September 1, 2011

Show Me the $$$: SEC’s Filing Fees Essentially Flat for Fiscal Year 2012

Yesterday, the SEC issued its second fee advisory for the year (along with this methodology). Right now, the filing fee rate for Securities Act registration statements is $116.10 million (the same rate applies under Sections 13(e) and 14(g)). Under the fee advisory, this rate will slightly decline to $114.60 per million, a 1.2% price drop. Not bad, unless you recall last year’s 63% price hike, the largest one-year rate hike in my experience.

As noted in this SEC order, the new fees will go into effect on October 1st – which is a departure from the past when the new rates didn’t become effective until five days after the date of enactment of the SEC’s appropriation for the new year, which often was delayed well beyond the October 1st start of the government’s fiscal year as Congress and the President battled over the government’s budget.

You might be asking, “How are the SEC’s fees set?” Or more importantly, “Will the rate hike help the SEC’s push for more resources?” The SEC sets its filing fees annually under the “Investor and Capital Markets Fee Relief Act of 2002.” The SEC’s budget is not dependent on its fees as it’s not a self-funded agency. All of the fees go to the US Treasury. In theory, these fees could help convince Congress to allow the SEC to receive their requested budget – but that surely hasn’t worked as of late. Learn more how the filing rate-setting process works in this blog.

Too funny. I had a brief conversation with an AP reporter last night and today I’m quoted in 468 newspapers, all of them in this same short piece. The power of the Associated Press! I wonder how @MrPoorCEO will take it…

Heating Up: Calls for More Political Contribution Disclosures

One topic that has been on the lobbyist agenda – but never quite on the hot seat – is greater disclosure about corporate political contributions. In the wake of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, that is changing. As Ted Allen blogged a few days ago, the International Corporate Governance Network is the latest to weigh in with a letter to the SEC on the topic, commenting upon the rulemaking petition filed several weeks ago by a group of academics (here are other letters sent in about the petition).

Section 13(d) Reporting: CSX Case Highlights Need for SEC Action on Derivatives

Here’s news culled from this Wachtell Lipton memo:

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has finally issued its opinion in the CSX case in which the District Court addressed whether the long party in a cash-settled total-return equity swap should be considered the beneficial owner of the underlying shares for reporting purposes under Section 13(d) of the Williams Act. The majority opinion — issued nearly three years after the appeal was argued — declined to resolve the beneficial ownership issue, noting that there was disagreement within the panel on the subject. Instead, the panel considered only whether a “group” had been formed under Section 13(d) as to the shares held outright by the defendant activist funds.

The majority opinion also addressed whether and under what circumstances a party should be precluded from voting shares acquired during a period when it was in violation of its disclosure obligations under Section 13(d). CSX Corp. v. The Children’s Inv. Fund Mgmt. (UK) LLP, Docket Nos. 08-2899-cv, 08-3016-cv (2d Cir. July 18, 2011).

As to the District Court’s finding of a “group,” the majority opinion, by Judge Newman, found insufficient for appellate review the District Court’s finding that a group was formed by the activities of the two funds (TCI and 3G) that suggested “concerted action” vis-à-vis CSX. The Court therefore remanded the case to the District Court for additional findings on that limited subject, as well as to reconsider the appropriateness and scope of any injunctive relief should a group violation of Section 13(d) be found with respect to the purchase of shares outright. In connection with its consideration of the group issue, the majority ruled that “activities” resulting from group action were insufficient to form a group unless — in the words of the rule — the group “act[s] together for the purpose of acquiring, holding, voting or disposing” of equity securities of the issuer.

As to the availability of injunctive share “sterilization,” the majority opinion adhered to prior precedent holding that an injunction prohibiting the voting of shares acquired while in violation of Section 13(d)’s reporting requirements was not an available remedy if the required disclosure is ultimately made in sufficient time for informed action by shareholders. The opinion rejected the arguments that sterilization may be necessary to provide a “level playing field” and to deter violations of Section 13(d), relying in part on the policy notion that sterilization might injure those stockholders who, after full disclosure, choose to support an insurgent’s program.

Judge Winter filed a separate opinion concurring in the result, and, unlike the majority opinion, directly addressed the issue as to whether the long party in a total-return swap transaction may be deemed to beneficially own the shares purchased as a hedge by the short counterparty. Judge Winter’s opinion rejected the District Court’s view that equity swaps are (in Judge Winter’s words) “an underhanded means of acquiring or facilitating access to [shares] that could be used to gain control through a proxy fight or otherwise.” Judge Winter instead writes that, absent an agreement on acquiring or voting the short party’s hedge position, “such swaps are not a means of indirectly facilitating a control transaction. Rather, they allow parties such as the Funds to profit from efforts to cause firms to institute new business policies increasing the value of a firm.”

Judge Winter rejected the position that the shares acquired by the swap dealer to hedge the swap should be deemed beneficially owned by the long party based on a review of the statutory language; other legislation that has addressed swaps — including Dodd-Frank, which granted new authority to the SEC to promulgate rules providing that “a person [] be deemed to acquire beneficial ownership of an equity security based on the purchase or sale of a security-based swap”; and the SEC’s ongoing and, as yet, inconclusive consideration of derivatives and beneficial ownership under Section 13(d), including its recent repromulgation of Rule 13d-3.

The CSX majority’s determination not to address whether the long party to a total-return swap may be deemed, for purposes of Section 13(d), the beneficial owner of the underlying shares underscores the need for SEC action. We have previously set forth detailed proposals on the subject, and continue to believe that SEC action is both necessary and overdue.

The concluding statement in Judge Winter’s concurrence eloquently articulates the need for SEC leadership on the issue:

Total-return cash-settled swap agreements can be expected to cause some party to purchase the referenced shares as a hedge. No one questions that any understanding between long and short parties regarding the purchase, sale, retention, or voting of shares renders them a group — including the long party — deemed to be the beneficial owner of the referenced shares purchased as a hedge and any other shares held by the group.

Whether, absent any such understanding, total-return cash-settled swaps render a long party the beneficial owner of referenced shares bought as a hedge by the immediate short party or some other party down the line is a question of law not fact. At the time of the district court opinion, the SEC had no authority to regulate such “understanding”-free swaps. It has such authority now, but it has simply repromulgated the earlier regulations. These regulations, and the SEC’s repromulgation of them, offer no reasons for treating such swaps as rendering long parties subject to Sections 13 and 16 based on shares purchased by another party as a hedge. Absent some reasoned direction from the SEC, there is neither need nor reason for a court to do so.

– Broc Romanek