation Arrangements in a Down Market

We have posted the transcript from our recent webcast: “Compensation Arrangements in a Down Market.”

– Broc Romanek

April 13, 2009

What is a “Glimmer”? Five Reasons to Still Be Plenty Scared

While I was on holiday last week, the President and his economic advisor, Lawrence Summers, made a splash by announcing the economy had a “glimmer of hope.” The stock market has been behaving like it sees more than a glimmer. Here are five things gleaned from my very full inbox that give me pause:

1. According to this story, there will be $4 trillion in losses in the financial institutions. It notes $1.29 trillion in losses have been already booked, meaning $2.71 trillion in losses have not yet been recorded – more than twice the amount already recorded.

When I read articles like these, I still worry that banks aren’t giving us the full story in their disclosure (see this article) – although part of the problem is that the government is now in cahoots with banks in obscuring transparency. Banks aren’t allowed to disclose how they fare in the soon-to-be-completed stress tests until later this month. I imagine this will result in a spot of insider trading.

2. Some academics say that there is “little evidence that suggests these markets are experiencing fire sales” when it comes to whether the government needs to be tinkering with the pricing of toxic assets. This article concludes: “The problem is that highly leveraged financial firms own assets that are worth far less than they thought they would be, and the firms are insolvent as a result. This is why the latest bailout plans secretly give huge subsidies to banks – because the only way to keep the insolvent zombies afloat is to transfer billions of dollars to banks, bank stockholders, and bank creditors.”

3. Read this interview with a former S&L regulator, William Black, who criticizes the recovery efforts. This quote gives me chills: “We have failed bankers giving advice to failed regulators on how to deal with failed assets. How can it result in anything but failure?”

4. Politics continue to get in the way of serious reform efforts. There is ample evidence that our “independent” regulators aren’t given the freedom to do their job (or cave too quickly; Canada’s regulator just said “no” to loosening mark-to-market). Exhibit A is Congress bullying the FASB into changing accounting standards. But that is only the start. While I was gone, Rep. Barney Frank criticized Moody’s for being too negative? [Although Frank was not criticizing Moody’s for doing its job, so-to-speak, when rating municipal borrowers, but for applying a double standard that favored corporate borrowers.]

In addition, according to this article, the Administration seems to be willing to skirt the bailout restrictions that were just implemented. With these types of games going on, it feels like any rule can be avoided if you know the right people.

By the way, this is a worldwide problem. As noted in this article, the EU Commissioner stated recently at a IASB monitoring group meeting that he had indeed let Spanish banks break the law and fail to comply with IASB accounting standards. An amazing instance of a European government official condoning breaking of the law and securities fraud.

5. It still appears that boards are paying big pay packages (including bonuses) to CEOs despite poor performance. Read this new commentary by Bud Crystal about the pay lavished on the homebuilders. Until this vital governance area truly gets reformed, senior managers will be incentivized to play fast and loose – and boards will continue to show a lack of backbone, resulting in poor oversight.

There are plenty more of these types of stories filed every day (eg. this Rolling Stone story), leaving me with a lack of confidence that we will come out of this mess any better than before we went into it. Maybe I need a vacation from my vacation…

As an aside, Nasdaq’s new Listing Rulebook goes into effect today.

FASB Issues Three Fair Value Staff Positions

On Thursday, the FASB issued three final Staff Positions that provide application guidance and enhance disclosures regarding fair value measurements and impairments of securities (here is the related press release):

FSP FAS 157-4, Determining Fair Value When the Volume and Level of Activity for the Asset or Liability Have Significantly Decreased and Identifying Transactions That Are Not Orderly

FSP FAS 107-1 and APB 28-1, Interim Disclosures about Fair Value of Financial Instruments

FSP FAS 115-2 and FAS 124-2, Recognition and Presentation of Other-Than-Temporary Impairments

Note that the last one contains the dissent registered by the two FASB Board members (Linsmeier and Siegel) who voted against the recent rule change by the FASB regarding fair value accounting.

Madoff Spotted in London?

