It should come as no surprise to readers of our blog that public companies often expend significant resources each year on managing litigation matters.  As a result, perhaps it is natural that some companies might want to convey financial results that exclude (or adjust out) these litigation expenses from their GAAP results as they arguably do not relate to the core performance of the company’s business.

When considering whether to include an adjustment for litigation expenses in non-GAAP measures, companies should be mindful of how they identify and disclose such expenses (e.g., outside of the ordinary course of business (non-recurring)).  In monitoring recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) comment letters, we found a letter exchange that we believe demonstrates the principal disclosure considerations at issue.

Background

As background, Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K provides that a registrant must not “adjust a non-GAAP performance measure to eliminate or smooth items identified as non-recurring, infrequent or unusual, when the nature of the charge or gain is such that it is reasonably likely to recur within two years or there was a similar charge or gain within the prior two years.” (Emphasis added.)

Continue Reading Adjusting for Litigation Expenses in a Non-GAAP Financial Measure

The market has seen a boom in the last two years for emerging companies going public through the use of special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).  SPACs are attractive vehicles for allowing a private company to gain quicker access to public capital and avoid the traditional initial public offering (IPO) process.  A SPAC starts as a public company through a traditional IPO but has no operations.  The SPAC raises public funds under the premise that it will use those funds to find a target private company in which to invest.  Once the target is identified, the SPAC goes through a business combination transaction (called a de-SPAC transaction) whereby the SPAC and private target engage in a merger transaction, with the result being the target survives as a public company.

The recent dramatic increase in using SPACs, however, has faced increased scrutiny.  More recently, this trend has raised the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) along with plaintiff stockholder class action law firms.  Directors and officers (D&O) insurance carriers are also adjusting their premiums and policy terms to account for these increased risks in using SPACs.  Such rising concerns are only heightened by recent news reports of gaps in certain deals between returns for insiders versus later investors who suffer losses after a company becomes public via a SPAC.

This post highlights recent SPAC-related issues raised by the SEC and litigation filings, including potential conflicts with SPAC sponsors, accounting controls for targets, and the financial projections companies use when attracting support for a SPAC transaction.  SPAC sponsors and potential SPAC target companies should be aware of these developments as they consider the booming SPAC market.  Notwithstanding these headwinds, it is likely the SPAC market (particularly the de-SPAC market) will continue to be strong in 2021 as valuations continue to be attractive and given the reality that so many SPACs are in the market competing for targets.

Continue Reading Hot SPAC Market Increases SEC Scrutiny and Litigation Risks

I, along with Delta Air Lines Assistant General Counsel Stephanie Bignon, recently authored an article for Corporate Compliance Insights addressing the latest developments impacting SEC periodic reporting disclosure practices.

“Public companies have been monitoring and rapidly adapting to a wide array of developments impacting periodic reporting disclosure practices over the last year,” we wrote in the article.

In addition to various SEC rules changes that have been adopted over the last year, we provided an extensive overview of four key areas which are anticipated to impact periodic reporting for the remainder of 2021:

Continue Reading Periodic Reporting for Public Companies in 2021: What Lies Ahead

Yesterday, the Senate, in a vote largely along party lines, approved the nomination of Gary Gensler to be the new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs executive who also ran the Commodities Futures Trading Commission during the Obama administration, is expected to lead the SEC in a different direction from that of former chair Jay Clayton.

Gensler’s appointment as the chair of the SEC breaks the 2-2 deadlock that resulted when Clayton stepped down following the presidential election in 2020. Somewhat interestingly, Gensler’s appointment was approved only for the remaining portion of Clayton’s term – which ends June 5, 2021, though under existing rules, he may remain in the position without further Senate approval for up to 18 months following the end of that term.  I don’t believe this signals that Gensler’s term will be a short one though, as the Senate has already calendared a vote on his appointment through June 5, 2026, and the Senate Banking Committee has approved him serving through that date also.

Continue Reading Gary Gensler Will Be New Securities and Exchange Commission Chair

Institutional investors and proxy advisory firms continue to develop and refine their policies regarding board diversity. While gender diversity on public company boards has been in focus for some time now, institutional investors and proxy advisory firms are also increasingly focusing on racial and ethnic diversity as part of their evolving approach to board diversity.

This post is a summary of published board diversity policies of certain institutional investors and proxy advisory firms into a singular resource for ease of reference. Below the initial breakdown, certain policies concerning board diversity shareholder proposals are described. 

Continue Reading A Summary of Certain Proxy Advisory Firm and Institutional Investor Board Diversity Policies

Fittingly, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) came into March like a lion. In addition to numerous SEC enforcement actions being filed this month, there were important developments with respect to the SEC’s enforcement and examination programs.  This notice briefly describes three of these SEC developments.

March 3:  SEC Division of Examinations Releases 2021 Examination Priorities

The SEC’s Division of Examinations (formerly the Division of Compliance and Examinations) released its 2021 Examination Priorities.  The Division publishes examination priorities annually to provide insights into its current approach to conducting examinations of registered broker-dealers and investment advisers and to highlight the areas it believes present potential risks to investors and market integrity.

