On March 23, the Division of Enforcement of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a Statement warning against insider trading during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  In particular, the SEC cautioned that insiders are “regularly learning” new material non-public information (MNPI) that may “hold an even greater value than under normal circumstances.”  The SEC also noted that unique circumstances mean more people may have access to MNPI than may typically be the case.  This is particularly true for companies that delay earnings releases and SEC filings due to the pandemic.

Recognizing the heightened risk of illegal securities trading as a result of these and other factors, the SEC urged publicly traded companies to be mindful of their established controls and policies to protect against the improper dissemination and use of MNPI.

Proactive Steps for Public Companies

In light of the SEC’s Statement and the unique circumstances that companies are facing during the pandemic, publicly traded companies should take affirmative steps to mitigate insider trading risks.

Continue Reading Heightened Insider Trading Risk Due to COVID-19

Please join the Bass, Berry & Sims Corporate & Securities Practice Group for a series of complimentary webinars exploring various public company-related securities law issues. These programs are an extension of our Securities Law Exchange Blog and feature timely and practical guidance to SEC disclosure counsel on key topics of interest.

The COVID-19 global pandemic continues to impact public companies, giving rise to a myriad of disclosure challenges and developments that public companies are facing. Join our corporate & securities attorneys for a Securities Law Exchange “town hall” style webinar. Through a question- and-answer format, we will discuss securities law developments and trends, including those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Topics will include:

  • Recent COVID-19 pronouncements of the SEC Staff
  • Earnings releases/earnings call considerations, including approaching guidance (See recent blog post here)
  • Upcoming 10-Q disclosure changes for COVID-19 and otherwise
  • Holding a hybrid/virtual annual meeting (See recent blog post here)

We know you are on the frontlines proactively addressing issues at this time of uncertainty and extreme market volatility. Our speakers want to hear from you and address your questions. Please submit your questions during registration or send them directly to our speakers.

WEBINAR DETAILS

Title: COVID-19 Public Company Town Hall Webinar: Securities Law Guidance for First Quarter Reporting Season

Date: Monday, April 13, 2020  Time: 11:00 AM Central Daylight Time

Who Should Attend

  • Outside and in-house counsel
  • Public company finance and SEC reporting personnel
  • Compliance officers
  • Other interested professionals

The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) recently issued interpretive guidance, effective February 25, 2020, regarding the disclosure of key performance indicators and metrics (KPIs) in Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (MD&A).

While this guidance may not have been an area of significant focus for many companies in the recent periodic reporting cycle given that the effective date of this guidance was after the time that many calendar-year public companies filed their Annual Reports on Form 10-K, this guidance will need to be considered in connection with the preparation of upcoming Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q.

Overview of the Staff’s Recent Guidance Regarding KPIs in MD&As

The MD&A is generally required to contain discussion of a company’s financial condition, changes in financial condition, and results of operations. Also, according to Item 303(a) of Regulation S-K, the MD&A is also required to contain discussion of information not specifically referenced in the item that the company believes is necessary to an understanding of its financial condition, changes in financial condition, and results of operations. Instruction 1 to Item 303(a) also provides that the MD&A should include a discussion and analysis of other statistical data that in the company’s judgment enhances a reader’s understanding of MD&A.

Continue Reading SEC Interpretive Guidance on Key Performance Indicators and Metrics in MD&A, and a Recent KPI Comment Letter

On March 2, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted amendments that, among other things, significantly reduce the subsidiary guarantor financial statement requirements in periodic reports for companies that have registered debt that is guaranteed by subsidiaries. These changes are part of the SEC’s ongoing efforts to modernize and ease disclosure burdens for public companies.  The SEC hopes that these amendments will facilitate an increase in the number of registered (versus unregistered) debt offerings.

Although the amendments do not become effective until January 2021, in light of the relief offered, many companies are preparing to voluntarily comply with the amendments in advance of the effective date (which is expressly permitted by the SEC).

This alert briefly describes the changes to existing reporting requirements for subsidiary guarantors.  The SEC’s press release announcing the changes and full text of the final rule can be found here.

Continue Reading SEC Provides Welcome Relief from Reporting Requirements for Subsidiary Guarantors

In a previous blog post, we described the steps some states have taken or are currently taking to permit or facilitate virtual shareholder meetings (i.e., “virtual-only” or “hybrid” meetings) in light of the numerous restrictions on travel and large gatherings resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governors of California, Massachusetts and North Carolina subsequently issued executive orders that suspend the application of state law that would otherwise render a virtual annual meeting impractical or impossible.