One of the more peculiar things I saw during my vacation in London? I swear I spotted Bernie Madoff in Trafalgar Square. He’s supposed to be in a Manhattan jail pending a June sentencing hearing. Here is the video where I captured a glimpse of the slightly younger look-alike (compare to this photo of the real deal):

– Broc Romanek

April 9, 2009

The SEC Proposes Short Sale Restrictions: The Race is On!

Reminiscent of the competing proposal approach that the Commission took a couple of years ago on shareholder access, yesterday the SEC voted to propose several alternative ways of addressing the widespread public nostalgia for the only recently abandoned uptick rule. As noted in the press release announcing the proposals, the SEC proposed either: (1) a market-wide permanent return of the uptick rule or a modified version of the uptick rule; or (2) a security specific circuit breaker approach, which could come in the form of: (i) an outright ban for the rest of the trading day when the price of a security drops precipitously; (ii) imposition of a modified uptick rule on the trading in a security for the rest of the day when there is a significant price decline; or (iii) imposition of an uptick rule on the trading in a security for the rest of the day following a big price drop. Got that? Commissioner Aguilar, Commissioner Parades and Chairman Schapiro each released their opening statements, providing more details.

I think that the competing proposal approach largely reflects the level of complexity and concern about unintended consequences arising with short sale regulation. The Commission has to walk a fine line here when seeking to perhaps reinstate a rule that was abandoned only a few years ago, and at the time based on extensive study and public comment. Much is often made of how different the market is today compared to when the tick test pilot was conducted, but it really seems that the principal differences are between a market trending up and a market trending down and the relatively obvious effects of government-induced panic, plus the attention of the public and Congress to an issue that was once largely relegated to the darker corners of the regulatory landscape.

With all of the pressure for SEC action, it is going to be a difficult task ahead for the Staff to weigh the responses to the over 200 questions included in the proposing release and narrow the field of potential rules down to just one approach. Further, they will have to do so under a new Director of the Division of Trading Markets, as yesterday’s Open Meeting marked Eric Sirri’s last as Director of the Division.

Comments will be due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register. The roundtable on short selling is tentatively scheduled for May 5.

The “R” Word and Venture Capital Funds

An interesting opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal discusses the outrage that has erupted over the notion of having venture capital funds register with the SEC so that information about the funds can be passed on to the Great Systemic Regulator envisioned in the Administration’s recent regulatory reform proposals. As we tend to see time and time again, over-reaction to crises tends to sweep in things that probably don’t need the benefit of regulation or are in fact not systemically dangerous. I think that James Freeman makes a good case for why venture capital, which is vital to our capital-raising system, does not actually pose the sorts of systemic risks that we should all be concerned about.

Now that the “R” word – risk – is thrown around as being something that needs the closest attention from regulators, it is perhaps a good idea to step back and note that it was really the mispricing and mismanagement of risk (in particular with respect to financial instruments and trading strategies), as opposed to the taking of risk itself, which got us into this mess. For technology companies, for instance, who have benefited greatly from the risk tolerance of venture capital investors, every day in business is the riskiest of endeavors, which is typically reflected in their public or private valuations. But we wouldn’t want them – as a result of regulation arising from a financial crisis – to stop taking risk, or to discourage their management from pursuing risky new ideas, or discourage their venture capital backers from taking a flyer on their risky prospects, so long as those risks are all fully disclosed and properly reflected in the price of their securities.

A Bernanke Green Shoot?

For the first time in more than a year, confidence among venture capitalists has inched upward, according to a recent survey of 30 San Francisco Bay Area VC’s. The latest results show a confidence level of 3.03 on a 5-point scale during the first quarter of 2009, up from a 5-year low of 2.77 last quarter. Might a more positive outlook by traditionally optimistic VC’s be one of Ben Bernanke’s “green shoots” of economic recovery? There’s a long way to go yet – there were only 50 IPOs worldwide during the first quarter of 2009, down 80% from the first quarter of 2008. More significantly for venture capital, the first quarter of 2009 marked the second consecutive quarter with no venture-backed IPOs. As Broc noted in the blog towards the end of last year, IPOs are a traditional exit strategy for VCs – until the IPO market opens up, VC’s can’t deliver returns to their investors. So if the uptick in VC confidence is a green shoot, it’s an exceedingly small one – but at least it’s pointing up. Thanks go out to Linda DeMelis for these thoughts.

