Monday, July 2, 2018

A Robin Hood Scenario under U.S. Insider Trading Law . . . ?!

RobinHood

What would the world look like if a public company officer or director, recognizing the value of material nonpublic firm information in his possession and intending to benefit people of limited means, gave this valuable information to those less fortunate without the knowledge or consent of the firm and without any expectation of benefit in return? How, if at all, do we desire to regulate that behavior? The officer or director apparently would be in breach of his or her fiduciary duty absent a valid, binding, and enforceable agreement to the contrary. Does that conduct also, however, violate U.S. federal insider trading rules? Should it? This article, a relatively short piece that I wrote for a "virtual symposium" issue of the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy, offers answers to those questions.

Other symposium authors with insider trading pieces in this volume include:

John Anderson 
Steve Bainbridge
Frank Gevurtz
Zach Gubler
Peter Henning
Roberta Karmel
and
Yesha Yadav

Great reading on this topic, all around.  As we await the next insider trading regulation volley after Salman v. United States, this collection of essays and articles fills a nice gap.  Although the issue is not yet posted to the journal's website, it soon should be.  In the mean time, here is a photo of the relevant page from the table of contents:

WashU(ToC)

(Sorry for the faint image and the shadows! I took this in my office; no natural light was available, if you know what I mean . . . .)

Enjoy!

July 2, 2018 in Joan Heminway, Law Reviews, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Private Ordering and Dual Class Share Structures in IPOs (and Beyond)

Bernie Sharfman's paper, A Private Ordering Defense of a Company's Right to Use Dual Class Share Structures in IPOs, was just published, and I think he has a point. In fact, as I read his argument, I think it is consistent with arguments I have made about the difference between restrictions or unconventional terms or practices that exist at purchase versus such changes that are added after one becomes a member or shareholder.  Here's the abstract: 

The shareholder empowerment movement (movement) has renewed its effort to eliminate, restrict or at the very least discourage the use of dual class share structures in initial public offerings (IPOs). This renewed effort was triggered by the recent Snap Inc. IPO that utilized non-voting stock. Such advocacy, if successful, would not be trivial, as many of our most valuable and dynamic companies, including Alphabet (Google) and Facebook, have gone public by offering shares with unequal voting rights.

Unless there are significant sunset provisions, a dual class share structure allows insiders to maintain voting control over a company even when, over time, there is both an ebbing of superior leadership skills and a significant decline in the insiders’ ownership of the company’s common stock. Yet, investors are willing to take that risk even to the point of investing in dual class shares where the shares have no voting rights and barely any sunset provisions, such as in the recent Snap Inc. IPO. Why they are willing to do so is a result of the wealth maximizing efficiency that results from the private ordering of corporate governance arrangements and the understanding that agency costs are not the only costs of governance that need to be minimized.

In this essay, Zohar Goshen and Richard Squire’s newly proposed “principal-cost theory,” “each firm’s optimal governance structure minimizes the sum of principal costs, produced when investors exercise control, and agent costs, produced when managers exercise control,” is used to argue that the use of dual class shares in IPOs is a value enhancing result of private ordering, making the movement’s renewed advocacy unwarranted.

The recommended citation is Bernard S. Sharfman, A Private Ordering Defense of a Company's Right to Use Dual Class Share Structures in IPOs, 63 Vill. L. Rev. 1 (2018).

I find his argument compelling, as I lean toward allowing contracting parties to enter into agreements as they so choose. I find this especially compelling at start-up or the IPO stage.  I might take a more skeptical view of changes made after start-up. That is, if dual-class shares are voted created after an IPO by the majority insiders, there is a stronger bait-and-switch argument. Even in that case, if the ability to create dual-class shares by majority vote was allowed by the charter/bylaws, it might be reasonable to allow such a change, but I also see a self-dealing argument to do such a thing post-IPO. At the outset, though, if insiders make clear that, to the extent that a dual-class share structure is self-dealing, the offer to potential purchasers is, essentially, "if you want in on this company, these are our terms." I can work with that. 

This is consistent with my view of other types of disclosure. For example, in my post: Embracing Freedom of Contract in the LLC: Linking the Lack of Duty of Loyalty to a Duty of Disclosure, I discussed the ability to waive the duty of loyalty in Delaware LLCs:

At formation . . . those creating an LLC would be allowed to do whatever they want to set their fiduciary duties, up to and including eliminating the consequences for breaches of the duty of loyalty.  This is part of the bargain, and any member who does not agree to the terms need not become a member.  Any member who joins the LLC after formation is then on notice (perhaps even with an affirmative disclosure requirement) that the duty of loyalty has been modified or eliminated.

It was my view, and remains my view, that there some concerns about such changes after one becomes a member that warrant either restrictions or at least some level of clear disclosures of the possibility of such a change after the fact, though even in that case, perhaps self-dealing protections in the form of the obligations of good faith and fair dealing would be sufficient. 

Similarly, in my 2010 post, Philanthropy as a Business Model: Comparing Ford to craigslist, I explained: 

I see the problem for Henry Ford to say, in essence, that his shareholders should be happy with what they get and that workers and others are more his important to him than the shareholders. However, it would have been quite another thing for Ford to say, “I, along with my board, run this company the way I always have: with an eye toward long-term growth and stability. That means we reinvest many of our profits and take a cautious approach to dividends because the health of the company comes first. It is our belief that is in the best interest of Ford and of Ford’s shareholders.”

For Ford, there seemed to be something of a change in the business model (and how the business was operated with regard to dividends) once the Dodge Brothers started thinking about competing. All of a sudden, Ford became concerned about community first. For craigslist, at least with regard to the concept of serving the community, the company changed nothing. And, in fact, it seems apparent that craiglist’s view of community is one reason, if not the reason, it still has its “perch atop the pile.”

Thus, while it is true craigslist never needed to accept eBay’s money, eBay also knew exactly how craigslist was operated when they invested. If they wanted to ensure they could change that, it seems to me they should have made sure they bought a majority share.  

I understand some of the concern about dual-class shares and other mechanisms that facilitate insider control, but as long as the structure of the company is clear when the buyer is making the purchase decision, I'm okay with letting the market decide whether the structure is acceptable.  

June 12, 2018 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Spotify IPO This Week May Upend How Startups Raise Capital: Guest Post

This timely post comes to us from Jeremy R. McClane, Associate Professor of Law and Cornelius J. Scanlon Research Scholar at the University of Connecticut School of Law.  Jeremy can be reached at jeremy.mcclane@uconn.edu
__________________________________________________

Spotify, the Swedish music streaming company known for disrupting the music market might do the same thing this week to the equity capital markets. On April 3, Spotify plans to go public but in an unusual way. Instead of issuing new stock and enlisting an underwriter to build a book of orders and provide liquidity, Spotify plans to cut out the middleman and list stock held by existing shareholders directly on the New York Stock Exchange.

