This is a continuation of our series addressing steps companies can take to protect themselves during government enforcement actions related to COVID-19. For more information, see our previous articles addressing corporate best practices and the health care industry.

COVID-19 has affected the financial conditions and operations of all public companies, most in a negative way but some in very positive ways. Regardless of the impact, all public companies must consider the anticipated scrutiny they will receive from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the possible risk they face from SEC Enforcement if they do not proceed with caution. While the rules and landscape may continue to evolve, it seems apparent at this point that SEC scrutiny related to COVID-19 is most relevant in the following ways.

1. SEC Enforcement’s role in monitoring relief funding. In a prior article, we discussed steps health care companies can take to protect themselves against government investigations related to COVID-19. But all companies that received relief funding must be careful.


Continue Reading How Public Companies Can Protect Against SEC Scrutiny Related to COVID-19

Subscribers to our blog know that we monitor EDGAR for new SEC comment letters and enjoy bringing attention to the more interesting ones.  In today’s blog post, we bring you three new SEC comment letter exchanges.

  • In the first, the SEC asks the registrant for more information related to a COVID-19-related adjustment in its non-GAAP financial measure.
  • The second involves the SEC questioning, and eventually disagreeing with, the registrant’s materiality analysis under Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 99 (SAB 99).
  • The third letter involves an offering document produced by South Korea.

SEC Staff Wants More Information about a COVID-19 Adjustment in Non-GAAP Net Income

We’ve previously blogged about COVID-19-related adjustments in connection with the presentation of non-GAAP financial measures, including the difficulty that some public companies may have in reasonably quantifying the extent to which incremental expenses were driven by the COVID-19 pandemic as opposed to other factors.
Continue Reading Recent SEC Comment Letters of Interest Regarding COVID-19 Adjustments, SAB 99 and South Korea

Following up on our prior blog post regarding first quarter COVID-19 risk factor disclosure considerations and our prior blog post regarding second quarter COVID-19 risk factor disclosure considerations, we surveyed the risk factor disclosures of 75 calendar year-end NYSE- and Nasdaq-listed companies included in Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q (Form 10-Qs) filed for the first and second quarters of 2020.

Risk Factor Survey Results

Of the companies surveyed, we found that 96%, or 72 of the companies surveyed, included standalone risk factors related to COVID-19 (the average number of COVID-19 risk factors was approximately 1.16). None of the companies surveyed included an additional standalone COVID-19 risk factor in the second quarter Form 10-Q that was not in the first quarter Form 10-Q.  Approximately 63%, or 47 of the companies surveyed, updated their COVID-19 risk factor disclosure from their first quarter 2020 Form 10-Q in their second quarter 2020 Form 10-Q.

The three companies that did not include a standalone COVID-19 risk factor disclosure during their first or second quarter 2020 Form 10-Q did include language indicating that COVID-19 could exacerbate or heighten the risk factors that were previously included in their 2019 Annual Report on Form 10-K. A small portion of the companies we surveyed repeated the risk factor disclosure from their first quarter Form 10-Q verbatim in their second quarter Form 10-Q. However, most of the companies that did not update their first quarter Form 10-Q COVID-19 risk factor disclosure in their second quarter Form 10-Q incorporated their first quarter Form 10-Q risk factor disclosure by reference.


Continue Reading Updated Risk Factors in Response to COVID-19

In a first-quarter (for calendar year-end companies) SEC disclosure landscape dominated by COVID-19 considerations, almost all public companies included a new risk factor addressing COVID-19 in their first quarter Form 10-Q. Public companies are now considering potential risk factor disclosure in their Form 10-Q related to COVID-19 (see our prior blog post regarding first quarter COVID-19 risk factor disclosure considerations).

With respect to assessing whether to include potential COVID-19 risk factor disclosure in upcoming Form 10-Qs, as a starting point, Part II, Item 1A of Form 10-Q requires that public companies “set forth any material changes from risk factors as previously disclosed in the registrant’s Form 10-K” (emphasis added).

This language from Form 10-Q, on its face, would appear to require public companies to continue to disclose risk factors included in a prior Form 10-Q in any subsequent Form 10-Qs filed before the next Form 10-K in light of the statement about including material changes from the prior Form 10-K (compare the 2005 adopting release of the SEC promulgating this Form 10-Q risk factor requirement, which stated that the Form 10-Q should disclose risk factors “to reflect material changes from risks factors as previously disclosed in Exchange Act reports” (emphasis added).

While practice has not been uniform regarding whether public companies repeat risk factors included in a prior Form 10-Q in subsequent Form 10-Qs, there is a good argument based on the text of Form 10-Q as cited above that public companies should continue to repeat (with updated language, as applicable) risk factors included in a prior Form 10-Q in subsequent Form 10-Qs through the filing of the next Form 10-K (assuming that the risk remains applicable).


