Sunday, February 16, 2020
What’s the #1 new release in Banking Law on Amazon? I’m glad you asked! It’s Professor David Zaring’s first book, The Globalized Governance of Finance (Cambridge University Press). In 2008, Zaring joined Wharton's Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department as an assistant professor. At the time, I was a PhD student in the Department and also focused on banking law. So, it was really exciting for me to have a banking law scholar join us and I’m thrilled to now have a chance to highlight his new book. My copy is on its way from Amazon, so for now, I’ll share Zaring’s description of his book and my own thoughts with BLPB readers soon!
The book pulls together work I’ve done on the regulatory networks – the Basel Committee, IOSCO, IAIS, e.g., – that have become the global taste for harmonizing financial regulation. I think the regimes, and their relative bindingness (especially Basel), are interesting in their own right, and they are also an interesting way of doing global governance, where the sine qua non is often thought to be a treaty enforced by a tribunal, a la the World Trade Organization.
But in finance, you see neither of those things, and still robust oversight that American regulators, regardless of administration, seem to embrace. Even as the Trump administration has pushed for changes in trade law, Randal Quarles of the Fed has been installed as chair of the Financial Stability Board, the network of networks that keeps everything moving. The Obama administration tried to get a Basel-like process into its trade deals, and issued an executive order encouraging agencies to harmonize regulations.
Moreover, since the financial crisis, regulators have doubled down on these networks, adding political oversight from the G-20, a middle manager in the FSB, and standardizing notice and comment rulemaking at the network level. That, I think, makes the whole scheme look increasingly like a cross-border bureaucracy. After all, American agencies make policy through notice and comment rulemaking overseen by career regulators overseen by political leaders. So too Basel, IOSCO, IAIS, and the other networks.
Friday, January 24, 2020
On January 17, I headed to the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business to be a discussant at the Huber Hurst Seminar. A great event! On the same day, Randal K. Quarles, the Vice Chair for Supervision (a position created by Dodd-Frank) and Governor of the Federal Reserve System gave a speech, Spontaneity and Order: Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Bank Supervision, at the 2020 American Bar Association Banking Committee Meeting. Legal scholars have focused scant attention on bank supervision in the past, but this is starting to change. It can be a challenging area to work in as Wharton Assistant Professor Peter Conti-Brown explains in The curse of confidential supervisory information. Indeed, confidential supervisory information is protected from disclosure with criminal penalties.
Bank regulation (which has received a bit more attention) and bank supervision, though linked concepts, are distinct. Supervision “implements the regulatory framework.” An important tension exists in banking supervision. In his speech, Quarles explains that “We have a public interest in a confidential, tailored, rapid-acting and closely informed system of bank supervision. And we have a public interest in all governmental processes being fair, predictable, efficient, and accountable. How do we square this circle?” It’s an important question. Quarles terms it “a complex and consequential issue that, for decades now, has received far too little attention from practitioners, academics, policymakers and the public.”
Quarles’ speech makes several suggestions regarding “some obvious and immediate ways that supervision can become more transparent, efficient, and effective.” To improve transparency, he makes three proposals: 1) “create a word-searchable database on the Board’s website with the historical interpretations by the Board and its staff of all significant rules,” 2) “putting significant supervisory guidance out for public comment,” and 3) “submitting significant supervisory guidance to Congress for purposes of the Congressional Review Act.”
All three proposals strike me as reasonable. What would be the drawback of the Board making interpretations of significant rules transparent and easily accessible? Regulatory guidance, as opposed to rules, is not legally binding. Yet in reality, there may be no difference in practice. I’d welcome both additional public comment on significant supervisory guidance and review by Congress. However, it’s also critical that a variety of stakeholders, especially academics, policymakers, and the public, actively participate in these processes.
Tuesday, December 24, 2019
Happy holidays! Billions of people around the world are celebrating Christmas or Hanukah right now. Perhaps you’re even reading this post on a brand new Apple Ipad, a Microsoft Surface, or a Dell Computer. Maybe you found this post via a Google search. If you use a product manufactured by any of those companies or drive a Tesla, then this post is for you. Last week, a nonprofit organization filed the first lawsuit against the world’s biggest tech companies alleging that they are complicit in child trafficking and deaths in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dodd-Frank §1502 and the upcoming EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, which goes into effect in 2021, both require companies to disclose the efforts they have made to track and trace "conflict minerals" -- tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold from the DRC and surrounding countries. DRC is one of the poorest nations in the world per capita but has an estimated $25 trillion in mineral reserves (including 65% of the world's cobalt). Armed militia use rape and violence as a weapon of war in part so that they control the mineral wealth. The EU and US regulators believe that consumers might make different purchasing decisions if they knew whether companies source their minerals ethically. The EU legislation, notably, does not limit the geography to the DRC, but instead focuses on conflict zones around the world.