This will be an interesting experiment that will test some prevailing assumptions that about how firms must raise capital from the public.

The Importance of Bookbuilding. First, we will see just how important bookbuilding is to ensuring a successful IPO. When most companies go public, they hire an underwriter to market the shares in what is known as a “firm commitment” underwriting. The investment banks commit to finding buyers for all of the shares, or purchasing any unsold shares themselves if they cannot find buyers (an occurrence which never happens in practice). The process involves visiting institutional investors and building a book of orders, which are then used to gauge demand and set a price at which to float the stock. The benefit of this process is risk management – the issuing company and its underwriters try to ensure that the offering will be a success (and the price won’t plummet or experience volatile ups and downs) by setting a price at a level that they know market demand will bear, and ensuring that there are orders for all of the shares even before they are sold into the market.

Without underwriters or bookbuilding, Spotify is taking a risk that its share price will be set at the wrong level and become unstable. In Spotify’s case, however there is already relatively active trading of shares in private transactions, which gives the company some indication of what the right price should be. Nonetheless, that indication of price is volatile, in part because the securities laws limit the market for its shares by restricting the number of pre-IPO shareholders to 2,000, at least in the US. In 2017 for example, the price of Spotify’s shares traded in private transactions ranging from $37.50 to $125.00, according to the company’s Form F-1 registration statement.

Continue reading

April 2, 2018 in Corporate Finance, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Horton on Pre-Securities Act Prospectuses

Brent Horton of Fordham University's Gabelli School of Business recently posted his American Business Law Journal article on pre-Securities Act prospectuses.

For interested readers, the abstract is below and the article can be downloaded here.

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Some legal scholars—skeptics—question the conventional wisdom that corporations failed to provide adequate information to prospective investors before the passage of the Securities Act of 1933 (Securities Act). These skeptics argue that the Securities Act’s disclosure requirements were largely unnecessary. For example, Paul G. Mahoney in his 2015 book, Wasting A Crisis: Why Securities Regulation Fails, relied on the fact that the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) imposed disclosure requirements in the 1920s to conclude that stories about poor pre-Act disclosure are “demonstrably wrong”. (Likewise, Roberta Romano argued in Empowering Investors that “there is little tangible proof” that disclosure was inadequate pre-Securities Act.) 

This Article sets out to determine who is correct, those that accept the conventional wisdom that pre-Securities Act disclosure was inadequate, or the skeptics?

The Author examined twenty-five stock prospectuses (the key piece of disclosure provided to prospective investors) that predate the Securities Act. This primary-source documentation strongly suggests that—contrary to the assertions of skeptics—pre-Act prospectuses did fail to provide potential investors with financial statements, as well as information about capitalization and voting rights, and executive compensation.

March 26, 2018 in Business School, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Do the Benefits of Regulation Outweigh the Costs?

Matt Kelly of Radical Compliance has posted on the costs and benefits of regulation. His post is timely considering this week's rollback of certain Dodd-Frank banking provisions by the Senate. Among other things, Kelly notes that according to a draft OMB report, "across 133 major rules, the average annualized cost (in 2015 dollars) was $92.8 billion, average annualized benefit $554.8 billion. Benefits were six times larger than costs." He further writes, with some skepticism, that the OMB is seeking comment from "peer reviewers with expertise... in regulatory policy" on its cost-benefit analysis as it finalizes its report. 

He also cited GW public policy professors who looked at over two hundred major rules adopted between 2007-2010 and found that "The design of the rulemaking process can both increase the pace with which rules are promulgated and reduce the level of detail in which they are presented, but only when care is taken to ensure the individuals intimately involved have greater breadth – relative to depth – in the competencies they bring to the endeavor." As Kelly, observed, " Teams with more “breadth of competencies” (one subject matter expert, one lawyer, one economic analyst, one regulatory affairs specialist, and so forth) tended to write rules more quickly and keep them simpler. In contrast, teams with depth of competency (a whole bunch of lawyers, or policy analysts, or subject matter experts) tended to take more time and, as the authors wonderfully phrased it, “elongated the resulting rules.”'

Although Kelly looks at these issues through the lens of a compliance expert, his post is worth a read as Congress and the SEC look at regulatory reform. He correctly focuses on the need to look at the quality rather than the quantity of regulation.

March 16, 2018 in Compliance, Corporations, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Martha and Carl: Untying U.S. Insider Trading's Gordian Knot

As I read recent news reports (starting a bit over a week ago and exemplified by stories here, here, here, and here--with the original story featured here) about Carl Icahn's well-timed sale of Manitowoc Company, Inc. stock, I could not help but associate the Icahn/Manitowoc intrigue with the Stewart/ImClone affair from back in the early days of the new millennium--more than 15 years ago.  As many of you know, I spent a fair bit of time researching and writing on Martha Stewart's legal troubles relating to her December 2001 sale of ImClone Systems, Inc. stock.  Eventually, I coauthored and edited a law teaching text focusing on some of the key issues.  A bit of my Martha Stewart work is featured in that book; much of the rest can be found on my SSRN author page.  For those who may not recall or know about the Stewart/ImClone matter, the SEC's press release relating to its insider trading enforcement action against Stewart is here, and it supplies some relevant background.  (Btw, ImClone apparently is now a privately held subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company organized as an LLC.)

In reading about Icahn's Manitowoc stock sale, my thoughts drifted back to Stewart's ImClone stock sale because of salient parallels in the early public revelations. Just as Icahn had personal and professional connections with U.S. government officials who were aware of material nonpublic information regarding the later-announced imposition of steel tariffs, Martha Stewart had personal and professional connections with at least one member of ImClone management who was aware of impending negative news from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding ImClone's flagship product.  We know from the law itself and Stewart/ImClone fiasco not to jump to conclusions about insider trading liability from such scant facts.  Stewart's insider trading case ended up being settled.  (No, that's not why she went to jail . . . .)  And I have argued in a book chapter (Chapter 4 of this book) that the facts associated with Stewart's stock sale may well have revealed that she did not violate U.S. insider trading prohibitions under Section 10(b) of, and Rule 10b-5 under, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.

The Supreme Court's decisions in Dirks v. SEC and Salman v. United States advise us that a tippee trading while in possession of material nonpublic information only violates U.S. insider trading prohibitions under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 if:

  • disclosure of the material nonpublic information in the tippee's possession breached a duty of trust and confidence because it was shared (directly or indirectly) with the tippee improperly--typically (although perhaps not always--as I note and argue in a forthcoming essay) because the duty-bearing tipper benefitted in some way from disclosure of the information; and
  • the tippee knew or should have known that the tipper breached his or her duty of trust and confidence.

See, e.g., Dirks v. SEC, 463 U.S. 646, 660 (1983).  

Thus, there is much more to tease out in terms of the facts of the Icahn/Manitowoc scenario before we can even begin to assert potential insider trading liability.  Among the unanswered questions:

  • what Icahn knew and when he knew it;
  • whether any information disclosed to Icahn was material and nonpublic;
  • who disclosed the information to Icahn and whether anyone directly or indirectly making disclosures to him had a fiduciary or fiduciary-like duty of trust and confidence;
  • whether any disclosures directly or indirectly made to Icahn were inappropriate and, therefore, breached the tipper's fiduciary or fiduciary-like duty of trust and confidence; and
  • whether Icahn knew or should have known that the information he received was disclosed in breach of a fiduciary or fiduciary-like duty of trust and confidence.  

Icahn denies having any information about the Trump administration's imposition of tariffs on the steel industry.  (See, e.g.here.)  And the nature of the duties of trust and confidence owed by government officials is somewhat contended (although Donna Nagy's work in this area holds great sway with me).  Regardless, it is simply too soon to tell whether Icahn has any U.S. insider trading liability exposure based on current news reports.  I assume ongoing inquiries will result in more facts being adduced and made public.  This post may serve as a guide for the digestion of those additoonal facts as they are revealed.  In the mean time, feel free to leave your observations and questions in the comments.

March 12, 2018 in Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Professional Responsibility in an Age of Alternative Entities, Alternative Finance, and Alternative Facts

Like my fellow editors here at the BLPB, I enjoyed the first Business Law Prof Blog conference hosted by The University of Tennessee College of Law back in the fall.  They have begun to post their recently published work presented at that event over the past few weeks.  See, e.g., here and here (one of several newly posted Padfield pieces) and here. I am adding mine to the pile: Professional Responsibility in an Age of Alternative Entities, Alternative Finance, and Alternative Facts.  The SSRN abstract reads as follows:

Business lawyers in the United States find little in the way of robust, tailored guidance in most applicable bodies of rules governing their professional conduct. The relative lack of professional responsibility and ethics guidance for these lawyers is particularly troubling in light of two formidable challenges in business law: legal change and complexity. Change and complexity arise from exciting developments in the industry that invite—even entice—the participation of business lawyers.

This essay offers current examples from three different areas of business law practice that involve change and complexity. They are labeled: “Alternative Entities,” “Alternative Finance,” and “Alternative Facts.” Each area is described, together with significant attendant professional responsibility and ethics challenges. The essay concludes by offering general prescriptions for addressing these and other professional responsibility and ethics challenges faced by business lawyers in an age of legal change and complexity.

I do not often write on professional responsibility issues.  However, I do feel an obligation every once in a while to add to the literature in that area addressing issues arising in transactional business law.  In essence, it's service through scholarship.  

I hope you read the essay and, if you do, I hope you enjoy it.  I also can recommend the commentary on it published by my UT Law faculty colleague George Kuney and my student Claire Tuley.  Both comments will be available electronically in the coming months.  I will try to remember to post links . . . .

February 26, 2018 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Crowdfunding, Ethics, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Securities Regulation, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 23, 2018

How 18 Words from A Kardashian Cost a Company Over A Billion Dollars

I love the Kardashians. I don't watch the reality show, but I do keep up with them because I use them in hypotheticals in class and in exams for entity selection questions. The students roll their eyes, but invariably most of them admit to knowing everything about them. When the students can relate to the topic, it makes my job easier. That's why I used the SNAP IPO last year as our case study on basic securities law. Every year I pick a "hot" offering to go through some of the key principles and documents, and Snap was the logical choice because the vast majority of the students love(d) the Snapchat app. The company explained as its first risk factor "... the majority of our users are 18-34 years old. This demographic may be less brand loyal and more likely to follow trends than other demographics. These factors may lead users to switch to another product, which would negatively affect our user retention, growth, and engagement." I used myself as an example to explain that risk factor in class. I have over 100 apps on my smartphone, and I have a son in the target demographic, but I  never open Snapchat unless my six-year-old goddaughter sends me something. I just don't get the appeal even though millions of celebrities and even mainline companies use it for marketing. My students were aghast when I told them that I wouldn't invest in any stock that depended on the vagaries of their ever-changing taste. 

Enter Kylie Kardashian. She's the youngest Kardashian (20 years old), is worth at least $50 million, runs a cosmetics empire on track to earn a billion dollars, has 95 million followers on Instagram, and has 24 million followers on Twitter.

Kylie

After she offhandedly tweeted that she doesn't really open Snapchat anymore yesterday, Snap lost $1.3 billion (6%) in value. This plunge added to an already bad week for Snap after Citi issued a sell rating and the company confirmed to 1.2 million change.org petition signers that its new redesign was here to stay. But it was Kylie's tweet that caused the real damage. Perhaps one of Kylie's lawyers or business managers alerted her to the fallout because she later tweeted out, "still love you tho snap... my first love." Kylie probably forgot how much power she really has. When she released a video about her pregnancy and childbirth, 24 million people watched in less than 24 hours because she had refused to allow any of her followers to see pictures of her belly. She knows marketing. 

Meanwhile, after seeing Kylie's first tweet, cosmetics competitor Maybelline went on Twitter to ask its users if it should stay on Snapchat, noting that its Snapchat views had dropped dramatically. The company later deleted the tweet, but users had already voted 81% to 19% to leave on the Twitter poll.

Snap appears determined to stick to its unpopular redesign, and its CEO received a $637 million bonus last year after the IPO. Perhaps the CEO should use some of that money to pay for a new Kylie tweet. In 2016, when Kylie earned only $18 million, 20% of that haul came from social media endorsements. It looks like the President isn't the only one who can move markets with a tweet. 

February 23, 2018 in Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Marcia Narine Weldon, Marketing, Securities Regulation, Teaching, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Corporate Governance, Compliance, Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management in the Trump/Pence Era

This may be obsolete by the time you read this post, but here are my thoughts on Corporate Governance, Compliance, Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management in the Trump/Pence Era. Thank you, Joan Heminway and the wonderful law review editors of Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law. The abstract is below:

With Republicans controlling Congress, a Republican CEO as President, a “czar” appointed to oversee deregulation, and billionaires leading key Cabinet posts, corporate America had reason for optimism following President Trump’s unexpected election in 2016. However, the first year of the Trump Administration has not yielded the kinds of results that many business people had originally anticipated. This Essay will thus outline how general counsel, boards, compliance officers, and institutional investors should think about risk during this increasingly volatile administration. 

Specifically, I will discuss key corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility issues facing U.S. public companies, although some of the remarks will also apply to the smaller companies that serve as their vendors, suppliers, and customers. In Part I, I will discuss the importance of enterprise risk management and some of the prevailing standards that govern it. In Part II, I will focus on the changing role of counsel and compliance officers as risk managers and will discuss recent surveys on the key risk factors that companies face under any political administration, but particularly under President Trump. Part III will outline some of the substantive issues related to compliance, specifically the enforcement priorities of various regulatory agencies. Part IV will discuss an issue that may pose a dilemma for companies under Trump— environmental issues, and specifically shareholder proposals and climate change disclosures in light of the conflict between the current EPA’s position regarding climate change, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and corporate commitments to sustainability. Part V will conclude by posing questions and proposing recommendations using the COSO ERM framework and adopting a stakeholder rather than a shareholder maximization perspective. I submit that companies that choose to pull back on CSR or sustainability programs in response to the President’s purported pro-business agenda will actually hurt both shareholders and stakeholders.

February 16, 2018 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Teaching Disclosure Law to 3Ls - Sexual Misconduct and Risk Management

At The University of Tennessee College of Law, we have a four-credit-hour, four-module course called Representing Enterprises that is one of three capstone course offerings in our Concentration in Business Transactions.  In Representing Enterprises, each course module focuses on a different aspect of transactional business law, often a specific transaction or task.  We try to both ask the enrolled students to apply law that they have learned in other courses (doctrinal and experiential) and also introduce the students to applied practice in areas of law to which they have not or may not yet have been exposed.

I have been teaching the first module over the past few weeks.  We finish up tomorrow.  My module focuses on disclosure regulation.  I have five class meetings, two hours for each meeting, to cover this topic.  Each class engages students with a hypothetical that raises disclosure questions.

The first class focused on general rule identification regarding the applicable laws governing disclosure in connection with the purchase of limited liability membership interests.  Specifically, our client had bought out his fellow members of a member-managed Tennessee limited liability company at a nominal price and without giving them full information about a reality television opportunity our client had with his wife.  As things turned out, the television show was picked up and popularized the brand name of the limited liability company, making the husband and wife, over the next few years, significant income.  Now, of course, the former limited liability company members are contending that, had they known the complete facts, they would have demanded a higher price for their limited liability membership interests from our client.  The students did some nice, creative thinking here in identifying applicable legal rules, pointing to Tennessee limited liability company fiduciary duty law (although they missed our closely held limited liability company doctrine), federal and state securities law, business torts, potential contract law issues, etc.

Subsequent class meetings broke disclosure law down into component pieces commonly seen in a business transactional law context.  The second class centered on work for another client, a Delaware corporation, concerning fiduciary duty disclosure issues under Delaware corporate law in connection with a merger.  The third class focused on a client's obligations under mandatory disclosure and antifraud elements of the federal securities laws.  The fourth class involved a hypothetical that raises specialized disclosure regulation questions for a talent agency that is an indirect subsidiary of a New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE") listed company.  I may post later about the fifth class meeting, which will take place tomorrow.  It involves Uber's recently publicized data security breach and related disclosure matters.

I want to focus today on the fourth class meeting.  In that class, one of the things the students had to wrestle with was determining how the parent's status and regulation as a NYSE-listed firm might impact or be impacted by disclosure compliance at the subsidiary level.  The NYSE Listed Company Manual provides, e.g., 

202.03 Dealing with Rumors or Unusual Market Activity

The market activity of a company's securities should be closely watched at a time when consideration is being given to significant corporate matters. If rumors or unusual market activity indicate that information on impending developments has leaked out, a frank and explicit announcement is clearly required. If rumors are in fact false or inaccurate, they should be promptly denied or clarified. A statement to the effect that the company knows of no corporate developments to account for the unusual market activity can have a salutary effect. It is obvious that if such a public statement is contemplated, management should be checked prior to any public comment so as to avoid any embarrassment or potential criticism. If rumors are correct or there are developments, an immediate candid statement to the public as to the state of negotiations or of development of corporate plans in the rumored area must be made directly and openly. Such statements are essential despite the business inconvenience which may be caused and even though the matter may not as yet have been presented to the company's Board of Directors for consideration. . . .

Having identified this and other related rules, we posited situations in which operations or activities at the subsidiary level might require disclosure by the parent company under the NYSE listed company rules.  We dug in most specifically on what might lead to market rumors or cause unusual market activity.  Having just discussed in the prior class meeting disclosure standards under the federal securities laws, the students understood that materiality was a distinct, separate disclosure-triggering standard and that the parent firm might have different--even conflicting--disclosure obligations under the federal securities laws and the NYSE listed company rules.  With these observations as a foundation, I asked the students what types of conduct or information at the subsidiary level might generate market rumors or unusual market activity.

Given that the firm was a talent agency, I was not surprised when one of the first answers referenced the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.  The disparate pay issues relating to the Mark Wahlberg/Michelle Williams affair that I wrote about in a different context a few weeks ago (w/r/t which the same talent agency advised both actors) also came up.  In each case we tried to envision what the subsidiary should be disclosing to the parent, and when, to enable the parent to satisfy its NYSE obligations.  Among other things, we discussed the financial and non-financial impacts of the facts we were generating on the trading price and volume of parent's stock.  It was a great brainstorming session, imv.  By the end of class, we could see that a communication-oriented compliance plan for the subsidiary seemed to be in order.

Interestingly, the Steve Wynn story then broke the next day.  I was pleased in the aftermath to see this article in The New York Times that validated the nature of our discussion and the complexity involved in assessing market risk in these kinds of situations.

The question, though, is what specifically investors are now pricing in. One risk is that regulators make it difficult for Wynn Resorts to expand. The Massachusetts gaming watchdog said on Friday that it would review plans for a new casino in Boston.

The threat of parting ways with an influential executive, until now a reasonable steward of shareholder value, is also potent. Over the past decade, Wynn Resorts’ average 10.5 percent shareholder return is a shade higher than that of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index — despite a slump in 2014 after China toughened rules on holiday gamblers.

Investors’ strong response to the reports is now the problem of Wynn Resorts’ 10-person board, which contains just one woman. Others surely will learn from how the Wynn board responds.

My students did identify regulatory risk (and the rest of the class was spent talking about California and New York laws regulating talent agencies, which are regulated and require licensure) and the risks associated with an iconic founder or chief executive at the heart of a controversy.  I love it when current events dovetail with classroom activities!

Have any of you taught a course or course component like this before?  I would be interested to know.  I found it hard to teach the securities regulation issues to the students who were not interested in securities regulation work.  I tried to break the legal foundations down into relatively small policy and doctrinal chunks, and I told them that every business lawyer needs to know a little bit about securities regulation, whether advising or litigating in connection with business transactions.  But those who had not taken and were not taking our Securities Regulation course (a majority of the class) seemed to mentally almost shut down.  Some of that may be 3L-itis.  But I am rethinking how to engage students more happily with this part of the course.  I will be asking the students for help on this.  But any thoughts you have from your own experience (or otherwise) would be a great help to me as I think this through.

January 29, 2018 in Compliance, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Back to Reality and (Mostly) Staying the Course on Shareholder Proposals

The new semester is upon us, and AALS (as it tends to) ran right into the new semester.  Joan Heminway provided a nice overview of some of her activities, including her recognition as an outstanding mentor by the Section on Business Associations, and it was a pleasure to see her recognized for her tireless and consistent efforts to make all of us better.  Congratulations, Joan, and thank you! 

