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Taming Unicorns

Until the last decade, most startups that grew to become valuable businesses chose to go public. Late-stage startups with reported valuations over $1 billion used to be so rare that venture capitalist Aileen Lee called them “unicorns.” When she coined the term in 2013, there were only 39 startups claiming billion-dollar valuations. By 2021, despite the surge in companies going public through SPACs, the number of unicorns had passed 600. In a new article, Taming Unicorns, I argue that securities regulation needs to adapt to these new creatures.

Unicorns have developed a reputation for scandal, with the misconduct of … Read more

O’Melveny & Myers Discusses the Legal Challenges of NFTs

Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, are big news these days. After an NFT for a piece of digital art by the artist Beeple (Mike Winkelmann) sold for $69 million in March 2021―making it the third-most expensive artwork by a living artist―businesses and their lawyers have been scrambling to understand the legal issues surrounding NFTs, not to mention the meaning and value proposition of this novel class of digital assets for online marketplaces and digital content developers.

An NFT is a unique digital asset. For example, NFTs can be associated with a blog post, a sports highlight, or in the … Read more

SEC Speaks on Accounting and Reporting Considerations for SPAC Warrants

In a recent statement,[1] Acting Chief Accountant Paul Munter highlighted a number of important financial reporting considerations for SPACs.[2] Among other things, that statement highlighted challenges associated with the accounting for complex financial instruments that may be common in SPACs. Additionally, CF staff also issued a recent statement[3] highlighting key filing considerations for SPACs.

We recently evaluated fact patterns relating to the accounting for warrants issued in connection with a SPAC’s formation and initial registered offering. While the specific terms of such warrants can vary, we understand that certain features of warrants issued in SPAC transactions may

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SPACs, IPOs, and Liability Risk Under the Securities Laws

Over the past six months, the U.S. securities markets have seen an unprecedented surge in the use and popularity of Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (or SPACs).[1],[2] Shareholder advocates – as well as business journalists and legal and banking practitioners, and even SPAC enthusiasts themselves[3] – are sounding alarms about the surge. Concerns include risks from fees, conflicts, and sponsor compensation, from celebrity sponsorship and the potential for retail participation drawn by baseless hype, and the sheer amount of capital pouring into the SPACs, each of which is designed to hunt for a private target to take

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Ropes & Gray Discusses FCPA as an Enforcement Priority Under New Administration

On March 10, 2021, the United States Senate confirmed D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland as the incoming Attorney General to lead the Department of Justice (DOJ).  The confirmation of Biden’s nominee to lead the Securities & Exchange Comission (SEC), Gary Gensler, is likely to follow.  These selections for the heads of the two regulatory bodies that enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) are expected to reinforce the focus on this area, reflecting President Biden’s remarks on the topic.  Increased enforcement based on the changing political landscape may also be exacerbated by the increased risk posed by massive government spending … Read more

Quinn Emanuel Discusses SPAC Litigation Risks

Special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, took 2020 by storm, with nearly 250 SPACs raising around $83 billion through initial public offerings (“IPOs”)—more than the previous five years combined.[1] The SPAC boom has only accelerated in 2021, with over 200 SPACs raising nearly $70 billion by the start of March.[2]

A SPAC is a shell company that raises money through an IPO with the purpose of identifying a private company to merge with and bring public in what is commonly referred to as a “de-SPAC transaction.” If the SPAC does not identify a suitable target company within a specified period … Read more

SEC’s Acting Chief Accountant Discusses Reporting and Auditing Issues for Companies Merging with SPACs

In recent years, we have seen significant market developments and innovation in our capital markets, with a variety of structures being utilized to raise capital and facilitate taking private companies public.[1]

The U.S. capital markets are often described as the envy of the world, and we in OCA continue to promote healthy public markets. However, our efforts to facilitate capital formation are not carried out in isolation since each tenet of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) three-part mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation is vital to our work. Regardless

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Regulating SPACs — Before It’s Too Late

Although it has been used in the past, the resurgence of the Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) has been spectacular in the last two years. According to its promoters, a SPAC offers relatively easy access to a listing on a regulated exchange for a private company looking to go public. The sudden proliferation of SPACs has prompted the SEC to investigate how underwriters are managing the risks involved, according to Reuters. [1] The investigation has so far involved letters from the  SEC’s enforcement division asking the underwriters to provide the information voluntarily and, as such, has not yet risen to … Read more

Latham & Watkins Discusses New CFTC Climate Risk Unit

On March 17, 2021, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced the establishment of an interdivisional Climate Risk Unit (CRU) to assess the risks to US financial stability posed by climate change. The CRU aims to be a catalyst for change by highlighting the derivatives markets’ role in understanding, pricing, and addressing climate-related risks, as well as its role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The announcement was made by Acting Chairman Rostin Behnam, whose efforts to steer the CFTC’s focus toward climate-related impacts on the financial system led to the publication of a landmark report by the CFTC’s … Read more

Paul Weiss Discusses How to Mitigate SPAC Litigation Exposure

The explosive growth in Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (“SPACs”)[1] is starting to generate significant amounts of litigation. Scores of civil lawsuits have been filed against SPAC sponsors and/or their directors and officers since the start of 2020, with more than 50 securities or stockholder cases filed in the federal courts alone. We expect this represents the tip of the iceberg.  With intense public attention on SPACs, including from incoming SEC Chairman Gary Gensler,[2] acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance John Coates,[3] and the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy,[4] as well as … Read more

Wilson Sonsini Discusses SEC Focus on Climate Change Disclosures

In a series of recent public statements and announcements, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has signaled that climate change disclosures will be front and center on its agenda.

These announcements come as Gary Gensler, President Biden’s nominee for Chairman of the SEC, awaits confirmation from the U.S. Senate. Mr. Gensler’s confirmation appears imminent following the vote, on March 10, 2021, by the Senate Banking Committee to send his nomination to the full Senate for approval.

With Mr. Gensler’s confirmation pending, the SEC is being led by Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee, a consistent advocate of more robust … Read more

GameStop, Social Media, and the Phenomenon of Expressive Trading

There is evidence that at least some of the recent social-media-driven “meme” trading in stocks such as GameStop is being driven by motives other than profit seeking. In fact, many of the retail traders involved in the recent short-squeeze frenzy have stated publicly that they are buying and holding their positions as a form of social, political, or aesthetic expression.

Retail securities traders are typically classified as either investors or speculators. Investors research a stock’s fundamentals and buy it with the expectation that it will perform well over time. Speculators are less concerned with a stock’s fundamentals than its potential … Read more

Short Sellers, Short Squeezes, and Securities Fraud

Securities fraud and short sellers are strange bedfellows. The stereotypical story involving both happens when short sellers bring to light false statements of issuers, prompting corrective disclosures and giving shareholders a cause of action. At times, issuers accuse these short sellers, usually unsuccessfully, of market manipulation or deception to drive prices down toward the level of their own positions. Courts and regulators have not given much attention, however, to whether the private securities litigation framework works when atypical investors such as derivatives traders and short sellers want to be plaintiffs themselves.

Even for those who believe that private securities fraud … Read more

SEC Commissioner Speaks at Asset Management Advisory Committee Meeting

Good morning to you all and thank you Ed [Bernard]. It is always a pleasure to welcome the hard working volunteers of AMAC back to the Commission. I also want to thank Sarah ten Siethoff and the staff of the Division of Investment Management for their work in keeping AMAC’s wheels turning. In particular, I would like to thank Christian Broadbent, Jay Williamson, Walé Oriola, and Emily Rowland who are so instrumental in making these meetings happen.

We are now well into the New Year but in some respects, 2021 is looking a lot like 2020. We continue to interact

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Latham & Watkins Discusses Whether NFTs Are Securities

As the current crypto boom has progressed, it seemed Decentralized Finance (DeFi) had cemented its position as the dominant new narrative of this cycle. This view is supported by the tens of billions of dollars that have flowed into DeFi protocols over the past twelve months. Yet, amid renewed public interest, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) show signs that they should not be overlooked in discussions regarding the hottest new developments in the crypto space. As with any fast-moving market driven by explosive consumer interest and waves of money, regulators will likely take an interest and scrutinize market practices against existing regulations.… Read more

Cooley Discusses SEC’s Regulation Fair Disclosure Charges Against AT&T

The SEC recently brought charges against AT&T and three mid-level executives for selectively providing information to Wall Street analysts in alleged violation of Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD). According to the complaint filed in the Southern District of New York, AT&T learned in March 2016 that a “steeper-than-expected” decline in its first quarter smartphone sales would lead the company to fall an estimated $1 billion short of analysts’ quarterly earnings estimates.

According to the SEC’s allegations, AT&T decided to make a public disclosure “to manage market expectations.” At a scheduled investor conference on March 9, 2016, AT&T’s CFO noted that … Read more

Acting Chair Lee Speaks on Meeting Investor Demand for Climate and ESG Information at the SEC

Thank you, John [Podesta], and thanks to the whole team here at the Center for American Progress, for hosting me today. I’ve had the honor of serving as Acting Chair of the SEC for nearly two months now, and I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the enhanced focus the SEC has brought to climate and ESG during that time, and on the significant work that remains. Along with shepherding the agency through the transition and supporting the work of the SEC staff, no single issue has been more pressing for me than ensuring that the SEC is fully engaged

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Wachtell Lipton on Whether the SEC Is Pushing the Boundaries of Regulation FD

On March 5, the SEC brought an enforcement action charging a public company and three of its investor relations personnel with violations of Regulation FD, alleging that the company’s IR personnel had fed non-public information to sell-side research analysts in order to bring their consensus revenue views more into line with the company’s own internal estimates.  The defendants are all contesting the charges, and the case will be litigated in federal court.  While some commentators may see this as an instance of the SEC pushing the Regulation FD envelope, our view is this:  if the SEC is ultimately able to … Read more

Simpson Thacher Discusses SEC Framework for Use of Derivatives by Regulated Funds

In a widely anticipated action that was years in the making, the SEC adopted Rule 18f-4 under the 1940 Act prior to the conclusion of former Chair Jay Clayton’s tenure.  The rule overhauls the regulatory framework for the use of derivatives and similar transactions by regulated funds, which for purposes of the rule includes registered closed-end funds, BDCs and registered open-end funds (including mutual funds and ETFs but excluding money market funds). Importantly, regulated funds can continue to follow the current asset segregation approach when investing in derivatives until the rule’s compliance date of August 19, 2022 (the “Compliance Date”).… Read more

Kirkland & Ellis Discusses ESG and Climate Regulatory Developments Affecting Private Equity

In the second half of 2020, demand for ESG-focused investments continued to accelerate, and data showing the outperformance of those investments during the COVID-19 pandemic has set the stage for robust demand to continue in 2021. In his recent letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink highlighted that during 2020, 81% of a globally representative selection of sustainable indexes outperformed their parent benchmarks, indicating companies with better ESG profiles perform better than their peers. Private equity managers seem to agree: in a 2020 survey of over 50 private equity executives, 93% indicated that focusing on ESG themes generates good … Read more