If you’ve read my posts before, then you know that I have written repeatedly about the DRC and conflict minerals. After visiting DRC for a research trip in 2011, I wrote a law review article and co-filed an amicus brief during the §1502 litigation arguing that the law would not help people on the ground. I have also blogged here about legislation to end the rule, here about the EU's version of the rule, and here about the differences between the EU and US rule. Because of the law and pressure from activists and socially-responsible investors, companies, including the defendants, have filed disclosures, joined voluntary task forces to clean up supply chains, and responded to shareholder proposals regarding conflict minerals for years. I will have more on those initiatives in my next post. Interestingly, cobalt, the subject of the new litigation, is not a “conflict mineral” under either the U.S. or E.U. regulation, although, based on the rationale behind enacting Dodd-Frank §1502, perhaps it should have been. Nonetheless, in all of my research, I never came across any legislative history or materials discussing why cobalt was excluded.
The litigation makes some startling claims, but having been to the DRC, I’m not surprised. I’ve seen children who should have been in school, but could not afford to attend, digging for minerals with shovels and panning for gold in rivers. Although I was not allowed in the mines during my visit because of a massacre in the village the night before, I could still see child laborers on the side of the road mining. If you think mining is dangerous here in the U.S., imagine what it’s like in a poor country with a corrupt government dependent on income from multinationals.
The seventy-nine page class action Complaint was filed filed in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of thirteen children claiming: (1) a violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; (2) unjust enrichment; (3) negligent supervision; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress. I’ve listed some excerpts from the Complaint below (hyperlinks added):
Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla are knowingly benefiting from and providing substantial support to this “artisanal” mining system in the DRC. Defendants know and have known for a significant period of time the reality that DRC’s cobalt mining sector is dependent upon children, with males performing the most hazardous work in the primitive cobalt mines, including tunnel digging. These boys are working under stone age conditions for paltry wages and at immense personal risk to provide cobalt that is essential to the so-called “high tech” sector, dominated by Defendants and other companies. For the avoidance of doubt, every smartphone, tablet, laptop, electric vehicle, or other device containing a lithium-ion rechargeable battery requires cobalt in order to recharge. Put simply, the hundreds of billions of dollars generated by the Defendants each year would not be possible without cobalt mined in the DRC….
Plaintiffs herein are representative of the child cobalt miners, some as young as six years of age, who work in exceedingly harsh, hazardous, and toxic conditions that are on the extreme end of “the worst forms of child labor” prohibited by ILO Convention No. 182. Some of the child miners are also trafficked. Plaintiffs and the other child miners producing cobalt for Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla typically earn 2-3 U.S. dollars per day and, remarkably, in many cases even less than that, as they perform backbreaking and hazardous work that will likely kill or maim them. Based on indisputable research, cobalt mined in the DRC is listed on the U.S. Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau’s List of Goods Produced with Forced and Child Labor.
When I mentioned above that I wasn’t surprised about the allegations, I mean that I wasn’t surprised that the injuries and deaths occur based on what I saw during my visit to DRC. I am surprised that companies that must perform due diligence in their supply chains for conflict minerals don’t perform the same kind of due diligence in the cobalt mines. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised at all, given how many companies have stated that they cannot be sure of the origins of their minerals. In my next post, I will discuss what the companies say they are doing, what they are actually doing, and how the market has reacted to the litigation. What I do know for sure is that the Apple store at the mall nearest to me was so crowded that people could not get in. The mall also has a Tesla showroom and people were gearing up for test drives. Does that mean that consumers are not aware of the allegations? Or does that mean that they don’t care? I’ll discuss that in the next post as well.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season.