I, too, had a busy conference, with most of it condensed to Friday and Saturday. (As a side note, it was pretty great to run along the water in 55-65 degree weather. As much as I love New York and appreciate San Francisco and DC, I'd be quite content with AALS moving between San Diego and New Orleans.)  I spoke on a panel with my co-bloggers, as Joan noted, about shareholder proposals, and I spoke on a panel about the green economy and sustainability, which was also fun.  It's nice when I am able to spend some time with a focus on my two main areas of research. 

As to our panel on shareholder proposals, I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts.  First, as I have explained in the past, I am not anti-activist investor, even though I often think their proposals are wrong headed. I think shareholder (and hedge fund) activist can add value, even when they are wrong, as long as directors continue to exercise their judgment and lead the firm appropriately.   

Second, although I tend to have a bias for staying the course and leaving many laws and regulations alone, I am open to some changes for shareholder proposals. The value of the current system (especially one that has been in place for some time) is that everyone knows the rules, which means there is some level of efficiency for all the players.  

That said, the threshold for shareholder proposals has been in places since the 1950s.  The Financial Choice Act looks to move the proxy threshold from $2,000 and one-year holdings to a 1%/three-year hurdle.  That is a pretty big move. Updating the $2,000 threshold from 1960 would mean raising the threshold to around $16,000, so a move to what can be millions may be too much.  But $16,000 (basically updating for inflation), would make some sense to me, too.  Anyway, just a few simple thoughts to start the year. Hope your classes are starting well.  

January 9, 2018 in Corporations, Financial Markets, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, January 8, 2018

AALS 2018 Wrap-Up

AALS2018(SHProposalPanel)

Last week, I had the privilege of attending and participating in the 2018 annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (#aals2018).  I saw many of you there.  It was a full four days for me.  The conference concluded on Saturday with the program captured in the photo above--four of us BLPB co-bloggers (Stefan, me, Josh, and Ann) jawing about shareholder proposals--as among ourselves and with our engaged audience members (who provided excellent questions and insights).  Thanks to Stefan for organizing the session and inspiring our work with his article, The Inclusive Capitalism Shareholder Proposal.  I learned a lot in preparing for and participating in this part of the program.

Earlier that day, BLPB co-blogger Anne Tucker and I co-moderated (really, Anne did the lion's share of the work) a discussion group entitled "A New Era for Business Regulation?" on current and future regulatory and de-regulatory initiatives.  In some part, this session stemmed from posts that Anne and I wrote for the BLPB here, here, and here.  I earlier posted a call for participation in this session.  The conversation was wide-ranging and fascinating.  I took notes for two essays I am writing this year.  A photo is included below.  Regrettably, it does not capture everyone.  But you get the idea . . . .

  AALS2018(Regulation)
In between, I had the honor of introducing Tamar Frankel, this year's recipient of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award, at the Section for Women in Legal Education luncheon.  Unfortunately, the Boston storm activity conspired to keep Tamar at home.  But she did deliver remarks by video.  A photo (props to Hari Osofsky for getting this shot--I hope she doesn't mind me using it here) of Tamar's video remarks is included below.

Tamar(Video-HariO)

Tamar has been a great mentor to me and so many others.  She plans to continue writing after her retirement at the end of the semester.  I plan to post more on her at a later time.

On Friday, I was recognized by the Section on Business Associations for my mentoring activities.  On Thursday, I had the opportunity to comment (with Jeff Schwartz) on Summer Kim's draft paper on South Korean private equity fund regulation.  And on Wednesday, I started the conference with a discussion group entitled "What is Fraud Anyway?," co-moderated by John Anderson and David Kwok.  My short paper for that discussion group focused on the importance of remembering the requirement of manipulative or deceptive conduct if/as we continue to regulate securities fraud in major part under Section 10(b) of, and Rule 10b-5 under, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.

That summary does not, of course, include the sessions at which I was merely in the audience.  Many of the business law sessions were on Friday and Saturday.  They were all quite good.  But I already am likely overstaying my welcome for the day.  Stay tuned here for any BLPB-reated sessions for next year's conference.  And in between, there's Law and Society, National Business Law Scholars, and SEALS, all of which will have robust business law programs.

Good luck in starting the new semester.  Some of you, I know, are already back in the classroom.  I will be Wednesday morning.  I know it will be a busy 14 weeks of teaching!

January 8, 2018 in Ann Lipton, Anne Tucker, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Resales of Crowdfunded Equity: A Market to Watch

The Oklahoma Law Review recently published an article I wrote for a symposium the law review sponsored last year at The University of Oklahoma College of Law.  The symposium, “Confronting New Market Realities: Implications for Stockholder Rights to Vote, Sell, and Sue,” featured a variety of presentations from some really exciting teacher-scholars, some of which resulted in formal published pieces.  The index for the related volume of the Oklahoma Law Review can be found here.  I commend these articles to you.

The abstract for my article, "Selling Crowdfunded Equity: A New Frontier," follows.

This article briefly offers information and observations about federal securities law transfer restrictions imposed on holders of equity securities purchased in offerings that are exempt from federal registration under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act. The article first generally describes crowdfunding and the federal securities regulation regime governing offerings conducted through equity crowdfunding — most typically, the offer and sale of shares of common or preferred stock in a corporation over the Internet — in a transaction exempt from federal registration under the CROWDFUND Act and the related rules adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This regime includes restrictions on transferring securities acquired through equity crowdfunding. The article then offers selected comments on both (1) ways in which the transfer restrictions imposed on stock acquired in equity crowdfunding transactions may affect or relate to shareholder financial and governance rights and (2) the regulatory and transactional environments in which those shareholder rights exist and may be important.

Ultimately, the long-term potential for suitable resale markets for crowdfunded equity — whether under the CROWDFUND Act or otherwise — is likely to be important to the generation of capital for small business firms (and especially start-ups and early-stage ventures). In that context, three important areas of reference will be shareholder exit rights, public offering regulation, and responsiveness to the uncertainty, information asymmetry, and agency costs inherent in this important capital-raising context. Only after a period of experience with resales under the CROWDFUND Act will we be able to judge whether the resale restrictions under that legislation are appropriate and optimally crafted.

Those familiar with the literature in the area will note from the abstract that I employ Ron Gilson's model from "Engineering a Venture Capital Market: Lessons from the American Experience" (55 Stan. L. Rev. 1067 (2003)) in my analysis.

I know others are also working in and around this space.  I welcome their comments on the essay and related issues here and in other forums.  I also know that we all will "learn as we go" as the still-new CROWDFUND Act experiment continues.  Securities sold in the early days of effectiveness of the CROWDFUND Act (which became effective May 16, 2016) are just now broadly eligible for resale.  Stay tuned for those lessons learned from the school of "real life."