Some of the key SEC examination priorities identified in the release are:

  • Compliance with Regulation Best Interest and whether registered investment advisers have fulfilled their fiduciary duties of care and loyalty.
  • Whether firm business continuity and disaster recovery plans are accounting for the growing risks associated with climate change.
  • Adequacy of the compliance programs of registered investment advisers.
  • Compliance with anti-money laundering requirements.
  • Firm exposure to LIBOR and firm preparations for the discontinuation of LIBOR.

Continue Reading SEC Roars Into March With Significant Enforcement Developments

There has been significant discussion lately about the need to restrict or improve the disclosure of trades made by corporate executives under 10b5-1 plans. In late 2019, I co-authored a series for Corporate Counsel discussing why public companies should consider updating their insider trading policies and training (see below with links to the article series).  In part three of the series, I discussed the regulatory focus on 10b5-1 plans, the stock trading plans that corporate executives routinely rely on to trade company stock.

Despite the legitimacy and legality of 10b5-1 plans, they have come under scrutiny by the media, academics and government officials for being subject to manipulation by corporate insiders.  My article summarized two pieces of legislation that had been introduced in Congress seeking to require the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to formally review the regulations governing 10b5-1 plans and determine whether additional trading restrictions were warranted.

Executive Trades Under 10b5-1 Plans Scrutinized

While these bills have stalled in Congress, government officials have continued to scrutinize executive trades made under 10b5-1 plans and call for additional restrictions on the scope and use of these plans.  Two seniors SEC officials recently took the time to express concerns about 10b5-1 plans shortly before leaving their posts.  In a speech on November 19, 2020, outgoing SEC Chairman Jay Clayton expressed concern about situations where trading occurs (or does not occur) around times that 10b5-1 plans are implemented, amended or terminated.

Continue Reading Insider Trading Policies and Training: Time for Another Refresher?

I was quoted in an article published by The Wall Street Journal examining how companies are reporting the financial impact of COVID-19 in disclosures. Regulating bodies have warned they will be closely monitoring disclosures this year to ensure companies are not misleading investors about the true positive and negative financial effects of the pandemic.

According to data provided in the article, only one in 10 of the companies that reported an adjusted figure for EBITDA during the three quarters through December 2020 also disclosed adjusted EBITDA because of COVID-19.

I point out in the article that “it isn’t surprising so few companies are doing coronavirus adjustments just because it’s so difficult to quantify some of these items.”

The full article, “Companies Put the Best Face on Covid-19’s Financial Impact,” was published by The Wall Street Journal on February 23 and is available online (subscription required).

Growing in popularity, special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) continue to pique investor interest as an attractive mechanism through which a private company can raise growth capital and become a publicly traded entity. In 2020, the number of SPAC IPOs quadrupled from 2019 and 2021 is currently outpacing 2020 activity.

Please join Bass, Berry & Sims and Perella Weinberg Partners on March 4 at 11 a.m. Central for a complimentary webinar exploring the ins and outs of the SPAC and de-SPAC process. Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Jay Knight will lead a discussion with panelists Scott Ellyson, CEO at EQ Health Acquisition Corp. and Nikhil Menon, Managing Director at Perella Weinberg Partners, as they share their first-hand experience with this type of transaction. Speakers will cover the following topics:

  • Overview of the SPAC market structure and trends.
  • Advantages and disadvantages compared to a traditional IPO.
  • Factors involved in the SPAC lifecycle.
  • Potential PIPE considerations.
  • De-SPAC transaction considerations.

Who Should Attend?

  • Private company executives and directors considering capital raising and IPO alternatives.
  • Private equity fund managers and portfolio company executives considering whether to become a SPAC sponsor and/or engage in a de-SPAC transaction as an exit strategy.
  • In-house counsel at the above institutions.
  • M&A advisors.
  • Other interested professionals and advisors.

Continue Reading WEBINAR: Raising Capital through a SPAC Combination: Nuts and Bolts of the “De-SPAC”

Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys Kevin Douglas, Eric Knox and Sehrish Siddiqui were co-presenters alongside Stephanie Bignon, Assistant General Counsel, Delta Air Lines and Priya Galante, Vice President, Assistant General Counsel & Assistant Secretary, AutoZone at the Society for Corporate Governance’s Southeastern Chapter webinar earlier this month.

This program, titled, “Preparing for the Upcoming Proxy Season: Public Company Reporting & Disclosure Considerations,” provides companies with practical guidance on key securities laws developments impacting public companies, including recent SEC regulatory developments, evolving areas of investor focus, and COVID-19 trends.

Panelists cover the following topics:

  • MD&A and Recent Amendments to Items 301, 302 and 303 of S-K
  • Regulation S-K Modernization Amendments and Human Capital Disclosures
  • Risk Factor Disclosure
  • ESG in 2021 and Beyond
  • ISS, Glass Lewis and Institutional Investor Policy Developments (including director diversity disclosure considerations)
  • Non-GAAP Disclosure Considerations (including with respect to COVID-19 considerations)
  • Key Performance Indicators

About the Bass, Berry & Sims Corporate & Securities Practice

Public and private companies of all sizes across a variety of industries turn to Bass, Berry & Sims for counsel on a wide range of corporate matters, including mergers, acquisitions and dispositions; capital markets transactions; executive compensation issues; corporate governance; and shareholder activism. We serve as primary corporate and securities counsel to more than 35 public companies and have counseled on 150 deals ranging in size from $20 million to more than $15 billion over the past two years. Click here to learn more about the Corporate & Securities Practice at Bass, Berry & Sims.