December 24, 2019 in Compliance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Litigation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
“Big banks do not usually gang up to demand more financial regulation, least of all with asset managers in tow.” That’s the first sentence of Gillian Tett’s recent piece, Banks are right to say that clearing houses are ripe for reform, in the Financial Times (here – subscription required). Her title and lead sentence are spot on. That should be worrisome to all. Tett’s piece centers on a white paper, A Path Forward for CCP Resilience, Recovery, and Resolution (here), released on October 24, 2019, by nine financial institutions (Allianz Global Investors, BlackRock, Citi, Goldman Sachs, Societe Generale, JPMorgan Chase & Co., State Street, T.RowePrice, and Vanguard). Tett states: “the current status quo around clearing houses is worrying.” As BLPB readers know, I agree.
The white paper calls for “enhanced risk management standards and aligning incentives through requirements for meaningful CCP [clearinghouse] own capital for covering both default and non-default losses and recapitalization resources.” (p.1) It highlights the incentive misalignment present in many clearinghouses given their publicly-traded, shareholder ownership status: “Although CCP shareholders take 100% of the returns a CCP earns from clearing revenues, they bear only a small portion of the losses the CCP incurs as a result of a default.” (p.10) Many of its recommendations are not new, but some are. These include: a clearing member voting mechanism in recovery; ex-ante provision of financial resources for resolution; and, the possibility of “long-term debt that could be bailed in for recapitalization.” (p.1)
While I generally agree with the white paper’s recommendations, I don’t think they go far enough. As I’ve posted before on clearinghouses (here, here, here, here) and will do so in the future, I’ll just highlight a few things. First, while increasing clearinghouse capital is a step in the right direction towards better incentive alignment, it’s only a start. The ownership structure itself of these institutions needs to be addressed. If clearinghouses were owned by their members – as they were historically – the incentive misalignment between members and owners would largely diminish. However, as I’ve noted in Incomplete Clearinghouse Mandates (here), even if clearinghouses are all member-owned, this doesn’t solve the problem of who ultimately holds the extreme tail risk of these institutions. In a previous post (here), I pointed out parallels between clearinghouses and the residential mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose exit from government ownership is still pending more than a decade after the financial crisis. Let’s not go down the same route in the clearinghouse space.
Second, the white paper argues that clearinghouses should generally be responsible for non-default losses. I agree. However, as I’ve noted before, both types of losses could occur in close proximity. Hence, it could be very difficult in practice to separate them out to allocate any losses in the case of investor-owned clearinghouses. Finally, as I write about in forthcoming research, clearinghouses are self-regulatory organizations (SROs). Presumably, they would be acting in a regulatory capacity in a recovery scenario as it is arguably the analog to government action in a resolution scenario. Exchanges, as SROs, are generally entitled to regulatory immunity for actions taken in a regulatory capacity (for more on exchange immunity, see here). At the same time, the recovery of an investor-owned, distressed clearinghouse is also inherently a commercial endeavor. It is fundamentally about the survival of the clearinghouse, and potentially the exchange group structure itself. So, it could be very difficult in practice to separate regulatory from commercial action for purposes of regulatory immunity. Given this consideration, investor-owned clearinghouses could have less incentive to be circumspect about recovery decisions that might adversely impact members.
Tett refers to a “trenchant letter” from the Systemic Risk Council to the Financial Stability Board “demanding action” on clearinghouses. Paul Tucker, who chairs the Council, is the former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. In closing, I recommend that readers interested in understanding more about the centrality of clearinghouses in financial markets read a 2014 speech by Tucker: Are Clearing Houses the New Central Banks? If the answer to Tucker's question is yes, that says it all!
Saturday, September 7, 2019
Have you ever wanted to learn the basics about blockchain? Do you think it's all hype and a passing fad? Whatever your view, take a look at my new article, Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain to Benefit Business and Society, co-authored with Rachel Epstein, counsel at Hedera Hashgraph. I became interested in blockchain a year ago because I immediately saw potential use cases in supply chain, compliance, and corporate governance. I met Rachel at a Humanitarian Blockchain Summit and although I had already started the article, her practical experience in the field added balance, perspective, and nuance.