November 20, 2017 in Conferences, Corporate Finance, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Leidos - Trick, Not Treat?

The title of this post is hyperbole on some level.  But with Halloween being tomorrow, I couldn't resist the temptation to use a festive greeting to introduce today's post.  And there is a bit of a method to my titling madness . . . .

I admit that I do feel a bit tricked by the removal of the Leidos, Inc. v. Indiana Public Retirement System case (about which co-blogger Ann Lipton and I each have written--Ann most recently here and I most recently here) from the U.S. Supreme Court's calendar.  It was original scheduled to be heard a week from today.  Apparently, based on the related filings with the Court, the parties are documenting a settlement of the case.  Kevin LaCroix offers a nice summary here.  How cunning and skillful!  Just when I thought resolution of important duty-to-disclose issues in Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 litigation was at hand . . . .

Indeed, I had hoped for a treat.  What pleasure it would have given me to see this matter resolved consistent with my understanding of the law!  The issue before the Court in Leidos is somewhat personal for me (in a professional sense) for a simple reason--a reason consistent with the amicus brief I co-authored on the case.  I share that reason briefly here to further illuminate my interest in the case.

In my 15 years of practice before law teaching, I often advised public company issuers on mandatory disclosure documents--periodic filings and offering documents, most commonly.  I also counseled investment banks serving as public offering underwriters, placement agents for private securities offerings, and financial advisors in transactions.  Even in those days, I was a bit of a rule-head (self-labeled)--a technically engaged legal advisor who tried to stick to the law and regulations, determine their meaning, and implement them consistent with their meaning in practice.  I drove colleagues to distraction and boredom, on occasion, with my explanations of the appropriate interpretation of various rules, including specifically mandatory disclosure rules.  (This may be why I love the work of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, which is looking at mandatory disclosure rules in context.)  I teach my students from that same nerdy vantage point.

In advising issuers and others on mandatory disclosure (and in training junior lawyers in the firm), I always noted that facial compliance with the specific line-item disclosure requirements for a Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") form is not enough.  I advised that two additional legal constraints also govern the appropriate content of the public disclosures required to be made in those forms--constraints that required them to inquire about (among other things) missing information.  

  • First, I noted the existence of the general misstatements and omissions disclosure (gap-filler) rules under the Securities Act of 1933 or the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (as applicable in the circumstances)--Rule 408 under the 1933 Act and Rule 12b-20 under the 1934 Act.  Each of these rules provides for the disclosure of "such further material information, if any, as may be necessary to make the required statements, in the light of the circumstances under which they are made not misleading" in addition to the information expressly required to be included in the relevant disclosure document under applicable line-item disclosure rules.  
  • Second, I noted that anti-fraud law--and, in particular, Section 10(b) of, and Rule 10b-5 under, the 1934 Act--provides an even more comprehensive basis for interrogating the contents of disclosure that facially complies with line-item mandatory disclosure rules.  The overall message?  No one wants a fraud suit, and if they get one, they should be able to get out of it fast!  If a business and its principals were to be sued under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5, I wanted to ensure that the relevant disclosures were accurate and complete in all material respects.

Thus, the existence of the line-item and gap-filling disclosure rules--and the potential for fraud liability based on failed compliance with them--are, taken together, important motivators to the best possible disclosure.  In my business lawyering, I believe I used these regulatory principles to my clients' advantage.  I would hate to see lawyers lose the important leverage that potential fraud liability gives them in fostering accurate and complete disclosures, fully compliant with law.  Hence, my position on the Leidos litigation--that mandatory disclosure rules do give rise to a duty to disclose that may form the basis for a securities fraud claim under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5.  (The ultimate success of any such claim would be, of course, based on the satisfaction of the other elements of a Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 claim.)

So, no treat for me--at least not just yet.  But perhaps this post will forestall any real trickery--the trickery involved with avoiding securities fraud liability for misleading omissions to state material information expressly required to be stated under line-item mandatory disclosure rules.  For me, that is what is at stake in Leidos and in disclosure lawyering generally.  Let's see what transpires from here.

October 30, 2017 in Ann Lipton, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Blockchain-Based Token Sales, Initial Coin Offerings, and the Democratization of Public Capital Markets. Oh, My!

My UT Law colleague Jonathan Rohr has coauthored (with Aaron Wright) an important piece of scholarship on an of-the-moment topic--financial instrument offerings using distributed ledger technology.  Even more fun?  He and his co-author are interested in aspects of this topic at its intersection with the regulation of securities offerings.  Totally cool.

Here is the extended abstract.  I cannot wait to dig into this one.  Can you?  As of the time I authored this post, the article already had almost 700 downloads . . . .  Join the crowd!

+++++

Blockchain-Based Token Sales, Initial Coin Offerings, and the Democratization of Public Capital Markets

Jonathan Rohr & Aaron Wright

Best known for their role in the creation of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, blockchains are revolutionizing the way tech entrepreneurs are financing their business enterprises. In 2017 alone, over $2.2 billion has been raised through the sale of blockchain-based digital tokens in what some are calling initial coin offerings or “ICOs,” with some sales lasting mere seconds. In a token sale, organizers of a project sell digital tokens to members of the public to finance the development of future technology. An active secondary market for tokens has emerged, with tokens being bought and sold on cryptocurrency exchanges scattered across the globe, with often wild price fluctuations.

The recent explosion of token sales could mark the beginning of a broader shift in public capital markets—one similar to the shift in media distribution that started several decades ago. Blockchains drastically reduce the cost of exchanging value and enable anyone to transmit digitized assets around the globe in a highly trusted manner, stoking dreams of truly global capital markets that leverage the power of a blockchain and the Internet to facilitate capital formation.

The spectacular growth of tokens sales has caused some to argue that these sales simply serve as new tools for hucksters and unscrupulous charlatans to fleece consumers, raising the attention of regulators across the globe. A more careful analysis, however, reveals that blockchain-based tokens represent a wide variety of assets that take a variety of forms. Some are obvious investment vehicles and entitle their holders to economic rights like a share of any profits generated by the project. Others carry with them the right to use and govern the technology that is being developed with funds generated by the token sale and may represent the beginning of a new way to build and fund powerful technological platforms.

Lacking homogeneity, the status of tokens under U.S. securities laws is anything but clear. The test under which security status is assessed—the Howey test—has uncertain application to blockchain-based tokens, particularly those that entitle the holder to use a particular technological service, because they also present the possibility of making a profit by selling the token on a secondary market. Although the SEC recently issued a Report of Investigation in which it found that one type of token qualified as a security, confusion surrounds the boundaries between the types of tokens that will be deemed securities and those that will not.