California

On March 30, 2020, and effective for meetings that have already been scheduled or must occur before June 30, 2020, the governor of California issued an executive order suspending the application of California Corporations Code Sections 20 and 600, which require a corporation to obtain the consent of its shareholders before holding a virtual annual meeting.

Continue Reading More States Temporarily Ease Restrictions on Virtual Annual Meetings

As companies continue to evaluate the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on their business, public companies will be facing challenging disclosure considerations in connection with their upcoming first-quarter earnings calls and earnings releases.

As a backdrop, a significant number of public companies, concentrated in industries which have felt the strongest immediate impact of the crisis (such as companies whose business is tied to the travel industry), have either updated (e.g., Mastercard) or withdrawn (e.g., Hyatt Hotels, MGM Resorts, Twitter) their 2020 guidance due to the economic fallout and the uncertainty surrounding this pandemic.

Whether or not a public company has updated or withdrawn its 2020 guidance based on COVID-19 considerations, public companies will face challenging disclosure decisions as they approach their first-quarter (for calendar year-end companies) earnings releases and earnings calls.  A key reference point in this regard is CF Disclosure Guidance, Topic No. 9, issued by the Division of Corporation Finance on March 25, which highlights the perspective of the Staff regarding various disclosure considerations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continue Reading High-Level Considerations for First-Quarter 2020 Earnings Releases and Guidance in Uncertain Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a disclosure nightmare for public companies.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recognized this challenge and, to its credit, has provided relief to public companies by, among other things, extending the deadline for companies to file certain disclosure reports.  Nonetheless, companies are faced with the challenge of crafting disclosures regarding the risks presented by the coronavirus crisis to their business and operations and their plans for addressing those risks.  This challenge is made all the more difficult by the looming presence of securities class action firms, which already have sued companies over coronavirus-related disclosures.  In addition, the SEC in the recent past has charged companies for allegedly insufficient disclosures made in reaction to crisis situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the world economically.  Businesses are being harmed in a myriad of ways, from losing customers, to supply chain disruptions, to employee layoffs.  Many businesses and industries will change their operations in the short term and possibly permanently, while others will cease to exist.  Public companies have a unique responsibility under federal securities laws to disclose information to the public, including assessments and plans relating to their business and operations and related risks.  Such assessments and disclosures become thorny in the face of volatile markets, unprecedented events, and colossal business uncertainty.

Continue Reading COVID-19: Mitigating Enforcement and Litigation Disclosure Risks for Public Companies

The Staff of the various Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) divisions, including the Division of Corporation Finance, issued an announcement on March 24, 2020, which provides some flexibility to registrants seeking to satisfy the record retention requirement in Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T that the registrant retain the manually signed documents.

Rule 302(b) of Regulation S-T requires that each signatory to documents electronically filed with the SEC “manually sign a signature page or other document authenticating, acknowledging or otherwise adopting his or her signature that appears in typed form within the electronic filing.”  Such documents must be executed before or at the time the electronic filing is made.  Further, electronic filers must retain such documents for a period of five years and furnish copies to the SEC or its staff upon request.

Continue Reading SEC Staff Provides Relief to “Manual Signature” Retention Requirement in Light of COVID-19 Concerns

Eric KnoxRecently, I provided guidance for an article in Agenda about best practices for conducting virtual board meetings. Some best practices mentioned in the article involve facilitating discussion, completing minutes in a timely manner, and protecting the privacy of the meeting’s discussion.

I’ve advised, “If you’re talking about something that relates to finances, your financial experts are the ones you might want to direct discussion to after you finish the introduction so questions are flowing to people with expertise first. Then, other directors can interject with their questions or thoughts.”

Continue Reading Guidance on Conducting Virtual Board Meetings

In a previous blog post, we discussed the availability of virtual shareholder meetings (i.e., “virtual-only” and “hybrid” meetings) as a potential alternative to the traditional in-person meeting during the 2020 proxy season in light of the public health and safety crisis posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (we also discussed virtual annual meeting guidance provided by the SEC in a subsequent blog post). In response to COVID-19, states such as Connecticut, Georgia, New Jersey and New York have taken steps to remove barriers to virtual annual meetings under existing state law. Continue reading to learn more about steps these states are taking.

Continue Reading States Remove Barriers to Virtual Annual Meetings in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic