The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act provided shareholders of U.S. public corporations the right to vote on chief executive officers’ compensation, at least every three years. The so–called say on pay vote is advisory but was designed to curb overly generous executive pay packages.
Since 2011, the financial press, consultants and academic scholars have considered how shareholders make use of this right. According to the latest results of Semler Brossy, 93 percent of the Russell 3000 companies received say on pay support of more than 70% in 2016, and the failure rate dropped to 1.7 percent, the lowest level since … Read more
Family does matter in the United States. Census data indicate that more than 20 percent of men have worked for the same employers as their fathers, while a recent New York Times article suggests that the sons of senators have a 8,500 times higher chance of becoming senators than the average American male. A large body of empirical research in economics and finance has been devoted to the study of family firms and their role in the economy. Yet little is known about the implications of widespread family ties outside family-owned firms.
In an attempt to measure how widespread family … Read more
Since 2010, 30 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation authorizing for-profit “public benefit corporations” (“PBC”), known in many states just as “benefit corporations.” Although these laws vary slightly by state, each requires the board of directors of a PBC to consider the public benefit, in addition to shareholder return on investment, in their decision-making. Although state corporate law statutes and the tax code treat PBCs as for-profit enterprises, the legal focus of this new corporate model contrasts with that of traditional corporations, which focuses solely on maximizing shareholder wealth. The PBC laws are designed to empower … Read more
On July 29, 2016, the board of directors of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) released a proposal regarding third-party lending guidance (“Proposed Guidance”) as part of a package of materials designed to “improve the transparency and clarity of the FDIC’s supervisory policies and practices.” The Proposed Guidance elaborates on previously issued agency guidance on managing third-party risks and, if finalized, could apply to all FDIC-supervised institutions that engage in third-party lending programs.
The Proposed Guidance affirms that an institution’s board of directors and senior management are responsible for managing, identifying and controlling the risks associated with lending activities … Read more
On August 10, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or the “Commission”) announced its second major enforcement action against an employer for using contracts with employees that seek to impede employees from engaging in protected whistleblowing activity. Under rules that went into effect five years ago pursuant to Dodd-Frank, such employment contracts are prohibited.
In its settlement order, the SEC faulted BlueLinx Holdings, Inc., an Atlanta-based building supply distributor, for various severance agreements that it has used over the past five years, which could have the effect of limiting the whistleblowing activities of its former employees. In … Read more
After every crisis, academics, policymakers and other observers reflect on what went wrong and what could have been done differently. This in turn leads to some reforms to laws and regulations. In the wake of widespread, multi-country corporate governance failures in the 1990s and 2000s (Enron, Tyco and Xerox in the U.S., for example, Maxwell, BCCI and Polly Peck in the UK, Parmalat in Italy and Ahold in the Netherlands), the call was for company law reforms and better corporate governance practices. The recent global financial crisis has led to many new regulations, and the revamping of existing ones, covering … Read more
Contractarians, who believe that fiduciary relationships are a species of contract, and anti-contractarians, who believe those relationships are sui generis, have long debated what fiduciary duties are and how they should be applied. Contractarians frame the fiduciary duty as one of loyalty that prohibits a fiduciary from engaging in conflicts of interest without the beneficiary’s permission. They see fiduciary duties as gap fillers that help courts determine the parties’ responsibilities if a situation arises that was not contemplated by the parties’ original agreement. Anti-contractarians, on the other hand, view fiduciary duties as a means to protect vulnerable parties from their … Read more
A Delaware bankruptcy court has invalidated a lender’s attempt to prevent a borrower from filing bankruptcy by having the borrower amend its operating agreement to require unanimous consent among its members to file bankruptcy and then issuing one “golden share” to the lender.
In In re Intervention Energy Holdings, LLC, the borrower had defaulted under a senior secured loan and subsequently entered into a forbearance agreement with its lender. As part of the forbearance agreement, the lender required the borrower to agree to (a) amend its operating agreement to require approval of each holder of common units prior … Read more
A host of studies have examined the link between accounting and the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, most of them focusing on whether fair value accounting or accounting discretion at financial institutions helped skew valuations on bank balance sheets. In our recent article, “The Effect of Accounting Conservatism on Corporate Investment during the Global Financial Crisis,” available here, we examine how financial reporting at non-financial firms affected the economy during the crisis. Prior studies provide evidence that the financial crisis was a relatively exogenous shock to the supply of external finance (at least with respect to any individual firm) that significantly … Read more
Companies confer the title of “Vice President” on a wide range of employees, from senior executives, in some cases, to line-level personnel, in others. While distinguishing someone functioning as a senior executive from someone in a lower-level position may be clear to a company insider, courts face a more complicated task when they are asked to draw the line, a common occurrence when employers and employees disagree over who must pay for legal fees arising out of an employee’s alleged misconduct. Company bylaws normally provide for the company to indemnify legal fees incurred by individual “officers and directors,” meaning that … Read more
“Culture, more than rule books, determines how an organization behaves.” – Warren Buffet
In recent years, there have been ongoing occurrences of serious professional misbehavior, ethical lapses and compliance failures at financial institutions. It was the crisis that exposed systematic mentality errors in finance.