– Dave Lynn

April 8, 2009

PWC’s Annual Study Shows Jump in Litigation

Earlier this month, PWC published is 13th annual evaluation of private securities class action lawsuits. PWC’s analysis found that federal securities class actions increased for a second year in a row, with the financial services industry unseating high-technology companies for the dubious distinction of most frequently sued. PWC also noted that, perhaps not surprisingly, accounting-related lawsuits declined as a percentage of total filings, while the number of settlements recorded declined to the lowest number this decade. The study also notes that CEOs and CFOs are most frequently named in lawsuits, and that plaintiffs are increasingly targeting Fortune 500 companies (also due to the financial services effect). Given these trends, 2009 could be shaping up to be a high water mark for private securities litigation.

Executive Compensation Litigation Heating Up Too

Kevin LaCroix provides an excellent overview of the latest developments in executive compensation litigation today in The D & O Diary blog. Kevin notes:

“Drawing on popular anger evidenced most recently in the outrage surrounding the AIG bonuses, these most recent compensation-related cases could represent an even more pronounced litigation threat than prior lawsuits over pay. The same forces driving the litigation have also produced a variety of other corporate and social responses, some of which may or may not fully serve the purposes of overall social utility.

Among other recently filed lawsuits involving executive compensation is the derivative complaint filed on April 1, 2009 in California (Los Angeles County) Superior Court against the current AIG CEO Edward Liddy and several other AIG directors and officers. The complaint (copy here) among other things alleges that ‘there was no rational business purpose or justification for these lucrative additional payments, particularly given AIG’s deteriorating financial condition and dismal financial performance,’ and described Liddy’s explanation of the bonus payments as ‘outrageous on its face’ and ‘absurd.’ The complaint seeks to recover damages for corporate waste, breach of fiduciary duty, abuse of control and unjust enrichment.

The bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees at year end just prior to the consummation of the company’s merger with Bank of America also features prominently in the shareholders’ litigation filed against Bank of America earlier this year, following the revelation of Merrill’s massive and previously unreported losses.”

The D&O Diary blog also notes the outcome in the recent Citigroup case in Delaware involving Charles O. Prince’s $68 million exit package, discussed in Broc’s blog on the topic from last month.

While shareholder-initiated litigation is taking off in the current anger-fueled environment, it seems that now may be the time when we will also see more SEC Enforcement focus on executive compensation. The “honeymoon” with the 2006 compensation rules is long over, and thus now may be the time when we will start to see Enforcement bring some high profile cases to demonstrate attention to the issue. A couple of roadblocks that could stand in the Enforcement Division’s way in bringing these sorts of cases is that the principles-based aspects of the rules might make it more difficult, in some circumstances, to bring fraud or reporting violation cases, given that the lack of bright lines gives companies a significant degree of latitude in deciding what is and is not material. Further, the heightened sensitivity to compensation issues, more engagement by compensation committees, and the voluminous disclosure that is now required may reduce the ability to hide or mischaracterize compensation that could give rise to Enforcement’s interest. Unlike shareholders, the SEC is limited to disclosure violations and can’t pursue claims such as corporate waste.

Goldman CEO’s Remarks on Wall Street Pay Reform

Earlier this week, at the same Council of Institutional Investors meeting where Chairman Schapiro laid out the SEC’s regulatory agenda, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein called for changes to the compensation model on Wall Street. As noted in this story appearing in the LA Times, Blankfein faced some angry protestors while delivering his address – certainly a sign of these times of extraordinary public anger.

Blankfein noted that compensation decisions must be made in the context a multi-year evaluation of risk to get a full picture of an individual’s decisions, and that performance should not be judged in isolation. Among the specific guidelines that he suggested are:

1. Compensation should include salary and deferred compensation, which is “appropriately discretionary” because it is based on performance over the year.

2. The proportion of equity comprising and individual’s compensation should increase significantly as total compensation increases.

3. Senior employees should get most of their compensation in deferred equity, while junior people should get most of their compensation in cash.

4. Individual performance should be evaluated over time to avoid excessive risk taking and to allow for a clawback effect.

5. Equity awards should be subject to future delivery and/or deferred exercise over at least a three-year period.

6. Senior executive officers should retain the bulk of their equity until they retire, and equity should not be accelerated once someone leaves the firm.