Blockchain-based tokens exhibit disparate features and have characteristics that make current registration exemptions a poor fit for token sales. In addition to including requirements that do not fit squarely with blockchain-based systems, the transfer restrictions that apply to the most popular exemptions would have the perverse effect of restricting the ability of U.S. consumers to access a new generation of digital technology. The result is an uncertain regulatory environment in which token sellers do not have a sensible path to compliance.

In this Article, we argue that the SEC and Congress should provide token sellers and the exchanges that facilitate token sales with additional certainty. Specifically, we propose that the SEC provide guidance on how it will apply the Howey test to digital tokens, particularly those that mix aspects of consumption and use with the potential for a profit. We also propose that lawmakers adopt both a compliance-driven safe harbor for online exchanges that list tokens with a reasonable belief that the public sale of such tokens is not a violation of Section 5 as well as an exemption to the Section 5 registration requirement that has been tailored to digital tokens.

October 16, 2017 in Corporate Finance, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Call for Proposals: Organizing, Deploying & Regulating Capital in the U.S.

From our friend and BLPB colleague, Anne Tucker, following is nice workshop opportunity for your consideration: 

Dear Colleagues,

We (Rob Weber & Anne Tucker) are submitting a funding proposal to host a works-in-progress workshop for 4-8 scholars at Georgia State University College of Law, in Atlanta, Georgia in spring 2018 [between April 16th and May 8th].  Workshop participants will submit a 10-15 page treatment and read all participant papers prior to attending the workshop.  If our proposal is accepted, we will have funding to sponsor travel and provide meals for participants. Interested parties should email amtucker@gsu.edu on or before November 15th with a short abstract (no more than 500 words) of your proposed contribution that is responsive to the description below. Please include your name, school, and whether you will require airfare, miles reimbursement and/or hotel. We will notify interested parties in late December regarding the funding of the workshop and acceptance of proposals.  Please direct all inquiries to Rob Weber (mailto:rweber@gsu.edu) or Anne Tucker (amtucker@gsu.edu).

Call for Proposals: Organizing, Deploying & Regulating Capital in the U.S.

Our topic description is intentionally broad reflecting our different areas of focus, and hoping to draw a diverse group of participants.  Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The idea of financial intermediation: regulation of market failures, the continued relevance of the idea of financial intermediation as a framework for thinking about the financial system, and the legitimating role that the intermediation theme-frame plays in the political economy of financial regulation.
  • Examining institutional investors as a vehicle for individual investments, block shareholders in the economy, a source of efficiency or inefficiency, an evolving industry with the rise of index funds and ETFs, and targets of SEC liquidity regulations.
  • The role and regulation of private equity and hedge funds in U.S. capital markets looking at regulatory efforts, shadow banking concerns, influences in M&A trends, and other sector trends.

This workshop targets works-in-progress and is intended to jump-start your thinking and writing for the 2018 summer.  Our goal is to provide comments, direction, and connections early in the writing and research phase rather than polishing completed or nearly completed pieces.  Bring your early ideas and your next phase projects.  We ask for a 10-15 page treatment of your thesis (three weeks before the workshop) and initial ideas to facilitate feedback, collaboration, and direction from participating in the workshop. Interested parties should email amtucker@gsu.edu on or before November 15th with a short abstract (no more than 500 words) of your proposed contribution that is responsive to the description below. Please include your name, school, and whether you will require airfare, miles reimbursement and/or hotel. We will notify interested parties in late December regarding the funding of the workshop and acceptance of proposals.  Please direct all inquiries to Rob Weber (rweber@gsu.edu) or Anne Tucker (amtucker@gsu.edu).

Thank you!

Anne & Rob

October 11, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Call for Papers, Corporate Finance, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, M&A, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Do We Need Universal Proxies?

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of hearing a talk about universal proxies from Scott Hirst, Research Director of Harvard’s Program on Institutional Investors.

By way of background, last Fall under the Obama Administration, the SEC proposed a requirement for universal proxies noting:

Today’s proposal recognizes that few shareholders can dedicate the time and resources necessary to attend a company’s meeting in person and that, in the modern marketplace, most voting is done by proxy.  This proposal requires a modest change to address this reality.  As proposed, each party in a contest still would bear the costs associated with filing its own proxy statement, and with conducting its own independent solicitation.  The main difference would be in the form of the proxy card attached to the proxy statement.  Subject to certain notice, filing, form, and content requirements, today’s proposal would require each side in a contest for the first time to provide a universal proxy card listing all the candidates up for election.

The Council of Institutional Investors favors their use explaining, “"Universal" proxy cards would let shareowners vote for the nominees they wish to represent them on corporate boards. This is vitally important in proxy contests, when board seats (and in some cases, board control) are at stake. Universal proxy cards would make for a fairer, less cumbersome voting process.” 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has historically spoken out against them, arguing:

Mandating a universal ballot, also known as a universal proxy card, at all public companies would inevitably increase the frequency and ease of proxy fights. Such a development has no clear benefit to public companies, their shareholders, or other stakeholders. The SEC has historically sought to remain neutral with respect to interactions between public companies and their investors, and has always taken great care not to implement any rule that would favor one side over the other. We do not understand why the SEC would now pursue a policy that would increase the regularity of contested elections or cause greater turnover in the boardroom.

I can't speak for the Chamber, but I imagine one big concern would be whether universal proxies would provide proxy advisors such as ISS and Glass Lewis even more power than they already have with institutional investors. When I asked Hirst about this, he did not believe that the level of influence would rise significantly.

Hirst’s paper provides an empirical study that supports his contention that reform would help mitigate some of the distortions from the current system. It’s worth a read, although he acknowledges that in the current political climate, his proposal will not likely gain much traction. The abstract is below:

Contested director elections are a central feature of the corporate landscape, and underlie shareholder activism. Shareholders vote by unilateral proxies, which prevent them from “mixing and matching” among nominees from either side. The solution is universal proxies. The Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed a universal proxy rule, which has been the subject of heated debate and conflicting claims. This paper provides the first empirical analysis of universal proxies, allowing evaluation of these claims.

The paper’s analysis shows that unilateral proxies can lead to distorted proxy contest outcomes, which disenfranchise shareholders. By removing these distortions, universal proxies would improve corporate suffrage. Empirical analysis shows that distorted proxy contests are a significant problem: 11% of proxy contests at large U.S. corporations between 2001 and 2016 can be expected to have had distorted outcomes. Contrary to the claims of most commentators, removing distortions can most often be expected to favor management nominees, by a significant margin (two-thirds of distorted contests, versus one-third for dissident nominees). A universal proxy rule is therefore unlikely to lead to more proxy contests, or to greater success by special interest groups.

Given that the arguments made against a universal proxy rule are not valid, the SEC should implement proxy regulation. A rule permitting corporations to opt-out of universal proxies would be superior to the SEC’s proposed mandatory rule. If the SEC chooses not to implement a universal proxy regulation, investors could implement universal proxies through private ordering to adopt “nominee consent policies.

October 11, 2017 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Revising How to Handle Derivative Claims (or Not)

Yesterday, Professor Bainbridge posted "Is there a case for abolishing derivative litigation? He makes the case as follows: 

A radical solution would be elimination of derivative litigation. For lawyers, the idea of a wrong without a legal remedy is so counter-intuitive that it scarcely can be contemplated. Yet, derivative litigation appears to have little if any beneficial accountability effects. On the other side of the equation, derivative litigation is a high cost constraint and infringement upon the board’s authority. If making corporate law consists mainly of balancing the competing claims of accountability and authority, the balance arguably tips against derivative litigation. Note, moreover, that eliminating derivative litigation does not eliminate director accountability. Directors would remain subject to various forms of market discipline, including the important markets for corporate control and employment, proxy contests, and shareholder litigation where the challenged misconduct gives rise to a direct cause of action.

If eliminating derivative litigation seems too extreme, why not allow firms to opt out of the derivative suit process by charter amendment? Virtually all states now allow corporations to adopt charter provisions limiting director and officer liability. If corporate law consists of a set of default rules the parties generally should be free to amend, as we claim, there seems little reason not to expand the liability limitation statutes to allow corporations to opt out of derivative litigation.

I think he makes a good point.  And included in the market discipline and other measures that Bainbridge notes would remain in place to maintain director accountability, there would be the shareholder response to the market.  That is, if shareholders value derivative litigation as an option ex ante, the entity can choose to include derivative litigation at the outset or to add it later if the directors determine the lack of a derivative suit option is impacting the entity's value.  

Professor Bainbridge's post also reminded me of another option: arbitrating derivative suits.  A friend of mine made just such a proposal several years ago while we were in law school: 

There are a number of factors that make the arbitration of derivative suits desirable. First, the costs of an arbitration proceeding are usually lower than that of a judicial proceeding, due to the reduced discovery costs. By alleviating some of the concern that any D & O insurance coverage will be eaten-up by litigation costs, a corporation should have incentive to defend “frivolous” or “marginal” derivative claims more aggressively. Second, and directly related to litigation costs, attorneys' fees should be cut significantly via the use of arbitration, thus preserving a larger part of any pecuniary award that the corporation is awarded. Third, the reduced incentive of corporations to settle should discourage the initiation of “frivolous” or “marginal” derivative suits.

Andrew J. Sockol, A Natural Evolution: Compulsory Arbitration of Shareholder Derivative Suits in Publicly Traded Corporations, 77 Tul. L. Rev. 1095, 1114 (2003) (footnote omitted). 

Given the usually modest benefit of derivative suits, early settlement of meritorious suits, and the ever-present risk of strike suits, these alternatives are well worth considering.  

October 4, 2017 in ADR, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Litigation, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Public Company With Mandatory Disclosure Obligations Has A Duty To Disclose

Last Thursday, Jay Brown filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court coauthored by him, me, Jim Cox, and Lyman Johnson.  The brief was filed in Leidos, Inc., fka SAIC, Inc., Petitioners, v. Indiana Public Retirement System, Indiana State Teachers’ Retirement Fund, and Indiana Public Employees’ Retirement Fund, an omission case brought under Section 10(b) of and Rule 10b-5 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.   An abstract of the brief follows.

This Amicus Brief was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of nearly 50 law and business faculty in the United States and Canada who have a common interest in ensuring a proper interpretation of the statutory securities regulation framework put in place by the U.S. Congress. Specifically, all amici agree that Item 303 of the Securities and Exchange Commission's Regulation S-K creates a duty to disclose for purposes of Rule 10b-5(b) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

The Court’s affirmation of a duty to disclose would have little effect on existing practice. Under the current state of the law, investors can and do bring fraud claims for nondisclosure of required information by public companies. Thus, affirming the existence of a duty to disclose will not significantly alter existing practices or create a new avenue for litigants that will lead to “massive liability” or widespread enforcement of “technical reporting violations.”

At the same time, the failure to find a duty to disclose in these circumstances will hinder enforcement of the system of mandatory reporting applicable to public companies and weaken compliance. Reversal of the lower court would reduce incentives to comply with the requirements mandated by the system of periodic reporting. Enforcement under Section 10(b) of and Rule 10b-5(b) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by investors in the case of nondisclosure will effectively be eliminated. Reversal would likewise reduce the tools available to the Securities and Exchange Commission to ensure compliance with the system of periodic reporting. In an environment of diminished enforcement, reporting companies could perceive their disclosure obligations less as a mandate than as a series of options. Required disclosure would more often become a matter of strategy, with issuers weighing the obligation to disclose against the likelihood of detection and the reduced risk of enforcement.

Under this approach, investors would not make investment decisions on the basis of “true and accurate corporate reporting. . . .” They would operate under the “predictable inference” that reports included the disclosure mandated by the rules and regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Particularly where officers certified the accuracy and completeness of the information provided in the reports, investors would have an explicit basis for the assumption. They would therefore believe that omitted transactions, uncertainties, and trends otherwise required to be disclosed had not occurred or did not exist. Trust in the integrity of the public disclosure system would decline.

The lower court correctly recognized that the mandatory disclosure requirements contained in Item 303 gave rise to a duty to disclose and that the omission of material trends and uncertainties could mislead investors. The decision below should be affirmed.

More information about the case (including the parties' briefs and all of the amicus briefs) can be found here.  The link to our brief is not yet posted there but likely will be available in the next few days.  Also, I commend to you Ann Lipton's earlier post here about the circuit split on the duty to disclose issue up for review in Leidos.  

Imv, this is a great case for discussion in a Securities Regulation course.  It involves mandatory disclosure rules, fraud liability, and class action gatekeeping.  As such, it allows for an exploration of core regulatory and enforcement tools of federal securities regulation.

September 11, 2017 in Ann Lipton, Joan Heminway, Litigation, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Inclusive Capitalism Shareholder Proposal

My latest paper, The Inclusive Capitalism Shareholder Proposal, 17 U.C. Davis Bus. L.J. 147 (2017), is now available on Westlaw. Here is the abstract:

When it comes to the long-term well being of our society, it is difficult to overstate the importance of addressing poverty and economic inequality. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty famously argued that growing economic inequality is inherent in capitalist systems because the return to capital inevitably exceeds the national growth rate. Proponents of “Inclusive Capitalism” can be understood to respond to this issue by advocating for broadening the distribution of the acquisition of capital with the earnings of capital. This paper advances the relevant discussion by explaining how shareholder proposals may be used to increase understanding of Inclusive Capitalism, and thereby further the likelihood that Inclusive Capitalism will be implemented. In addition, even if the suggested proposals are rejected, the shareholder proposal process can be expected to facilitate a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Inclusive Capitalism, as well as foster useful new lines of communication for addressing both poverty and economic inequality.

August 6, 2017 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, CSR, Financial Markets, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)