The hope was that post-crisis regulatory reforms would tackle the typical mindset of short-term oriented self-enrichment in finance, considered as one of the origins of the financial crisis. Now, almost ten years after the crash in 2007, the lack of fundamental change raises the question whether there is an endemic issue within the financial … Read more
2015 and 2016 mark the 30th anniversaries of the Delaware Supreme Court’s landmark decisions in Unocal Corp. v. Mesa Petroleum Co. and Revlon, Inc. v. Macandrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc. Those cases and their progeny called for enhanced scrutiny standards to be applied to negotiated change of control transactions as well as to deal protection devices. During the past three decades, however, it has not been smooth sailing in the courts’ application of these standards. In fact, I have previously argued that the Delaware courts have shifted away from both the Unocal and Revlon enhanced scrutiny standards.… Read more
In March 2016, the Nasdaq Stock Market LLC (“Nasdaq”) proposed new rules regarding disclosure of third-party compensation of directors. This third-party compensation, which may not be publicly disclosed, arises when a party other than the issuer, such as an activist investor, compensates a person in connection with that person’s candidacy for director or service as a director.
With the goal of enhancing transparency around such third-party compensation of directors, Nasdaq proposed Rule 5250(b)(3), which would require Nasdaq-listed companies to publicly disclose compensation or other payments by third parties to nominees for director or board members. On July 1, 2016, the … Read more
In 2010, after considering 400 possible targets, Indiana-based funeral casket manufacturer Hillenbrand Inc. announced a plan to acquire K-Tron International Inc., a Pitman, New Jersey firm which makes industrial coal crushers and feeding equipment (including a machine to shoot raisins into breakfast cereal). Despite the considerable difference in product lines, K-Tron provided Hillenbrand CEO Kenneth Camp with a unique benefit. Camp was raised in Pitman and his mother Edith still lived nearby in his childhood home. Although Camp said the location in Pitman had no influence on his decision to buy the company, he acknowledged: “When I heard it … Read more
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) brought over 400 enforcement actions in the first half of fiscal year (FY) 2016, and is on pace to surpass its record of 807 enforcement actions in a single fiscal year, set in FY 2015.
The SEC brought the vast majority of these enforcement actions as administrative proceedings (APs). On May 16, 2016, the NYU Pollack Center for Law & Business (NYU) and Cornerstone Research (Cornerstone) issued a report (Cornerstone Report) that found that in the first half of FY 2016, the SEC brought 88% of actions … Read more
Should governments be relying on corporate and securities law to promote humanitarian goals? This is the question that naturally arises when viewing the SEC’s Conflict Minerals Payment Rule, which requires corporations to disclose their conflict mineral usage as a means of curtailing the violence in the Congo. Yet the US is not alone in its reliance on disclosure mechanisms in corporate or securities laws to promote non-economic goals. The Danish government uses disclosure to promote gender parity on boards of directors; France relies on it to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and India uses it as a method for curtailing energy … Read more
Merger activity seems to rise in step with the market. Academic papers suggest this may be due to bidders exploiting overvalued shares, a pro-cyclicality of merger economies of scale or available capital for deals, or simply the behavioral pressures of a “me too” mindset among CEOs. But this positive association is not altogether intuitive, as practitioners and academics alike ask “why do we not see merger waves during bear markets in which acquirers are bargain-hunting for undervalued firms.”
In our working paper “Merger Activity, Stock Prices, and Measuring Gains from M&A” we offer a fresh take on the positive … Read more
A new type of warfare is upon us. In this new mode of war, finance is the most powerful weapon, bullets are not fired, financial institutions are the targets, and almost everyone is at risk. Instead of smart bombs, improvised explosives, and unmanned drones –– economic sanctions, financial restrictions, and cyber programs are the weapons of choice. This is the new reality of modern financial warfare.
The armaments of modern financial warfare are as vast, diverse, and important as the myriad of ways to raise and move money. Broadly, the financial weapons of war can be divided into analog weapons … Read more
In the wake of its release on May 17, 2016 of updated Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (“CDIs”) relating to the disclosure of non-GAAP financial measures, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance has indicated in no uncertain terms that now is the time for companies to review their non-GAAP measures and make any revisions called for by the new guidance.
With the new and revised CDIs, the SEC has delivered the latest in a series of increasingly strong warnings – previously made in remarks by the SEC Chair and senior Staff accountants – about the perceived misuse of non-GAAP measures. Commenting … Read more
Academics who profess expertise in corporate governance sometimes find themselves on very strange turf. That has been my status for the last two years, serving as an adviser to the U.S. Commerce Department in connection with the Obama Administration’s efforts to “privatize” the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”). ICANN is the non-profit entity that essentially manages the Internet’s domain name functions and oversees much of its internal plumbing. This privatization effort has now been challenged in Congress by Senator Ted Cruz and others, and political fireworks are likely. But let’s start at the beginning. In March … Read more