– Dave Lynn

April 7, 2009

The SEC’s Corporate Governance Agenda Comes into Focus

SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro laid out the agency’s upcoming regulatory agenda in a speech yesterday at the Spring Meeting of the Council of Institutional Investors. Now a few months into her new role, Chairman Schapiro has a vision for the SEC’s top priorities over the next several months, which will, not surprisingly, involve a lot of new rules for public companies. These rules will build on some common themes, including director accountability and enhanced disclosure about the role of risk in corporate decision-making.

The upcoming rulemaking agenda looks like this:

1. New rules designed to limit short sales in a down market will be considered at an open meeting tomorrow, followed by a roundtable.

2. In May, the SEC will consider a proxy access proposal, and in the process the Commission is considering the 2003 and 2007 proposals with “fresh eyes,” as well as proposed Delaware law changes.

3. In June, the SEC will consider whether to propose rules requiring enhanced disclosure about the experience, qualifications and skills of director nominees.

4. The SEC will also consider whether boards should disclose the reasons for selecting a particular leadership structure, such as an independent chair, a non-independent chair, or a combined CEO/chair.

5. Rule proposals are being developed to address how a company and its board of directors manage risks, both generally and in the context of compensation.

6. The SEC will consider new rules relating to compensation. The rules would be directed at making sure that shareholders fully understand how compensation structures and practices drive an executive’s risk taking. Further, the Commission will consider whether greater disclosure is needed about a company’s overall compensation approach – beyond decisions with respect to the highest paid officers – as well as enhanced disclosure about compensation consultant conflicts of interest.

Not mentioned in the speech, but certainly looming on the horizon, is the proposed change to the NYSE’s Rule 452, for which the comment period has now closed.

In addition to the proposals that are oriented toward public companies, Chairman Schapiro indicated the SEC is considering a number of other reform measures (some of which will require legislation) in the financial services area, including issues with respect to custody, the respective roles of brokers-dealers and investment advisers, registering hedge fund advisers (and potentially the hedge funds themselves), more disclosure about credit rating agencies, oversight of the credit default swap market, enhanced standards for money market funds, municipal securities disclosure and disclosure about asset-backed securities.

With these significant changes to executive compensation disclosure coming soon – and no doubt in time for next year’s proxy season – be sure to sign up now for the “4th Annual Proxy Disclosure Conference” and the “6th Annual Executive Compensation Conference.” The conferences will be live on November 9-10 in San Francisco and via webcast. You still have a few more weeks (until April 24th) to get “half off” early bird rates.

Blaming Mutual Funds for Pay Excesses

In this latest report sponsored by AFSCME, The Corporate Library and the Shareowner Education Network, the relationship between mutual fund voting patterns and excessive executive compensation is examined in detail. Dramatically named “Compensation Accomplices: Mutual Funds and the Overpaid American CEO,” the report outlines how, in 2007-2008, many mutual funds voted in favor of management proposals increasing executive compensation packages, while voting against shareholder proposals that seek to align pay with performance. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t exactly knock me out of my chair with surprise to find out that mutual funds often vote with management. The report, however, notes that the level of support seems to continue unabated despite the level of public outrage over executive compensation.

The study does note a contrary trend that I think everyone has probably noticed in the past couple of years – mutual funds seem to be increasingly willing to withhold support or vote against directors serving on compensation committees of companies where pay practices are perceived as subpar.

One limiting aspect of the study is that the data only goes through June 2008, so the full impact of the recent “torches and pitchforks” attitude toward compensation is not fully reflected.

Raising Equity Capital in a Turbulent Market

We have posted the transcript for the recent webcast: “Raising Equity Capital in a Turbulent Market.” Also be sure to check out the excellent course materials posted for this webcast.

