The Wall Street Journal yesterday published an interesting article regarding the SEC Staff’s attention to non-GAAP financial measure disclosure issues in the SEC comment letter process. The article highlights the ongoing focus of the SEC staff on non-GAAP financial disclosure issues following the revised (and more stringent) non-GAAP financial guidance promulgated by the SEC in the spring of 2016, as well as inquiries that were received from a sizeable number of public companies in 2016 from the SEC Division of Enforcement focused on non-GAAP compliance.
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As we arrive at the height of the annual meeting season this May, many public companies will be holding say-when-on-pay votes this month in light of the requirement under the Dodd-Frank Act to hold such vote every six years and the fact that many public companies first held this vote in 2011 following the enactment of Dodd-Frank. In this regard, registrants should be reminded of the requirement under Item 5.07(d) to report the determination of the registrant, in light of the shareholder vote on say-when-on-pay, regarding how frequently the registrant intends to hold say-on-pay votes until the next required say-when-on-pay shareholder vote. Under the Form 8-K rules, this disclosure may be made in the Form 8-K disclosing the annual meeting voting results or in a separate Form 8-K amendment filed within 150 days following the date of the annual meeting (but, in any event no later than 60 days prior to the Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposal submission deadline).

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Late Tuesday evening, Acting Chairman Michael Piwowar issued two statements — available here and here — announcing that he was directing the SEC Staff to reconsider whether the 2014 guidance on the conflict minerals rule is still appropriate and whether any additional relief is warranted. As a result, the SEC has created a website where interested parties can submit comments.

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Following the completion of one of the most divisive presidential elections in U.S. history, the election of President Trump and the retention of Republican majorities in both the U.S. Senate and House will impact the public disclosures of many U.S. public companies. The expectation of the securities markets that the results of these elections will significantly impact the prospects of many companies was reflected in the sharp movements in the stock prices in various sectors which occurred shortly after the 2016 elections. While the overall stock market trend since the 2016 elections has been positive, companies in certain sectors such as manufacturing and financial institutions have achieved gains significantly in excess of market norms, with companies in other sectors, such as utility and certain healthcare sectors, having underperformed in relation to market norms (although some healthcare companies have recovered from stock market declines seen in the immediate aftermath of the elections).

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As a former SEC Corp Fin staffer, I can certainly appreciate how closely the Staff reviews the specific disclosures related to internal controls and procedures and disclosure controls and procedures (DC&P) – just ask any registrant that has had to file a 10-K amendment for what they may believe is an immaterial error in their Sarbanes-Oxley Act certifications.  However, if anybody needs further convincing, I point you to a recent comment letter made public where the Staff commented of the company’s failure to state the entire definition of disclosure controls and procedures as defined in Exchange Act Rules 13a-15(e) and 15d(e) when the registrant was stating its conclusion regarding the effectiveness of its disclosure controls and procedures.  In particular, the Staff stated, “Although there is no requirement to disclose the full definition, specific reference to only a portion of the definition gives the appearance of limiting management’s conclusion solely to the portion referred to.”  Please see below for the SEC comment exchange as well as the company’s revised disclosure (via redline):


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On December 5, 2016, Wes Bricker, the SEC’s Chief Accountant, delivered an insightful keynote address before the 2016 AICPA Conference on current SEC and PCAOB developments. The speech was entitled, “Working Together to Advance High Quality Information in the Capital Markets.” The speech covered a number of diverse topics, including an update on the Office of Chief Accountant, internal control over financial reporting, revenue recognition implementation, non-GAAP reporting, valuation practices, auditor independence, the PCAOB, IFRS and audit committees, among others. The full speech is linked here. Below is an excerpt of Mr. Bricker’s comments directed to audit committees, which included questions from audit committee members that he found helpful during his time as an audit engagement partner in generating dialogue:

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Update as of December 6, 2017:  Congress and the President are nearing the finish line for significant tax reform with the likelihood of passing by the end of the year. Since it has the potential to significantly change the corporate tax rate, the below is even more relevant at this time. Read more about the impact of the lower corporate tax rate, if enacted.

Yogi Berra is often attributed with saying, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” This is especially true with predictions about revisions to the tax code.  However, many observers now believe a reduction in the corporate tax rate is a realistic possibility as a result of the combination of a new Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. According to www.donaldjtrump.com, “The Trump Plan will lower the business tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, and eliminate the corporate alternative minimum tax.” In light of these dynamics, a potential sleeper issue for many companies, especially those carrying sizeable deferred tax assets on the balance sheet, is a potential charge to earnings resulting from the remeasuring of deferred tax assets due to a change in the corporate income tax rate.


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Probably one of the most sensitive disclosures a public company may be required to make is information related to “contingencies.”  Disclosure of pending lawsuits and government investigations is closely scrutinized by analysts, investors and the SEC.  With respect to the latter group, we recently came across the below SEC staff comment, which is a stark reminder of the importance of fully considering the accounting literature when analyzing whether a litigation contingency is probable and reasonably estimable.  The comment pointedly asks the company (Stericycle, Inc.) why it was unable to disclose an amount or range of reasonably possible loss under the accounting literature for a legal proceeding when the settlement agreement was entered into shortly after the filing of the 10-Q.   The company’s response is worth reading.

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For those following recent SEC developments, you know that the SEC has made a concerted effort this year to reign in the use of non-GAAP financial measures made by companies, or at least make sure their usage complies with Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K. Recently, I came across the below comment sent by the Staff of the Division of Corporation Finance to Activision Blizzard, Inc. regarding its first quarter earnings release.  It is a friendly reminder to companies that disclose non-GAAP financial measures in earnings releases that the requirement to give equal or greater prominence to GAAP financial measures generally also applies to percentages and ratios calculated using a non-GAAP financial measure.

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