Continue Reading Approaching COVID-19 Risk Factor Disclosure in Upcoming Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q

One of the key areas of disclosure focus for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic was the impact that the pandemic might have on the presentation of non-GAAP financial measures for public companies.  For example, when providing  disclosure guidance for how registrants should approach COVID-19-related considerations in CF Disclosure Guidance: Topic No. 9, issued by the Division of Corporation Finance on March 25, 2020 (CF Disclosure Topic 9), the Staff stated that, with respect to the disclosure of non-GAAP financial measures in the pandemic environment, “where a GAAP financial measure is not available at the time of the earnings release because the measure may be impacted by COVID-19-related adjustments,” the SEC “would not object to companies reconciling a non-GAAP financial measure to preliminary GAAP results that either include provisional amount(s) based on a reasonable estimate, or a range of reasonably estimable GAAP results.”

Nevertheless, it has been our experience (consistent with the survey results summarized below) that most registrants did not include COVID-19-related adjustments in connection with the presentation of non-GAAP financial measures in the first quarter.  This article summarizes our survey results and analyzes factors that may have impacted the determination of most registrants not to include any COVID-19-related adjustments in connection with their presentation of non-GAAP financial measures in first-quarter disclosure materials.

As part of our survey, we reviewed 55 public companies that presented Adjusted EBITDA in their earnings release filed in the period from April 1, 2020, to May 14, 2020.  We chose to focus on Adjusted EBITDA in this survey (recognizing that such measure is utilized more frequently in some industries than others) because such measure is commonly utilized by public companies to measure their operational performance and frequently includes adjustments for items that are believed not to reflect the ongoing operational performance of the company.  While we limited our survey to registrants that presented Adjusted EBITDA, we believe that the survey results have relevance for companies that present other types of non-GAAP performance measures which are adjusted for special items or items outside of the ordinary course of business.


Continue Reading Whether to Adjust for COVID-19 in Non-GAAP Financial Measures: A Survey and Overview of First Quarter Disclosure Practices

In case you missed it, we discussed virtual annual meetings at our recent Public Company Town Hall Webinar: Securities Law Guidance for First Quarter Reporting Season. Access the recording here.

Among the numerous considerations related to upcoming annual stockholder meetings being hosted solely using remote (virtual) communication as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one question that several clients and colleagues have raised is whether management must host a “live” question and answer (Q&A) session on the webcast or whether stockholders must submit their questions in advance (i.e., no “real-time” submission of questions at the meeting).

Based on our survey of company practices in the Fortune 100 (as discussed further below), most companies in our survey are allowing shareholders to ask questions during the virtual annual meeting, with 58% permitting stockholders to submit questions only during the virtual annual meeting and another 32% also permitting stockholders to submit questions in advance of the virtual annual meeting.
Continue Reading Q&A at Virtual Stockholder Meetings: A Review of Latest Trends

As calendar-year public companies are beginning to prepare their Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q (Form 10-Q) for their first quarter, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the related societal and economic impact continues to evolve. One important item that companies will need to consider as part of their Form 10-Q preparation is whether any new (or expanded) risk factors relating to COVID-19 should be included in their Form 10-Q.

Form 10-Q requires companies to disclose any material changes to the risk factors that were included in their Annual Report on Form 10-K (Form 10-K). Absent merger and acquisition activity or other material developments, it is not unusual for companies to determine no material changes have occurred since their Form 10-K was filed (and as a result no new risk factor disclosure is required).

However, given the significant impact of COVID-19 on businesses so far this year, we expect most companies will update their existing risk factor disclosure. Investors and other stakeholders are paying particular attention to COVID-19 disclosures, and the risks that COVID-19 poses to a company may not always be obvious to such stakeholders absent robust disclosure.


Continue Reading Reevaluating Risk Factors in Response to COVID-19

In a previous blog post, we discussed certain high-level considerations for first-quarter 2020 earnings releases and guidance in the context of the macroeconomic uncertainty brought about by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  We indicated our expectation that a significant number of registrants would elect to withdraw guidance in light of this uncertainty.

To get a more comprehensive view of how registrants have approached financial guidance, we analyzed disclosures in earnings releases by off-calendar year-end companies furnished with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on or after March 16, 2020.  As noted in greater detail below, a majority of companies issuing earnings releases during this period have withdrawn or suspended guidance.  This post presents the results of our analysis.


Continue Reading COVID-19: Bass, Berry & Sims’ Survey of Earnings Release Guidance Practices in the Wake of the Pandemic

For public companies and for market participants generally, the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have been unpredictable, swift, and universal.  In a groundbreaking joint statement entitled “The Importance of Disclosure – For Investors, Markets and Our Fight Against COVID-19,” issued on April 8, Jay Clayton, the Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and William Hinman, Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, tackled the question of how public companies should approve their disclosures in the coming weeks when they are issuing earnings releases and conducting analyst and investor calls.

In summary, Chair Clayton and Director Hinton request companies to provide as much information as is practicable regarding their current status and plans for addressing the effects of COVID-19.


Continue Reading SEC Chair Clayton and Corp Fin Director Hinman Issue a Joint Statement Requesting More Forward-Looking Disclosures on COVID-19 Impacts in Upcoming Earnings Calls

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