– Dave Lynn

April 6, 2009

Regulatory Principles from Last Week’s G-20 Meeting

By all accounts, last week’s G-20 summit seemed to promote quite a bit of agreement on ways to move forward to turn around the global economy and reshape the financial regulatory framework. In many ways, the G-20 meeting served as an important “deadline” for member countries to get their regulatory reform proposals lined up so that they could be discussed with other world leaders. Last Thursday, the G-20 leaders issued this communiqué outlining, among other things, the key principles under which changes to financial regulation will be implemented. The leaders called for greater consistency and systematic cooperation among countries, which will be implemented through, among other initiatives:

– a newly established Financial Stability Board, as a stronger successor to the Financial Stability Forum (FSF), which will seek to provide early warnings of macroeconomic and financial risks;

– reshaped regulatory systems that will allow authorities to identify and take account of macro-prudential risks;

– extended regulation and oversight over systemically important financial institutions, instruments and markets, including systemically important hedge funds;

– standards for internationally consistent, high quality and sufficient bank capital (once the recovery is assured);

– high quality global audit standards, including improved standards for “valuation and provisioning;”

– an end to bank secrecy and tax havens; and

– oversight over credit rating agencies.

Perhaps the most interesting focus of the G-20 for me was their pledge to deal with compensation issues at financial institutions. In this Declaration, which provides more details on the broad G-20 principles, the leaders appeared to recognize compensation issues as a global problem and endorsed FSF principles on dealing with compensation at significant financial institutions. The principles require that:

1. Boards of directors of firms play an active role in the design, operation and evaluation of compensation schemes;

2. Compensation arrangements, including bonuses, properly reflect risk, and that the timing of compensation payments be sensitive to the time horizon of risks (i.e., payments should not be made in the short term when the risks occur over the long term); and

3. Firms publicly disclose clear, comprehensive and timely information about compensation, so that stakeholders (including shareholders) are timely informed and can “exercise effective oversight.”

The EU’s Role in Financial Regulation

In anticipation of the G-20 meeting, the European Council rolled out a plan to significantly expand the European Union’s role in regulating the financial system across Europe. As discussed in this memo from Cleary Gottlieb, a new European financial supervisory body could be up and running by the end of 2010, helping to coordinate the regulatory efforts of member states. Further, the EU’s plans call for legislative proposals that will help fill gaps in the regulatory structure and create a framework for regulating retail financial services. Echoing efforts in the US, the EU will direct efforts toward regulating hedge funds and credit rating agencies, revisiting capital requirements, addressing compensation issues and providing for centralized clearing of derivatives. All of these efforts appear to be on a very fast track, with further recommendations on a number of these principles expected over the next couple of months.

Skirting the EESA/ARRA Exec Comp Limitations?

This Washington Post article from over the weekend notes how the Administration has been “engineering its new bailout initiatives,” so that participating firms can avoid limitations imposed on executive compensation contemplated by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The article notes that a number of programs through which bailout funds are distributed are using special entities, so that funds are provided only indirectly from the government. Also noted is the Obama Administration’s decision to reverse the Bush Administration’s efforts to apply the executive pay limits to the originators of the assets participating in the TALF program (which was finally launched at the beginning of March).

Efforts to craft programs around the executive compensation limits reflect what appears to me to be a legitimate concern that the imposition of the pay limits may, in some circumstances, undermine bailout efforts by discouraging participation. While executive pay reform is important and we can’t ignore the level of public anger over the topic, it seems that there should be some flexibility in applying the limitations outside of a direct investment context. My hope is that Congress doesn’t try to reverse these decisions for the purpose of achieving short-term political gains, because we are still in a time where some level of regulatory flexibility is needed on these issues.

– Dave Lynn

April 3, 2009

Big FASB Doings on Mark-to-Market Accounting

Yesterday, the FASB conducted a meeting that mainly focused on changing fair market value accounting and voted to issue three final Staff Positions (FSPs) dealing with fair value for inactive markets; other-than-temporary-impairment (OTTI), and changing annual disclosures of fair value to quarterly. Here’s the FASB’s summary of what happened at the meeting.

Given that I’m heading out on vacation, I’m providing a list of analyses by others on this big development:

AAO Weblog
NY Times
Financial Times
FEI’s “Financial Reporting Blog
Sense on Cents
naked capitalism
Financial Times Blog

By the way, the FASB issued its Staff Position on business combination accounting yesterday that they approved a few weeks ago. In addition, you may be interested in this Blog I posted earlier in the week: “Novel No-Action Response: Ability to “Round Out” Minority Slates with Other Insurgents.”