The abstract is below:
Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management, and to assist governments and businesses in mitigating human rights impacts. This Article will discuss how state and non-state actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency. Part I will provide an overview of blockchain technology. Part II will briefly describe how public and private actors use blockchain today to track food, address land grabs, protect refugee identity rights, combat bribery and corruption, eliminate voter fraud, and facilitate financial transactions for those without access to banks. Part III will discuss key corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility initiatives that currently utilize blockchain or are exploring the possibilities for shareholder communications, internal audit, and cyber security. Part IV will delve into the business and human rights landscape and examine how blockchain can facilitate compliance. Specifically, we will focus on one of the more promising uses of distributed ledger technology -- eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena thereby satisfying various mandatory disclosure regimes and shareholder requests. Part V will pose questions that board members should ask when considering adopting the technology and will recommend that governments, rating agencies, sustainable stock exchanges, and institutional investors provide incentives for companies to invest in the technology, when appropriate. Given the increasing widespread use of the technology by both state and non-state actors and the potential disruptive capabilities, we conclude that firms that do not explore blockchain’s impact risk obsolescence or increased regulation.
Things change so quickly in this space. Some of the information in the article is already outdated and some of the initiatives have expanded. To keep up, you may want to subscribe to newsletters such as Hunton, Andrews, Kurth's Blockchain Legal Resource. For more general information on blockchain, see my post from last year, where I list some of the videos that I watched to become literate on the topic. For additional resources, see here and here.
If you are interested specifically in government use cases, consider joining the Government Blockchain Association. On September 14th and 15th, the GBA is holding its Fall 2019 Symposium, “The Future of Money, Governance and the Law,” in Arlington, Virginia. Speakers will include a chief economist from the World Bank and banking, political, legal, regulatory, defense, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals from around the world. This event is sponsored by the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis (CINA) Center, and the Government Blockchain Association (GBA). Organizers expect over 300 government, industry and academic leaders on the Arlington Campus of George Mason University, either in person or virtually. To find out more about the event go to: http://bit.ly/FoMGL-914.
Blockchain is complex and it's easy to get overwhelmed. It's not the answer to everything, but I will continue my focus on the compliance, governance, and human rights implications, particularly for Dodd-Frank and EU conflict minerals due diligence and disclosure. As lawyers, judges, and law students, we need to educate ourselves so that we can provide solid advice to legislators and business people who can easily make things worse by, for example, drafting laws that do not make sense and developing smart contracts with so many loopholes that they cause jurisdictional and enforcement nightmares.
Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding blockchain, I'm particularly proud of this article and would not have been able to do it without my co-author, Rachel, my fantastic research assistants Jordan Suarez, Natalia Jaramillo, and Lauren Miller from the University of Miami School of Law, and the student editors at the Tennessee Journal of Business Law. If you have questions or please post them below or reach out to me at email@example.com.
September 7, 2019 in Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Law Reviews, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, May 10, 2019
Join me in Miami, June 26-28.
June 26-28, 2019
Managing Compliance Across Borders is a program for world-wide compliance, risk and audit professionals to discuss current developments and hot topics (e.g. cybersecurity, data protection, privacy, data analytics, regulation, FCPA and more) affecting compliance practice in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Latin America. Learn more
See a Snapshot: Who Will Be There?
Learn More: Visit the website for updated speaker information, schedule and topic details.
This program is designed and presented in collaboration with our partner in Switzerland
May 10, 2019 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Law Firms, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, November 29, 2018
I’d like to thank the Business Law Prof Blog for the opportunity to be a guest blogger! In this first post, I build on a subject of previous posts (here, here, and here): Theranos, a now defunct Silicon Valley health-care start-up.
I rely heavily on the Financial Times to follow developments in one of my main research areas: financial market clearing and settlement (I’ll plan to report next week on the upcoming December 4th meeting of the Market Risk Advisory Committee, sponsored by CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam). The FT recently announced that Wall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carreyrou’s book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, had been named the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2018. Having immensely enjoyed reading past winners, I wasted no time in ensuring that Amazon Prime speedily delivered it to my doorstep.
Bad Blood is a riveting tale of Theranos’ spectacular rise and fall, and well-worth the reader’s time. A fun fact is that a pathologist blogger, Adam Clapper (founder of the former Pathology Blawg), tipped Carreyrou onto the Theranos story (Chapter 19). Additionally, in the months after Bad Blood’s publication, its founder and CEO, Elizabeth A. Holmes, and former COO, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, were charged by the Justice Department with wire fraud.
I know little about the health-care industry. Yet in reading Bad Blood, I was struck by links to and concerns shared with the financial industry (an area about which I know more). Below, I make a few observations and invite reader comments on their importance in these and other industries.
Post-financial crisis, rock-bottom interest rates acted as a “key ingredient” to a new Silicon Valley boom (p.82). Similarly, these low rates have also been a key ingredient for the many years of increasing stock market prices post-financial crisis. Indeed, recent equity market declines made at least a temporary rebound yesterday after comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at the Economic Club of New York.
