It’s been over a decade since Corp Fin started issuing CDIs to replace its main source of “informal” interpretations – the “Telephone Interpretation Manual.” Oddly, after all these years, some of the “Phone Interps” still haven’t been replaced. That’s finally changing. On Friday, Corp Fin issued 45 new CDIs to replace the interps in the Telephone Interpretation Manual and the March 1999 Supplement that relate to the proxy rules & Schedules 14A/14C. The Staff says it’s in the process of updating other proxy interps – so we can expect more CDIs to come.
Thirty-five of the new CDIs simply reiterate the guidance provided in the Manual & March 1999 Supplement – four make technical changes – and these six CDIs reflect substantive changes (here’s a redline from Cleary):
Question 124.01: Rule 14a-4(b)(1) states that a proxy may confer discretionary authority with respect to matters as to which a choice has not been specified by the security holder, so long as the form of proxy states in bold-faced type how the proxy holder will vote where no choice is specified. If action is to be taken with respect to the election of directors and the persons solicited have cumulative voting rights, can a soliciting party cumulate votes among director nominees by simply indicating this in bold-faced type on the proxy card?
Answer: Yes, as long as state law grants the proxy holder the authority to exercise discretion to cumulate votes and does not require separate security holder approval with respect to cumulative voting. [May 11, 2018]
Question 124.07: The Division has permitted registrants to avoid filing proxy materials in preliminary form despite receipt of adequate advance notification of a non-Rule 14a-8 matter as long as the registrant disclosed in its proxy statement the nature of the matter and how the registrant intends to exercise discretionary authority if the matter was actually represented for a vote at the meeting. See Section IV.D of Release No. 34-40018 (May 21, 1998). Can a registrant rely on this position if it cannot properly exercise discretionary authority on the matter in accordance with Rule 14a-4(c)(2)?
Answer: No. [May 11, 2018]
Question 126.02: Is a registrant required to file a preliminary proxy statement in connection with a proposed corporate name change to be submitted for security holder approval at the annual meeting?
Answer: No. As set forth in Release No. 34-25217 (Dec. 21, 1987), the underlying purpose of the exclusions from the preliminary proxy filing requirement is “to relieve registrants and the Commission of unnecessary administrative burdens and preparation and processing costs associated with the filing and processing of proxy material that is currently subject to selective review procedures, but ordinarily is not selected for review in preliminary form.” Consistent with this purpose, a change in the registrant’s name, by itself, does not require the filing of a preliminary proxy statement. [May 11, 2018]
Question 151.01: A registrant solicits its security holders to approve the authorization of additional common stock for issuance in a public offering. While the registrant could use the cash proceeds from the public offering as consideration for a recently announced acquisition of another company, it has alternative means for fully financing the acquisition (such as available credit under an executed credit agreement in the full amount of the acquisition consideration) and may choose to use those alternative financing means instead. Would the proposal to authorize additional common stock “involve” the acquisition for purposes of Note A of Schedule 14A?
Answer: No. Raising proceeds through a sale of common stock is not an integral part of the acquisition transaction because at the time the acquisition consideration is payable, the registrant has other means of fully financing the acquisition. The proposal would therefore not involve the acquisition and Note A would not apply. By contrast, if the cash proceeds from the public offering are expected to be used to pay any material portion of the consideration for the acquisition, then Note A would apply. [May 11, 2018]
Question 161.03: If a registrant is required to disclose the New Plan Benefits Table called for under Item 10(a)(2) of Schedule 14A, should it list in the table all of the individuals and groups for which award and benefit information is required, even if the amount to be reported is “0”?
Answer: Yes. Alternatively, the registrant can choose to identify any individual or group for which the award and benefit information to be reported is “0” through narrative disclosure that accompanies the New Plan Benefits Table. [May 11, 2018]
Question 163.01: Does a proxy statement seeking security holder approval for the elimination of preemptive rights from a security involve a modification of that security for purposes of Item 12 of Schedule 14A?
Answer: Yes. Accordingly, financial and other information would be required in the proxy statement to the extent required by Item13 of Schedule 14A. [May 11, 2018]
Of course, I can remember – pre-Internet – when it was hard to get a copy of the telephone interps. It was originally drafted to be an internal resource for Corp Fin. Some law firms obtained a copy – when Corp Fin Staffers left the Division or perhaps through a FOIA request – but it wasn’t widely available (or even known) before the late ’90s when it was posted on the SEC’s site…
The Latest Reg Flex Agenda: A Few New Items
Here’s some news from this Ropes & Gray memo written by Keith Higgins:
The Spring 2018 unified regulatory agenda – the so-called “Reg Flex” agenda – came out on May 9th (current / long-term). Although most of the items on the Corporation Finance agenda remain the same, there were a few new items added to the list that bear mention.
Added to the “proposed rule stage” was a rulemaking on “Business, Financial and Management Disclosure Required by Regulation S-K,” which previously had been on the long-term actions agenda. Other than to say that the proposal would be to “modernize” the disclosure requirements, the agenda doesn’t provide any insight into the areas that might be covered. This topic is a continuation of the Division’s Disclosure Effectiveness initiative and suggests that change may be in the offing that goes beyond the modest proposals that were included in the proposed rulemaking to implement the FAST Act report.
Also at the proposed rule stage is a rulemaking on “Filing Fee Processing.” The description of this project suggests that the Division will propose a rule to make the fee-related information on various Commission filings structured data. Doing so should allow the Commission to better track filing fees, particularly when they are transferred in connection with unused fees in Securities Act registrations. It is unlikely that any substantive changes will come out of this project.
The third new item on the list is a topic that Director Bill Hinman hinted at in his recent appearance before a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee – “Extending the Testing the Waters Provisions to Non-Emerging Growth Companies.” Testing the waters, which allows emerging growth companies to have discussions about an offering with qualified institutional buyers and institutional accredited investors, has been an increasingly popular provision of the JOBS Act. It makes every bit of sense to extend this concept to all companies that might be interested in undertaking a registered securities offering. And given the sophisticated audience with whom these discussions may be had, there would be no adverse impact on investor protection.
Added to the “final rule stage” list is the proposal on “Disclosure of Hedging by Employees, Officers and Directors.” This rulemaking, which was initially proposed in February 2015 to implement Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act, had been on the long-term list last fall. It is interesting that the Chairman has chosen to add this rulemaking to the list. On the one hand, it is a relatively innocuous proposal that does not call for any burdensome level of disclosure. On the other hand, however, because the proxy advisory firms and institutional investors have taken an interest in hedging by insiders, many companies have already made voluntary disclosure of their hedging policies as a matter of good corporate governance. As a result, adoption of the rule is unlikely to have any meaningful impact, although it will allow the Commission to check this one off the Dodd-Frank mandate list.
– Broc Romanek