The SEC Staff on M&A

We have posted the transcript of our popular webcast: “The SEC Staff on M&A.”

Boards Today: The Spencer Stuart Board Index

A few months ago, Spencer Stuart issued this study of S&P 500 companies that shows how board composition and structure have changed over the past decade. Among the findings are:

– Shorter terms – On average, boards are older and directors serve shorter terms than 10 years ago. There are also fewer active CEOs and more first-time directors joining boards.
– Younger directors – A total of 26% of boards have an average age of 64 or older, up from 14% 10 years ago, even though 74% now have mandatory retirement ages.
– One-year terms – As of 2008, 66% of boards have one-year terms, up from 40 percent just five years ago and 39% 10 years ago.
– More board independence – In 1998, the CEO was the only insider on 23% of boards. Today the CEO is the only insider on 44%. A total of 36% of boards reported lead or presiding directors in 2003, compared with 95% today.
· Average board size convergence – Very large and very small boards are less common. Nearly 75% of boards have between nine and 13 directors, up from 66% in 1998. A decade ago, 23% of boards had 14 or more directors; today only 11% do.

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 2, 2009

Survey Results: Hedging and Other Trading Prohibitions in Insider Trading Policies

For each of the seven years I’ve been on this job, I’ve conducted an average of one survey on some aspect of insider trading policies (here is a list of them from our “Blackout Periods/Insider Trading” Practice Area). Recently, we wrapped up our latest one – this “Quick Survey” related to hedging and other trading prohibitions in insider trading policies. Below are the results:

1. Our company’s insider trading policy prohibits insiders from trading in any of the following:
– Exchange-traded options – 41.1%
– Hedging/monetization transactions (e.g., zero cost collars, forward sale contracts) – 36.7%
– Puts and calls – 45.6%
– Margin accounts – 25.6%
– Pledges – 23.3%
– None of the above – 10.0%
– We don’t have an insider trading policy – 1.1%

2. Our company discourages – but still permits – the following:
– Exchange-traded options – 18.2%
– Hedging/monetization transactions (e.g., zero cost collars, forward sale contracts) – 25.0%
– Puts and calls – 13.6%
– Margin accounts – 47.7%
– Pledges – 52.3%
– None of the above – 29.6%

Please take a moment to participate in our new “Quick Survey on D&O Questionnaires.”

Shelley Parratt: Longest-Serving Interim Corp Fin Director?

Although my memory is limited to the modern era, I believe Shelley Parratt is the longest-serving interim Corp Fin Director in SEC history with three months under her belt so far. Marty Dunn served as an interim for a few weeks before John White started – and Meredith Cross had a brief turn before Brian Lane moved over from Chairman Levitt’s office.

In fact, it’s not uncommon that there be no period of time between one Director leaving and another starting – particularly when the new Director is being promoted from within the building. For example, when John Huber left the SEC in ’86, Linda Quinn started that afternoon.

Not that any of this matters at all. Just some curious facts before I kick off my spring break vacation. I imagine we’ll see an announcement about a new permanent Corp Fin Director in the near future.

NYSE Clarifies Shareholder Approval Requirement for Convertible Debt Exchange Offers

Below is an excerpt from this recent Gibson Dunn memo (note this reflects an update from when blog was originally posted):

In the context of an exchange offer of new convertible debt for previously outstanding convertible debt, the NYSE staff has taken the position that the 20% Test only applies to any increase in the number of shares issuable under the new debt as compared to the old debt; the calculation is not made on the total number of shares issuable under the new debt. In other words, the NYSE only looks at the net increase in the number of shares potentially issuable upon conversion as a result of the exchange.

The NYSE staff had previously provided guidance that, when calculating whether an issuance of securities meets the 20% Test, the NYSE would take into account the number of shares issuable upon the original convertible debt, in addition to the actual amount outstanding, for purposes of calculating the number of shares outstanding on the date of measurement. The NYSE, however, has since corrected that guidance and has advised us that, pursuant to NYSE Rule 312.04, when calculating whether the 20% limit has been reached, the net increase in shares issuable upon conversion (the numerator in the calculation) will be compared only to the number of shares actually outstanding on the date of the listing application without giving effect to the number of shares then issuable upon conversion of the old convertible debt.

– Broc Romanek