The increasing expansion of private markets enables companies such as Theranos to “avoid the close scrutiny” (p.178) to which public companies are subject (nevertheless, Theranos and Holmes settled fraud charges with the SEC). Given current regulatory structures, it also risks severely limiting retail investment opportunities. And it adversely impacts financial journalists’ access to information!
When I teach Banking and Financial Institutions Law, the term “regulation-induced innovation” tends to amuse students. The Theranos tale demonstrates, however, that such practices aren’t a laughing matter. For example, its business strategies appeared to include: maneuvering in regulatory “gray zones” between the FDA and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (p.88), exploiting “gap[s] spawned by outdated statutes” (p.125), and “operat[in]g in a regulatory no-man’s-land” (p.260). Such practices can be troublesome enough in financial markets. However, in Theranos’ case, the stakes (patient health) were much higher.
Finally, who doesn’t love a good story? Carreyrou, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is an expert storyteller. His portrayal of Holmes suggests that she too profoundly understood the power of stories, and that she had a bewitching talent for telling them. Clearly, untruthful, non-fictional narratives are generally unethical and, depending upon the context, might also be illegal. However, taking a cue from Holmes on the importance of stories and honing one's ability to tell them could assist financial market policymakers. Indeed, several years ago, the FT’s Gillian Tett wrote an opinion piece entitled, “Central bank chiefs need to master the art of storytelling.” Enhanced storytelling capabilities could also assist academics researching financial market regulation. For both, the ability to compellingly communicate with the public about issues in financial markets and their broad-based importance is critical. Even so, constructing a fascinating narrative about clearing and settlement along the lines of Bad Blood would be no small feat!
Sunday, September 16, 2018
I knew it would be impossible. There was no way to relay my excitement about the potential of blockchain technology in a concise way to lawyers and law students last Friday at the Connecting the Threads symposium at the University of Tennessee School of Law. I didn't discuss cryptocurrency or Bitcoin other than to say that I wasn't planning to discuss it. Still, there wasn't nearly enough time for me to discuss all of the potential use cases. I did try to make it clear that it's not a fad if IBM has 1500 people working on it, BITA has hundreds of logistics and freight companies signed up to explore possibilities, and the World Bank, OECD, and United Nations have studies and pilot programs devoted to it. As a former supply chain person, compliance officer, and chief privacy officer, I'm giddy with excitement about everything related to distributed ledger technology other than cryptocurrency. You can see why when you read my law review article in a few months in Transactions.
I've watched over 100 YouTube videos (many of them crappy) and read dozens of articles. I go to Meetups and actually understand what the coders and developers are saying (most of the time). A few students and practitioners asked me how I learned about DLT/blockchain. First, see here, here, here, and here for my prior posts listing resources and making the case for learning the basics of the technology. What I list below adds to what I've posted in the past.
Here are some of the podcasts I listen to (there are others, of course):
1) The Decrypting Crypto Podcast
2) Block that Chain
3) Block and Roll
4) Blockchain Innovation
Here are some of the videos that I watched (that I haven't already linked to in past posts):
There are dozens more, but this should be enough to get you started. Remember, none of these videos or podcasts will get you rich from cryptocurrency. But they will help you become competent to know whether you can advise clients on these issues.
September 16, 2018 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Law Firms, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, August 16, 2018
On Tuesday, Elizabeth Warren penned an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled Companies Shouldn’t Be Accountable Only to Shareholders: My new bill would require corporations to answer to employees and other stakeholders as well.
The article announced and promoted her Accountable Capitalism Act. With Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, Warren’s bill almost certainly doesn’t stand a chance of passing in the short-term.
Yet, because the bill draws on benefit corporation governance, a main scholarly interest of mine, and because it may foreshadow moves by a Democrat-controlled Congress in the future, I decided to read the 28-page bill and report here briefly.
Portions of the bill summarized:
- As has been widely reported, the bill only applies to companies with more than $1 billion in revenue.
- The bill seeks to establish an “Office of United States Corporations” within the Department of Commerce, which will review, grant, and rescind charters for the large companies covered by the bill.
- The bill takes language from benefit corporation law and requires that U.S. Corporations must have a purpose to serve a “general public benefit” – “a material positive impact on society resulting from the business and operations of a United States corporation, when taken as a whole.” This purpose is in addition to any purpose in the company’s state filing.
- The governance requirements are a mix of the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation and Delaware version of benefit corporation law – requiring both that directors balance the “pecuniary interests of shareholders” with the "best interests of persons that are materially affected by the conduct of the United States corporation” (drawn from Delaware) and that directors consider a litany of stakeholders in their decisions (including shareholders, employees, customers, community, local and global environment - drawn from the Model). Only shareholders with 2%+ of the shares can sue derivatively.
- Employees must elect 40%+ of the board of directors.
- 75%+ of shareholders and 75%+ of directors must approve political spending of over $10,000 on a single candidate.
My brief thoughts:
- This is a lot of press for benefit corporations.
- The press may not be good for benefit corporation proponents who have been largely able to pitch to both sides of the political aisle in their state bills. B Lab co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert has already written an article trying to promote what he sees as the bipartisan nature of benefit corporations: Elizabeth Warren, Republicans, CEOs & BlackRock's Fink Unite Around 'Accountable Capitalism'
- I have noted in my scholarly work how the state benefit corporation laws fail to align the purported “general public benefit” corporate purpose with effective accountability mechanisms. This bill, however, takes one step toward aligning company purpose and accountability by requiring that employees elect 40%+ of the board. Of course, that still leaves out many other stakeholders that directors are supposed to consider, and shareholders are still the only stakeholders with the ability to sue derivatively. A better solution is to have stakeholder representatives who elect the entire board and also possess, collectively, the right to sue derivatively. This stakeholder representative framework, articulated in my 2017 American Business Law Journal article, has the benefit of keeping the board united on a common goal – instead of fighting on behalf of the single stakeholder group who elected them – while also being held to account by representatives of all major stakeholder groups, collectively.
- Suggesting that benefit corporation law become mandatory will likely not be popular among many conservatives. See, e.g., this early response in the National Review: Elizabeth Warren’s Batty Plan to Nationalize . . . Everything. Currently, a fair response to conservative critics of state benefit corporation laws is "if businesses do not like the benefit corporation framework, they can just choose to be a traditional corporation." This bill attempts to remove that choice for large companies.
(My co-blogger Joshua Fershee may be horrified to learn that the bill purports to apply not only to corporations, but also to LLCs, even though they use the term "U.S. Corporations" throughout).
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
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.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
From our friend and BLPB colleague, Anne Tucker, following is nice workshop opportunity for your consideration:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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:email@example.com) or Anne Tucker (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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 email@example.com 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Anne Tucker (email@example.com).
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)
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.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
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.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
From an e-mail I received this week:
The UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA COLLEGE OF LAW invites applications for lateral candidates for a tenured faculty position to hold the Clayton K. Yeutter Chair at the College of Law. This chaired faculty position will be one of four faculty members to form the core of the newly-formed, interdisciplinary Clayton K. Yeutter Institute for International Trade and Finance. The Institute also will include the Duane Acklie Chair at the College of Business, the Michael Yanney Chair at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Haggart/Works Professorship for International Trade at the College of Law. The Yeutter Chair, along with the other three professors, will be expected to support the work and objectives and ensure the success of the Yeutter Institute. The Yeutter Chair will teach courses at the College of Law, including International Finance. Other courses may include Corporate Finance and/or other classes related to business and finance. More on the Yeutter Institute can be found at http://news.unl.edu/free-tags/clayton-k-yeutter-institute-of-international-trade-and-finance/.
Minimum Required Qualifications: J.D Degree or Equivalent; Superior Academic Record; Outstanding Record of Scholarship in International Finance and/or other areas related to international business; and Receipt of Tenure at an Accredited Law School. General information about the Law College is available at http://law.unl.edu/. Please fill out the University application, which can be found at https://employment.unl.edu/postings/51633, and upload a CV, a cover letter, and a list of references. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is committed to a pluralistic campus community through affirmative action, equal opportunity, work-life balance, and dual careers. See http://www.unl.edu/equity/notice-nondiscrimination. Review of applications will begin on September 15, 2017 and continue until the position is filled. If you have questions, please contact Associate Dean Eric Berger or Professor Matt Schaefer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
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)
Monday, July 17, 2017
Save the Date!
The Yale Law School Center for Private Law will host a Private Equity Conference on November 17, 2017. The conference will bring leading theorists from law, economics, finance, and sociology into dialogue with people with experience at the highest levels of private equity, including from law practice, financial firms, and institutional investors.
Oliver Hart, winner of the 2016 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, will give the keynote address.
Other speakers include:
Jon Ballis, Kirkland & Ellis
Rosemary Batt, Cornell University, ILR School
Neil Fligstein, UC Berkeley Sociology Department
Stephen Fraidin, Pershing Square Capital Management
Will Gaybrick, Stripe
Adam Goldstein, Princeton University Department of Sociology
Victoria Ivashina, Harvard Business School
Andrew Metrick, Yale School of Management
Meridee Moore, Watershed Asset Management
John Morley, Yale Law School
Alan Schwartz, Yale Law School
David Swensen, Chief Investment Officer, Yale University
Location: Yale Law School, 127 Wall St., New Haven, CT
Time: Approximately 9:45 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Cost: There is no cost associated with this event, though pre-registration is required. Registration information will be available soon at this link.
The conference is sponsored by the Kirkland & Ellis Fund for the Study of Private Law.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
More than two years ago, I posted Shareholder Activists Can Add Value and Still Be Wrong, where I explained my view on shareholder proposals:
I have no problem with shareholders seeking to impose their will on the board of the companies in which they hold stock. I don't see activist shareholder as an inherently bad thing. I do, however, think it's bad when boards succumb to the whims of activist shareholders just to make the problem go away. Boards are well served to review serious requests of all shareholders, but the board should be deciding how best to direct the company. It's why we call them directors.
Today, the Detroit Free Press reported that shareholders of automaker GM soundly defeated a proposal from billionaire investor David Einhorn that would have installed an alternate slate of board nominees and created two classes of stock. (All the proposals are available here.) Shareholders who voted were against the proposals by more than 91%. GM's board, in materials signed by Mary Barra, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer and Theodore Solso, Independent Lead Director, launched an aggressive campaign to maintain the existing board (PDF here) and the split shares proposal (PDF here). GM argued in the board maintenance piece:
Greenlight’s Dividend Shares proposal has the potential to disrupt our progress and undermine our performance. In our view, a vote for any of the Greenlight candidates would represent an endorsement of that high-risk proposal to the detriment of your GM investment.
Another shareholder proposal asking the board to separate the board chair and CEO positions was reported by the newspaper as follows: "A separate shareholder proposal that would have forced GM to separate the role of independent board chairman and CEO was defeated by shareholders." Not sure. Though the proposal was defeated, it's worth noting that the proposal would not have "forced" anything. The proposal was an "advisory shareholder proposal" requesting the separation of the functions. No mandate here, because such decisions must be made by the board, not the shareholders. The proposal stated:
Shareholders request our Board of Directors to adopt as policy, and amend our governing documents as necessary, to require the Chair of the Board of Directors, whenever possible, to be an independent member of the Board. The Board would have the discretion to phase in this policy for the next CEO transition, implemented so it did not violate any existing agreement. If the Board determines that a Chair who was independent when selected is no longer independent, the Board shall select a new Chair who satisfies the requirements of the policy within a reasonable amount of time. Compliance with this policy is waived if no independent director is available and willing to serve as Chair. This proposal requests that all the necessary steps be taken to accomplish the above.
GM argued against this proposal because the "policy advocated by this proposal would take away the Board’s discretion to evaluate and change its leadership structure." Also not true. It the proposal were mandatory, then this would be true, but as a request, it cannot and could not take away anything. If the shareholders made such a request and the board declined to follow that request, there might be repercussions for doing so, but the proposal would have kept in place the "Board’s discretion to evaluate and change its leadership structure."
These proposals appear to have been properly brought, properly considered, and properly rejected. As I suggested in 2015, shareholder activists can help improve long-term value, even when following the activists' proposals would not. That is just as true today and these proposals may well prime the pumpTM for future board or shareholder actions. That is, GM has conceded that its stock is undervalued and that change is needed. GM argues those changes are underway, and for now, most voting shareholder agree. But we'll see how this looks if the stock price has not noticeably improved next year. An alternative path forward on some key issues has been shared, and that puts pressure on this board to deliver. They can do it their own way, but they are on notice that there are alternatives. An shareholders now know that, too.
This knowledge underscores the value of shareholder proposals as a process. They can and should create accountability, and that is a good thing. I agree with GM that the board should keep control of how it structures the GM leadership team. But I agree with the shareholders that if this board doesn't perform, it may well be time for a change.
June 6, 2017 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Management, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Ratings behemoth Bill O'Reilly is out of a job at Fox News “after thorough and careful review of the [sexual harassment] allegations” against him by several women. Fox had settled with almost half a dozen women before these allegations came to light, causing advertisers to leave in droves once the media reported on it. According to one article, social media activists played a major role in the loss of dozens of sponsors. Despite the revelations, or perhaps in a show of support, O’Reilly’s ratings actually went up even as advertisers pulled out. Fox terminated O’Reilly-- who had just signed a new contract worth $20 million per year-- the day before its parent company’s board was scheduled to meet to discuss the matter. The employment lawyer in me also wonders if the company was trying to preempt any negligent retention liability, but I digress.
An angry public also took to social media to expose United Airlines' after its ill-fated decision to have a passenger forcibly removed from his seat to make room for crew members. However, despite the estimated 3.5 million impressions on Twitter of #BoycottUnited, the airline will not likely suffer financially in the long term because of its near monopoly on some key routes. United’s stock price nosedived by $800 million right after the disturbing video surfaced, but has rebounded somewhat with EPS beating estimates. Check out Haskell Murray's recent post here for more perspective on United.
Pepsi and supermodel Kendall Jenner also suffered more embarrassment than financial loss after people around the world erupted on social media over an ad that many believed trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement. Pepsi pulled the controversial ad within 24 hours. Some believe that Pepsi may suffer in sales, but I’m not so sure. Ironically, Pepsi’s stock price went up during the scandal and went down after the company apologized.
Pepsi and United both suffered public relations nightmares, but the skeptic in me believes that consumers will ultimately focus on what’s most important to them- convenience, quality, price, and in Pepsi’s case, taste. I recently attended my 25th law school reunion, and all of my colleagues who used a ride sharing app used Uber nowithstanding its well-publicized leadership scandals and the #deleteuber campaign. Indeed, many social media campaigns actually backfire. The #grabyourwallet boycott of Ivanka Trump’s brand raised public awareness but may have actually led to its recent record sales.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether social media campaigns and threats of consumer boycotts actually cause long-standing and permanent changes in corporate culture or policy. There is no doubt, however, that CEOs and PR departments will be working more closely than ever in the age of viral videos and 24-hour worldwide Twitter feeds.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
In 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the first time sought public comment on whether financial disclosure reform should address indicators of firms’ sustainability risks and practices. Securities disclosure reform now appears poised to take a deregulatory turn, and innovations at the intersection of sustainability and finance appear unlikely in the face of new policy priorities. Whether the SEC should take any steps to improve how sustainability-related information is disclosed to investors is also deeply contested.
This Article argues that the SEC nonetheless faces a sustainability imperative, first to address this issue in the near term as part of its ongoing review of the reporting framework for financial disclosure, and second, to promote disclosure of material sustainability information within financial reports in furtherance of its core statutory mandate. This conclusion rests on evidence that the current state of sustainability disclosure is inadequate for investment analysis and that these deficiencies are largely problems of comparability and quality, which cannot readily be addressed by private ordering, nor by deference to policymaking at the state level. This Article highlights the costs of agency inaction that have been largely ignored in the debate over the future of financial reporting and concludes by weighing potential avenues for disclosure reform and their alternatives.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Here is a rundown of recent business news headlines:
The Snapchat parent company, SNAP, scheduled blockbuster IPO ($20-23B) is plagued with news that it lost $514.6 million in 2016, there are questions about the sustainability of its user base, and, for the governance folks out there, there is NO VOTING STOCK being offered.
In what is being called a "whopper" of a deal, Restaurant Brands, the owner of Burger King and Tim Hortons, announced earlier this week a deal to acquire Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen, the fried chicken restaurant chain, for $1.8 billion in cash.
Kraft withdrew its $143B takeover offer for Unilever less than 48 hours after the announcement amid political concerns over the merger. While Unilever evaluates its next steps, Kraft is perhaps feeling the effects of its controversial takeover of Britain's beloved Cadbury.
A final item to note, for me personally, is that today is my last regular contribution to the Business Law Professor Blog. I will remain as a contributing editor, but will miss the ritual of a weekly post--a habit now nearly 4 years in the making. Thanks to all of the readers and other editors who gave me great incentive to learn new information each week, think critically, connect with teaching, and generally feel a part of a vibrant and smart community of folks with similar interests.